Priam’s/Troy’s Treasure

Heinrich Schliemann was a wealthy German businessman and archeologist with a special interest in finding the sites of Greek mythology. He met the English archeologist Frank Calvert, who had started excavations on land bought from a local farmer at a hill called Hissarlik in modern-dayTurkey, by chance. Schliemann started his own digs before taking over Calvert’s as well. He discovered the ruins of a series of ancient cities dating from Bronze Age to the Roman period. Though at this time – the 1870s –Troy was consigned to the realms of legend, Schliemann, as Calvert before him, was convinced that he had found Troy. The identification was widely accepted.

During excavations he found a treasure, which – as he believed to dig up the legendary Troy– he contributed to Troy’s King at the time of the Trojan War, Priam. Thus, the treasure became known as Priam’s treasure. It comprises of numerous copper, silver and gold cups, goblets, bottles, vases, shields, lance heads, daggers, knives and jewelry, which became known as the Jewels of Helen.

Schliemann smuggled the artifacts out of the country – according to his words to save them for archeology. It became public when his wife wore Helen’s Jewels in public. Schliemann’s excavation permission was revoked. To regain access to his excavation site again, Schliemann traded parts of the treasure with the government of the Ottoman Empire for a renewed permission. The rest of the treasure was legally acquired by the Royal Museums of Berlin. It stayed in its collection until 1945.

In 1945 the treasure disappeared from a bunker beneath the Berlin Zoo. Its whereabouts became a mystery comparable to the mystery about the whereabouts of the Amber Room. It was suspected that the Red Army had removed it from the bunker when the Russians captured Berlin, yet the Soviet Union during Cold War times always denied its possession. Then, one night in September 1993, some people held a party in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. They went into storage and took photos with things they found there in boxes. Later on people recognized Priam’s treasure on the photos. The return of the treasure to Berlin was arranged in a treaty between the Russian and the German government, yet it is being blocked by Russian museums directors, who see the treasure as part of a compensation for the looting of Russian museums by the Nazi army during WWII.

Last but not least, today the site of Schliemann’s excavation is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list and nobody argues that it is the site of the legendary Troy. Yet, the layer in which Schliemann claims to have found the treasure is not corresponded with a layer dating all the way back to the Trojan War. Hence, it is unlikely that the treasure really once belonged to Priam or the jewels to Helen. Therefore, the treasure is not called Priam’s Treasure today, but Troy’s treasure.

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