150 Years Since Heinrich Schliemann Uncovered the “Treasure of Priamos” in Troy

Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte

On 31 May 1873, precisely 150 years ago, Heinrich Schliemann made the archaeological find of his life in Troy, one that would go on to make him famous. When the treasure trove was uncovered, Schliemann was convinced that the golden jewellery and vessels had to be the treasure of the mythical King Priamos of Troy, and it has since gone down in history as the “Treasure of Priamos”.

“[I] loosened (…) the treasure from its rock-hard surroundings, an undertaking that (…) was highly perilous, for the large retaining wall (…) threatened to tumble down upon me at any moment. But the sight of so many objects, each one of which had to be of immeasurable value for archaeology, made me foolhardy, and erased the thought of the danger from my mind.”

This is how Heinrich Schliemann (1822–1890) describes what must have been the most thrilling moment in his third excavation campaign of 1873 at the site of the settlement of Troy in his biography. The objects that were uncovered included golden and silver pitchers and vases, ornate diadems, precious pieces of jewellery and bronze accoutrements, truly a treasure trove fit for a king. Even before the excavations had been completed, Schliemann began publicly promoting this sensational find and named it after the ruler of the city that Homer described in his Iliad, calling it the “Treasure of Priamos”. The discovery of the gold of Troy cemented Schliemann’s fame, making him one of Germany’s best-known and most successful archaeologists at 51 years of age.

Schliemann as Smuggler

After its secretive and dangerous recovery, the “Treasure of Priamos” was initially brought to the central excavation building. To avoid the individual pieces of the treasure being dividing up as required by the stipulations of his excavation permit from the Ottoman authorities, Schliemann smuggled his find illegally to Greece. But the Ottoman Empire insisted on implementing its partage rules, taking Schliemann to court in Athens. After a settlement was agreed upon, the entire “Treasure of Priamos” ultimately became the property of Schliemann for a payment of 10,000 gold francs. In order to be able to continue carrying out excavations in Troy, Schliemann also paid several times this amount to the imperial museum in Constantinople.

The Path of the “Collection of Trojan Antiquities” through to the Present Day

In 1881, Heinrich Schliemann donated his Trojan antiquities to the Royal Museums in Berlin to be “preserved in their entirety”. There, until 1939, they were shown at the Völkerkundemuseum and at the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Martin-Gropius-Bau). In 1941, the most valuable items in the collection of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, including the archaeological finds from Troy, were moved to the safe of the Prussian State Bank, and later to an anti-aircraft bunker at Zoologischer Garten. After the conclusion of the war, the Red Army transported these items to the Soviet Union as spoils of war.  

Until 1994, nobody outside of Russia knew the whereabouts of the golden objects from the treasure of Priamos. In the proceeding years, Germany made repeated requests for their return. However, in 1998, the Duma passed a resolution – in contravention of international law – declaring the objects the property of the Russian state, and they have since been presented in the permanent exhibition of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The silver and ceramic objects from the find, however, remain in the collection of the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, which, as Schliemann dictated in his bequest, remains the custodian of this unique “Collection of Trojan Antiquities”.

The Worlds of Schliemann
13.05.2022 to 08.01.2023

Prehistory and early history
Permanent exhibition

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