The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte is holding a major special exhibition at the James-Simon-Galerie and the Neues Museum on Germany’s most famous archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890), to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth. With around 700 objects – including many international loans – in addition to spectacular excavation finds, this exhibition will focus on a side to Schliemann that has never been revealed before, and take a look at who he was before he turned to archaeology. It will also critically examine the archaeological methods of his time, drawing on current research findings.
Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890) is best known as the man who discovered Troy, but he was much more that: he was a businessman, a cosmopolitan and a writer. His life was full of adventure and took him right around the globe in an odyssey to find his true passion, archaeology, which he began to devote himself to in his early forties. This special exhibition on Berlin’s Museumsinsel approaches this enigmatic and controversial individual in two halves: while the section at the James-Simon-Galerie focuses on his biography and the first half of Heinrich Schliemann’s life and provides insights into life in the 19th century, the exhibition at the Neues Museum focuses on Schliemann’s archaeological work with spectacular finds from the royal tombs in Mycenae and the Collection of Trojan Antiquities.
Schliemann as Scientist, Archaeologist and Discoverer of Troy
Schliemann started his first exploratory excavations in 1870, before he had actually received the official excavation permit, and began excavations proper in 1871. Impatient and inexperienced, he had a large area excavated to a depth of 17 metres in order to reach the layers that he thought would be important. This is known today as the “Schliemann Trench”. With his actions, Schliemann irreversibly destroyed a large section of the archaeological site.
However, what he found in 1873 became legendary: “Priam’s Treasure”, which Schliemann assigned to the mythical king of Troy – King Priam. His “Collection of Trojan Antiquities” comprises some 10,000 objects, including ceramic vessels, metal implements, spindle whorls and various other small finds as well as botanical specimens, in addition to the well-known gold cache.
The Settings of Homer’s Stories in the Aegean
In his search for the Greek heroes, Schliemann also investigated the settings of Homer’s stories in the Aegean. In Mycenae, he excavated the royal tombs in Grave Circle A from 1876. Here, he believed he had found the resting place of Agamemnon, while at Orchomenos he found the “Treasury of Minyas” and in Tiryns the ruins of the palace, with its impressive wall paintings.[AL1]
Toward the end of his life, Schliemann must have at least suspected that the assignment of the finds to Homer’s heroes was incorrect, both in Troy and at the Greek sites. However, It does not diminish the value of his finds. The fact that Schliemann discovered the Bronze Age Mycenaean culture, the earliest advanced civilisation in Europe, only became clear long after his death.
Historical and Critical Reconstruction of Schliemann’s Work
Schliemann’s image as a hero and visionary, which he himself promoted during his lifetime, continued to shape his public perception for a long time, until contradictions found in his writings in the 1970s earned him a reputation as a fraud and a fantasist. It was only in recent decades that a historical and critical reconstruction ensured that Schliemann’s work was increasingly explored against the background of the many facets of his personality.
His estate comprises over 50,000 documents, which are kept in the Gennadius Library in Athens. In addition to masses of diaries, travel documents, letters, photographs, invoices and publications, which are now also gradually being made available in digital form, the 17 languages – including English, French, Russian, Arabic, Farsi and Ancient Greek – in which Schliemann communicated are still confronting researchers with new challenges today.
Objects from the Collections of the Staatliche Museen Zu Berlin and International Loans
Based on current research findings, this special exhibition is deliberately divided into two sections and gives equal attention to Schliemann’s biographical and archaeological “worlds”. As well as outstanding objects from the collections of numerous branches of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – including the Ethnologisches Museum, the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, the Kunstgewerbemuseum, the Münzkabinett, the Kunstbibliothek, as well as the Antikensammlung and the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung – international loans from the Katsigras Museum in Larissa round off the exhibition. Of particular importance are exhibits from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens: spectacular examples of goldsmithing from what is known as the royal tombs of Mycenae and fragments of the wall paintings from Tiryns form the highlights of the archaeological section.
Publication and Sponsorship
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication (E. A. Seemann Verlag, 320 pages, 250 colour reproductions, hardcover, ISBN 978-3-86502-480-0, price: 36 euros, German only).
The exhibition is funded by the Kuratorium Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie and Hauptstadtkulturfonds.
A special exhibition by the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Exberliner, rbb24 Inforadio, HIMBEER, Tagesspiegel and tip Berlin are media partners of the exhibition.