Heinrich Schliemann was in Neubukow, Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1822. He was the son of a poor Lutheran minister, and so despite having a propensity for history and the classical works from an early age, his family was not able to send him to the university. He worked odd jobs (at one point even becoming the survivor of a shipwreck) until securing an agent position at the import/export firm B. H. Schröder & Co. His immense capacity for languages– many claim that he could converse in English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish before the end of his life– clearly contributed to his very successful as a businessman traveling from one country to another.
By the age of 36, in 1852, Schliemann found himself in a position wealthy enough to retire. At last, he could fulfill his boyhood dream of discovering the historicity of Homer’s epics through archaeological excursions. His first move was to submit a dissertation in Ancient Greek, having been convinced by Frank Calvert that the location of Troy was Hissarlik, and he was subsequently awarded a PhD in absentia by the University of Rostock in 1869. He than traveled to Turkey and began to excavate at Hissarlik with the help of Calvert and his new bride, the seventeen-year-old Sophia Engastromenos. Convinced that the bottom-most layer of the site would be the Troy that Homer had breathed life into for the past thousands of years, his team worked quickly and a bit recklessly to dig deep. On May 27th, 1873, the Schliemann’s uncovered an abundant trove of gold jewelry, later to be called “Priam’s Treasure.”
They happily publicized the event, though quickly had to smuggle it out of the site since the Turkish government sued Schliemann for a share in the gold. Consequent findings included the Shaft Graves and Mask of Agamemnon, and Schliemann was convinced that he had truly discovered the ancient city of Troy. Unfortunately, later excavations and modern study confirm this geological fact, although it seems the Homeric Troy of around 1000 B.C. is at the sixth level (Troy VI) rather than the lowest (Troy I) which he had believed. Heinrich Schliemann continued to travel and explore extensively the remainder of his life, until collapsing into a coma outside of Pompeii and died on December 26, 1890.
The Gryphon Editions consultation has placed Heinrich Schliemann on our list of the 100 Most Influential People because he is remembered for his public passion for history and rousing ability to ignite that passion in others. Although the majority of credit ought to be awarded to Frank Calvert for being the first to locate Troy at Hissarlik, and later excavations and modern technology have allowed greater success in recovering actual Homeric artifacts, Schliemann’s colorful story truly re-enchanted the world with the romance and poetry of the classics. The historicity of Troy was important, but even more important is the impact that these stories have made on our human family over generations and generations. The story of this great man will be immortalized once again in our leather-bound biography, part of our 100 Most Influential People Library.