The Golden Treasures of Heinrich Schliemann

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For some people, treasure hunting is a serious occupation. Even a life-long obsession.

Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890) was a German businessman and entrepreneur who was fascinated by The Iliad and The Odyssey, ancient Greek stories first written down by the poet Homer. Describing the history of the Trojan War, a massive and prolonged military conflict between the Bronze Age Greeks and the city of Troy (in modern-day Turkey), the tales were originally thought to be fictional works. Schliemann had a different idea, however. He was convinced that Homer’s epic poems were actually based on real historical events. And if the stories were true, then so might be the massive golden treasure Homer claimed the Greeks looted from wealthy Troy.

Schliemann didn’t start out as a treasure-hunter, however. He spent his early life in a variety of professions, including an importer, an arms-dealer and a gold trader during the California Gold Rush where he made millions of dollars. It was only during his later life that he began to seriously pursue his interest in the Trojan War, which eventually led to the excavation of not only legendary Troy, but other contemporary Greek cities including Mycenae and Tiryns.

Schliemann did find plenty of gold and other riches at his dig sites, including the so-called “Priam’s Treasure” and “The Mask of Agamemmnon.” Yet his early fascination with discovering treasure seemed to fade with age, giving way to more of a scientific curiosity with discovering the ancient past. In fact, Schliemann is now credited with being the “father of modern archeology,” refining excavation and preservation techniques during an age when many of his contemporaries were little more than tomb-raiders.