Heinrich Schliemann, excavator of Troia and Mycenae, was born on the 6th of January 1822 in Neubukow (see map and image right), where his father Ernst was a protestant parish priest. When Ernst was elected priest in the parish of Ankershagen (see map) in 1823, the whole family moved with him. Ankershagen was a rural and poor village of day labourers, where serfdom had been lifted as recently as 1820, i.e. only a few years before the Schliemanns arrived there. This village was where Heinrich spent his childhood until the age of 10. After his mother had died in 1831 and his father was suspended from his job one year later, Heinrich was sent, together with his four older brothers and sister, to relatives who lived in Kalkhorst near Grevesmühlen. In 1833, Schliemann went to secondary school in Neustrelitz, where he graduated in 1836. He then started an apprenticeship with a shopkeeper in Fürstenberg, where he lived until he turned 18. Schliemann planned to emigrate and seek his luck elsewhere. Having had no luck in getting to America (the ship ran aground off the coast of the Netherlands), he pursued a very successful business career in Amsterdam and then in St. Petersburg (Deuel 1977; Bölke 1988; 1996).
According to Schliemann's own account from 1881, his fascination for archaeology was formed during the childhood years in the priest's house in Ankershagen, which now houses the Heinrich-Schliemann-Museum (see image left). Schliemann wrote in the preface to his book Ilios (cited after Deuel 1977: 23-4; links added):
" In that village I spent the eight following years of my life; and my natural disposition for the mysterious and the marvellous was stimulated to a passion by the wonders of the locality in which I lived. Our garden-house was said to be haunted by the ghost of my father's predecessor, Pastor von Russdorf; and just behind our garden was a pond called 'das Silberschälchen,' out of which a maiden was believed to rise each midnight, holding a silver bowl. There was also in the village a small hill surrounded by a ditch, probably a pre-historic burial-place (or so-called Hünengrab [megalithic tomb; see image from 1995 below]), in which, as the legend ran, a robber knight in times of old had buried his beloved child in a golden cradle. Vast treasures were also said to be buried close to the ruins of a round tower in the garden of the proprietor of the village. My faith in the existence of these treasures was so great that, whenever I heard my father complain of his poverty, I always expressed my astonishment that he did not dig up the silver bowl or the golden cradle, and so become rich."
It was also in Ankershagen, where Ernst Schliemann told his son the Homeric account of the Troian War, and bought him, for Christmas in 1829, Georg Ludwig Jerrer's World-History For Children which contained an illustration of the burning Troia (cited after Deuel 1977: 25, 27):
"But to my question, whether ancient Troy had such huge walls as those depicted in the book, he answers in the affirmative. 'Father,' retorted I, 'if such walls once existed, they cannot possibly have been completely destroyed: vast ruins of them must still remain, but they are hidden away beneath the dust of ages'. He maintained the contrary, whilst I remained firm in my opinion, and at last we both agreed that I should one day excavate Troy.
.... Thanks to God, my firm belief in the existence of that Troy has never forsaken me amid all the vicissitudes of my eventful career; but it was not destined for me to realize till in the autumn of my life".
As these passages demonstrate, Schliemann enjoyed thinking back of Ankershagen during his later life, at the peak of his fame. He maintained old friendships in Ankershagen for all his life and he even travelled back there in 1852, in 1879, and the last time in 1883 when he stayed for four weeks, seven years before his death (Bölke 1988: 73-89).
In hindsight it seems a distinct possibility, however, that beside all sentimental and nostalgic attachment to Ankershagen, Schliemann may also have tried to fabricate a particular account of his childhood, in order to maintain the already then popular legend of Heinrich Schliemann, the poor country boy, who had earned his later fortunes only so that he could fulfill his childhood dream of excavating Troia, which had been born in the idyllic village of Ankershagen (Bölke 1988: 5-6, 26, 63-72; 1996: 17; Korff 1992: 165-8). The Schliemann legend of the amateur-hero who finds treasures and recognition, based mainly on firm belief and perseverance, is still very much alive among followers of 'alternative theories' today (cf. Gauer 1992: 12-16, 32-3; Korff 1992); it may partly have motivated the tomb-robbers and archaeoastronomers for the last hundred years.
Despite Schliemann's character and the legends surrounding his life, he is today widely regarded as one of the 'fathers' of modern archaeology (e.g. Gauer 1992: 32). Manfred Korfmann, the director of the new excavations in Troia, has listed a whole number of aspects in which Schliemann, as an archaeologist, proved ahead of his time and established new standards for archaeological research. They include the first application of the 'stratigraphical method' in archaeology and an interest in (culture) historical questions, as well as his readiness to admit mistakes and to work interdisciplinarily, including the sciences, and of course the instant publication of all his work (Korfmann 1990).
Bölke, Wilfried (1996) Heinrich Schliemann und die »Wunder« von Ankershagen. Heimathefte für Mecklenburg und Vorpommern 6(2), 15-21.
Bölke, Wilfried (1988) Heinrich Schliemann und Ankershagen. Heimat, Kindheit und Elternhaus. Mitteilungen aus dem Heinrich-Schliemann-Museum Ankershagen 2. Ankershagen: Heinrich-Schliemann-Museum.
Deuel, Leo (1977) Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann. A Documentary Portrait Drawn from His Autobiographical Writings, Letters, and Excavation Reports. New York etc.: Harper & Row.
Gauer, Werner (1992) Heinrich Schliemann, Homer and Troia. Die Macht der Geschichte und die Macht ihrer Dilletanten. In: I.Gamer-Wallert (ed.) Troia. Brücke zwischen Orient und Okzident, pp. 12-33. Tübingen: Attempto.
Korff, Gottfried (1992) Legenden um den »Schatz des Priamos« in Berlin. Ein Beitrag zur Schliemann-Mythologie. In: I.Gamer-Wallert (ed.) Troia. Brücke zwischen Orient und Okzident, pp. 152-82. Tübingen: Attempto.
Korfmann, Manfred (1990) Vorwort. In: Heinrich Schliemann, Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Troja in den Jahren 1871 bis 1873 . Gütersloh: Bertelsmann.
© Cornelius Holtorf, last updated on 19 January 2004