Heinrich Schleimann was a 19th Century German archaeologist, whose fascination with Homeric legends led him to excavate a site in Western Turkey – Hissarlik – which was reputed to be the site of the City of Troy. This was held to be a foolish and romantic quest, as the Homeric epics were, at the time, believed by Europeans to entirely mythical in nature.
It was the dawn of archaeology, and many of the practices of excavation that we take for granted today had not yet been developed. Schleimann looked at this hill, and he decided that Homer’s Troy was buried at the bottom of it. So, he and his crews dug. And dug and dug and dug. In so doing, they dismantled the archaeological record of centuries (if not millenia) of settlement of the site. They dug through – and past – the level at which archaeologists now believe the Homeric city would have stood, if it did, indeed, exist at that site. (Which is unknown, because, sadly, all evidence was destroyed by the ongoing excavation.)
Finally, they reached the lowest levels. And they found gold! Schleimann said that, as soon as he saw the glint of gold in the dirt, he sent the workers home, choosing instead to excavate the treasure himself, assisted only by his wife, Sophia. What he named “Priam’s Treasure” was a marvelous cache of artifacts, which included jewelry (“The Jewels of Helen”), weaponry, and sumptuous metal household items.
That’s Sophia Schleimann, wearing the Jewels of Helen.
There are a couple of problems with Schleimann’s connection between these items and the Trojan Wars. First, they’re too early. (Ooops – maybe Helen AND the Trojans were all into retro? No wonder they lost the war, if all their weaponry was outdated.) Second, some of the workmen reported having located items that were part of “Priam’s Treasure” in other sites – graves, for example – and shown them to Schleimann. They were reportedly quite surprised to see those same items “discovered” in Hissarlik!
Schleimann smuggled most of the treasure out of Turkey. It finally found a home in the Berlin Museum, where it was wrangled over by governments until 1945, at which point it disappeared.
There were rumors that the artifacts were in Soviet hands, which the Soviets denied most earnestly. Imagine everyone’s surprise, then, when they were “rediscovered” in the Pushkin Museum.
Of course, the Russians were eager to abide by the treaties with Germany that called for the repatriation of all looted art and treasures. Well, no. They’re claiming the treasure as compensation for damage done to Russian cities by German attacks.
So, the items looted from Turkey by Schleimann ended up being looted from Germany by the Soviets.
I’m waiting for Turkey to invade Russia to retrieve it all. Complete the circle, as it were.
Why do we care? Well… Why wouldn’t we?
The wrong guy won. Just sayin’.