THE CITY OF TROY
In attempting to create a background against which to set a perspective of Heinrich Schliemann’s actions (and subsequent discoveries) I will first provide as much information about the site in question as I can possibly salvage. There are few reliable sources about Troy, which is in fact merely one city of approximately nine settlements based in the area. In this dissertation I am referring to all settlements based in the same geographic location in general, but in particular to Homeric Troy. The site of Troy (also known as Hissarlik) is located on the western coast of present-day Turkey (near the mouth of the Scamander River), on the opposite side of the Aegean Sea to Greece, and to the north of the Mediterranean Sea.
This region is believed to have possessed a vast succession of inhabitants throughout a prolonged cycle of settlement, destruction and reconstruction (perpetrated by a number of parties) spanning 5100 years (from Neolithic settlers in 3600 BC and passing through the hands of Greek and Roman conquerors, among others, until its final abandonment in approximately the year 1500 CE). It is believed that no less than nine settlements were constructed on the mound of Hissarlik, although much evidence was destroyed by Heinrich Schliemann’s haphazard excavation methods. The following is largely concerned with Homeric Troy, as most current knowledge of Mycenaean civilisation deals with this specific settlement.
During the days of Homeric Troy’s eminence, it was a prosperous city, geographically blessed with numerous trade partners and sufficient military strength to repulse most attackers. The events of the fall of Troy have altered the perspective of most to view the city in a more poetic, only semi-historical light. Many have attempted to chronicle or in some way recount the events which led to this dramatic point in history, in some cases many centuries after the occurrence.
Many historical figures have attempted to affiliate themselves with the heroes of Trojan legend – Julius Caesar himself claimed descent from Aeneas (the subject of the Aeneid), a Trojan warrior who supposedly survived the sacking of Troy carrying his father and left the eastern Mediterranean region (illustrated below).
THE FALL OF TROY (THE TROJAN WAR)
It is extremely difficult to ascertain the reasons for the fall of Troy, due in large part to the fanciful nature of most sources of information about this historically remote event. No authoritative narrative of the entire war is known to exist. The Iliad (a work credited to a poet named Homer who himself may actually have been a number of poets amalgamated into one) gives us a fanciful account at best, and the fact that a great deal of our current awareness of Troy is in some way derived from it is an indication of the rarity of reliable sources. A discriminating analysis of the available (and remotely credible) sources, however, permits us a limited understanding of some of the prominent events which conspired to cause the fall of the Troy.
According to the Iliad, Troy was besieged by a number of Aegean kingdoms (the predecessors of the Hellenes) and although the existence of a number of these kingdoms (and the cities contained therein) is doubted, it is not improbable that the Greek city-states allied to seize Troy; in the Iliad, it is said that Helen, the wife of the King of Sparta was stolen by Paris, a Trojan prince. The Spartan king, Menelaus, allied with other Greek leaders in a desire for vengeance. It is far more likely that the war was based on economic desires; Troy was, as aforementioned, an exceptionally wealthy city, being situated in an opportune location to trade with other parties in the Mediterranean region and well-known for its production and crafting of gold.
The Greek leaders (and their deeds) are doubtlessly exaggerated for the benefit of the audience, but for the most part they are likely to have been real people. Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae, which was perhaps the most powerful and influential kingdom of the time, and certainly likely to involve itself in this opportunity to seize greater wealth and further cement its domination. He is also said to be the brother of Menelaus, and this gives the alliance even greater credence. The leaders of smaller states could have involved themselves out of obedience to more powerful rulers, to attempt to seize valuable resources for themselves, or any number of diverse reasons. To summarise, the kingdoms generally put aside their own feuds and allied against a common rival. Having established that this alliance is credible, we move on to the war itself.
It is written that the city of Troy was besieged for ten years, after which it fell to the aggressors. Given the nature of siege warfare (and the low population of the era – the war would have caused a horrifying attrition rate), it is improbable that any city could have withstood a decade of constant assault. From this springs the notion that the fighting was sporadic - perhaps with the Greeks landing, attacking the city for a season or two, retreating to accommodate for climatic change (or societal pressures) and resuming combat with the arrival of appropriate conditions (this is entirely possible – the Hissarlik region can be bitterly cold in winter months, and there was much disparity between the numerous factions of the allied Greek army which may have caused temporary lulls in the fighting). To recount every battle fought would be an exercise in unnecessary tedium – not only are most battles consigned to historical (and even poetic) obscurity, but are likely to have been contrived by the poet as opportunities to display his characters and achieve dramatic tension. Therefore we move ahead to the actual end of the siege as chronicled in the Iliad.
The scene began with Achilles, King of the Myrmidons, finally relenting to requests to permit Patroclus, his friend, to fight on his behalf (having refused to fight himself due to a grudge against Agamemnon). Patroclus falls to the Trojan champion, Hector (one of the sons of Trojan King, Priam), and in a rage Achilles chases the Trojan soldiers away from the body of his friend and turns on Hector. Terrified, Hector flees and Achilles pursues him. Three times they ran around the walls of the city, and finally the two met in combat. Achilles slays Hector with a spear-thrust to the throat and, still enraged, drags the corpse behind his chariot around the city. The Iliad reputedly ends with the broken body of Hector being returned to a humbled Priam. The fates of Paris and Helen appear to be obscured. The story of the Trojan War continues, however.
In around 70 BC a Roman poet by the name of Virgil wrote a poem entitled the Aeneid. In it, he describes how Romans are the descendants of a Trojan warrior who escaped the sacking of the city. While this connection is almost universally believed to be erroneous, it does display the popularity of the war, even many centuries after it ended.
The Aeneid tells that one day the Trojans discovered that the Greeks had abandoned their camp, and there was no sign of their fleet. At first elated, their disposition soon turned to puzzlement as they found a giant sculpture of a horse constructed of wood. At first sceptical, they were convinced they should take it as a trophy when a Greek man, posing as an escaped prisoner, told them it was an offering to the Goddess Athena. Contained within the horse were the best soldiers of the Greek army who, when the opportunity availed them, opened the city gates to allow the remainder of the Greek army to attack, sacking and pillaging. When the city was excavated (or, rather, cities), a large number of valuable artefacts were found which suggest that the survivors returned to the region and built anew, although to most there was only one Troy.
THE EXCAVATION OF TROY
Although there have been multiple cities of Troy, Heinrich Schliemann sought only one. When digging began at the site, Schliemann negotiated with two Turks (who owned the land on the other side of the hill) to acquire permission to dig. The Turks agreed, in exchange for a stone foundation (which Schliemann believed to be the Temple of Athena) which he had already uncovered (which they desired for a bridge they were constructing). Schliemann reluctantly agreed, and commenced digging in 1870. He was forced to an abrupt halt on April 21, however, when the Turks, deciding they had enough stone, revoked the agreement. Following this, Schliemann attempted to gain permission from the Turkish government itself. Finally, on October 11, 1871, he acquired the government’s acquiescence and recommenced digging (on the condition that he surrendered half the treasure he acquired to the Turkish government).
For a great deal of time he found little of great value, and certainly nothing blatantly indicative of the site being the legendary Troy. Most of the artefacts were crudely engraved clay tiles and obsidian knife-blades. On June 18, 1872, Schliemann discovered a relief of the Sun God, Apollo, riding the four horses of the sun, an item which was likely to be from a much later period than that of the Trojan War (but which he nonetheless smuggled out of the country to adorn his garden). By this point he had become thoroughly disheartened, losing his previous faith in his judgement of the location of Troy.
On August 4, however, he discovered several gold pins and the bones of a woman who, he judged (based on the bones’ colour) had died during the burning of Troy. To follow this in May of 1873, his crew found two gates 20 feet apart, and the foundation of a large building behind the gates. Rallying his hopes, he dubbed the entrance the Scaean Gates, and named the building Priam's Palace. Shortly after this, Heinrich and his spouse, Sophia Engastromenos, discovered a large amount of valuable artefacts and, wishing to keep their find a secret, gave the ruse that it was Heinrich’s birthday and as such, the crew were permitted the day off. Unearthed during this time were a copper shield, a copper cauldron, a silver vase, a copper vase, a gold bottle, 2 gold cups, a small electrum cup, a silver goblet, 3 silver vases, 7 double-edged copper daggers, 6 silver knife blades, 13 copper lance-heads, 2 gold diadems, a fillet, 4 gold ear-drops, 56 gold earrings, and 8,750 gold rings and buttons.
Smuggling this treasure from the site, Schliemann sent it to his friend, Frank Calvert, who subsequently hid it with other contacts all over Greece. Convinced that neither the Turkish nor Greek governments could pursue any course of action on the matter, Schliemann wrote his first account of the find. The Turkish government did discover his deception, however, and demanded that he return the stolen artefacts. Schliemann refused, and, until August of 1876, he was caught in constant battle between the Greek and Turkish governments.
For a time, Schliemann abandoned Hissarlik in the hope of finding more spoils at Mycenae. On the aforementioned date, the Greek government made an agreement to allow him to excavate at Mycenae, but from the beginning this project was hampered by constant debate over the right of the Greek officials to intervene in Schliemann’s work. Nevertheless he made some significant discoveries; having immediately started digging near the Lion Gate, an imposing structure with a large lintel topped by a relief of two lionesses facing each other. There was a great circular space south of the Lion Gate, perhaps an ancient open-air meeting place, and in this space his workers found two tombstones. Excavating the graves, Schliemann discovered abundance of gold funerary goods and, in Schliemann’s typical fashion, decided that the graves were those of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon, Clytemnestra, and Aegisthus; all heroes of myth, who had been the direct subject of much of his archaeological career. Also, he unearthed a 12-inch high vase with a painting of a procession of soldiers marching off to war and, notably, the appearance of the illustrated soldiers was similar to that of Mycenaean warriors around the time of the Trojan War.
In September of 1878, Schliemann arrived at Hissarlik, and on October 21, 1878 he found a small cache consisting of 20 gold earrings, some gold spiral rings, 2 electrum bracelets, 11 silver earrings, 158 silver rings, and many gold beads. This time Schliemann was able to keep only one-third of his findings, the Imperial Museum at Constantinople claiming the rest. Also, as aforementioned, Schliemann made one last (unsuccessful) attempt at finding conclusive proof that Hissarlik truly was Troy before abandoning the site to the hands of future archaeologists. The methods with which he excavated were representative of the relatively primitive historical awareness of the time – essentially, he sunk broad trenches into the hill, disregarding the possibility of many artefacts being damaged and/or lost by his actions. In fact, by digging as deeply as he did, he uncovered pieces of a city as much as a thousand years older than the legendary city and in so doing, destroyed a great deal of the Troy he sought.
The information presented above is the official (and popular) recount of Heinrich Schliemann’s life, mostly derived from material published in his autobiography (from where most subsequent biographies gain much of their content). Evidence has emerged, however, to suggest that a significant amount of Schliemann’s recount is fabricated, and the specifics of it are often self-contradictory. Another reconstruction of his life follows (derived in large part from ‘the Golden Treasures of Troy; the Dream of Heinrich Schliemann’).
Although Schliemann professes to have been enraptured with Homeric Troy virtually all his life (and, as such, had always desired to become an archaeologist), the credibility of his claim to have possessed ‘Universal History’ since 1829 is in doubt, as Schliemann’s first mention of the book is in a letter written in 1875 – when Schliemann was 53. Although the copy of Dr Jerrer’s book was indeed contained within his library (the book itself also being a 1828 edition, although this is not necessarily indicative of the date of purchase), the signature ‘Heinrich Schliemann’ within the cover has been analysed, and it has been deduced that the writing is not that of a child. This is the beginning of a long series of (possible) lies which conspire to dramatically change our perception of Schliemann.
Next, although Schliemann claims to have immigrated to the United States of America in 1850 and, when California was made a state in 1854, gained citizenship, evidence suggests that he did not arrive until 1851, and only ever acquired American citizenship in 1869. Furthermore, his account of his escape from the San Francisco blaze is blatantly false – business documents state that he was actually in Sacramento. Even had he been present in San Francisco at the time he stated, he could not have witnessed the disaster, which actually occurred a month before (May 6, 1851).
With reference to his archaeological practices, and the manner in which he states he began excavation of Hissarlik, there is some dispute over the presence of an arrangement with the Turkish landowners – some sources state that he simply arrived, despite refusal from the Turkish government, and began excavation. A number of sources also imply that many of his ‘findings’ were in fact forgeries. His book about his excavation of Hissarlik (entitled ‘the Ilios) states many things which evidence suggests never occurred, such as a fictitious instance in which he was attacked by wild dogs in Ithaca. There are also a number of aspersions cast on the role of his wife, Sophia, in the excavation of Troy.
It is entirely possible that these deliberate misdirections were intentional, and motivated by egotism, although a second theory is that they (the falsified accounts) were simply an exercise in style – that is, Schliemann had no intention of distributing these notes to the public, and was simply refining his techniques with the various languages he learned. This is reinforced, in part, by the fact that his account of the San Francisco fire was almost identical to an article in a San Franciscan newspaper, save in first-person narrative format).
I believe the former to be largely true (that is, Schliemann attempted to rewrite his past). I believe this on the basis of what I have deduced of the man’s personality. A man who was so driven to be revealed as a towering figure in human history would be likely to alter certain details if he found himself lacking in any way, although in some instances I would be willing to believe that the documents involved were no more than an attempt at rote memorization of language or private musings. Irrespective of which case is true, the manner in which he desired to be remembered becomes clear when one views the inscription at the entrance to his tomb. It simply reads “for the hero Schliemann.”
Ceserani, Gian Paulo and Ventura, Piero, ’In Search of Troy’, 1985, Macdonald and co, Maxwell House, 74 Worship St, London
Edmonds, I.G, ’the Mysteries of Troy’, 1977, Thomas Nelson inc. Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.
Duchêne, Hervé, ‘The Golden Treasures of Troy; the Dream of Heinrich Schliemann’, 1996 (English translation), Thames and Hudson Ltd, London and Harry N. Abrams, New York