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vineri, 27 iulie 2012

Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at Mycenae

Heinrich Schliemann excavated at Mycenae in 1876. He excavated several graves finding many golden funerary gifts. He was convinced that the graves, and the bodies he found within them, were those of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon, Clymestra, and Aegisthus but this is debatable. 

Archaeologists have disputed his beliefs ever since. However, there is no doubt is that Heinrich found undeniably ancient and wonderful things. Understanding Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations at Mycenae, and the still raging controversy about them among archaeologists, is impossible without understanding a little about the man.

Heinrich Schliemann was German, a poor pastor’s son. When he was six, his father gave him a copy of Ludwig Jerrer’s “Illustrated History of the World”. A picture of ancient Troy, inside the book, fired young Heinrich’s imagination. He was a good student who wanted to become a classical scholar. However, after his mother died, his father had financial difficulties, meaning Schliemann had to leave school and go to work in a grocery shop, which he hated.

One friendship, with a young miller, who could recite 100 lines of Homer in ancient Greek, brightened his days. He later claimed that, though he could not understand the words, they inspired him, reviving his interest in the classics. He became a successful businessman and eventually learned both ancient and modern Greek. He became obsessed with Homer and ancient Greece. On a dig before Mycenae, he cheated the Turkish government by smuggling a relief showing Apollo, the Greek sun god out of the country. He used the relief as a garden ornament for many years.

Heinrich, like most other archaeologists at the time, was an amateur. He began all his excavations with preconceived notions and no matter what he found never let go of those preconceptions. His obsession with Homer and Greek mythology hampered any true academic study. He only wanted to find treasure simply discarding humbler finds, which might have told future archaeologists much about his excavation sites and about history.

He was insecure, jealous and had delusions of grandeur. His childhood sweetheart married someone else, because he was too poor to marry her. His first marriage was unhappy, ending in divorce, and his second was to a Greek schoolgirl. He eventually bought a house in Athens. He ruled the house like an ancient Greek king, insisting that he receive any messages in Ancient Greek, and that Greek be the only language spoken at table, renaming his servants after Greek mythological and historical characters. The huge mausoleum he built for himself, bears his intended inscription, reading “For the hero Schliemann”. Schliemann’s motivation was not to discover the truth about the past but to make the past fit his ideas.

The Greek authorities were wary of allowing Heinrich to excavate at Mycenae, because they were well aware of his reputation and his previous dishonest dealing with the Turkish government. The Greek Archaeological Society appointed Panagiotis Stamatakis, a conscientious Greek archaeologist, to supervise his work. He said that Schliemann often destroyed classical antiquities because they were not the Homeric items he wanted to find. Other archaeologists had criticized Schliemann for digging furiously through the top layers, and destroying the artifacts they held, to get to the lower layers, where he thought he would find items from Homer’s time.

Schliemann went to Mycenae, an already well-known archaeological site, because it was the legendary palace of King Agamemnon, who according to the Iliad, fought the Trojan War. On a site, originally situated outside the Bronze Age fortress, but enclosed by the 13BC extension of fortifications, Schliemann found five shaft graves, and Panagiotis Stamatakis found a sixth, a year later after Schliemann had left, containing 19 burials. Over each grave, there was a mound and a gravestone (or stelae). Each shaft held between two and five bodies except shaft II that contained one body. Eight men, nine women and two children were buried in these shaft graves.

Among the grave goods buried along with the bodies, there were boar’s tusks in grave 4 and five golden masks in graves 4 and 5, gold rings, buttons, bracelets and weapons. Schliemann’s “Mask of Agamemnon” was found in grave five. It is still called Agamemnon’s mask although archaeologists now know that it is much older than his time. The mask is now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Also in grave five were several gold and silver cups, including “Nestor’s cup” and the “silver siege Rhyton” beside the grave’s inhabitant. The grave goods indicated that the graves belonged to high-ranking people. Weapons were obviously ornamental and the graves contained ornately decorated staffs or scepters. The graves date from 16BC; the Trojan War is usually dated to between 13BC and 12 BC, so the graves are between 3 and four centuries older than Agamemnon’s accepted dates, although this is uncertain.

Some sources state that Schliemann never claimed the mask as Agamemnon’s, but his telegram to George I, Greece’s reigning monarch, shows he truly believed that the graves he found belonged to Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon, Clymestra, and Aegisthus. Schliemann ‘s passion was for Homer, rather than archeology. He was obsessed with proving that Homer’s Iliad was pure fact, whereas most expert sources believe that, like other ancient Greek writers, Homer mixed fact with poetic licence. Schliemann’s excavations were never to learn about the past, merely to further his own obsession with Homer. He was concerned purely with his own fame and with Homer. Schliemann’s chosen inscription on the mausoleum he built for himself tells exactly his motives. He wanted to be one of Homer’s heroes.

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