The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Priam’s Treasure Necklace

Collier du Trésor de Priam (Neues Museum, Berlin) (6099515968)

Priam’s Treasure Necklace is part of what became called the “Treasure of Priam” discovered in the ancient site of Troy, which is located in modern day Turkey. Ancient Troy was the setting of the Trojan War described in the Greek Epic Cycle, in particular in the Iliad, one of the epic poems by Homer.

“Priam’s Treasure” is a cache of gold and other artifacts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1873. The artifacts are spread across multiple museums including:

  • Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia
  • Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany
  • Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

Schliemann claimed the site to be that of ancient Troy and assigned the artefacts to the King Priam of Troy, from Homeric. This assumption was the result of Schliemann’s ambition to find sites and objects mentioned in the Homer’s epics which took place in southwestern Turkey. At the time archeology was in its infancy and the stratigraphy at Troy had not been scientifically undertaken. Subsequently to Schliemann’s discoveries, the layer in which “Priam’s Treasure” was alleged to have been found has been assigned to an earlier period of Troy which pre-dated Priam the King of Troy, of Trojan War fame, by hundreds of years. Many experts believe that the treasures are a thousand years older than Homer’s King Priam of Troy, who died about 1200 B.C.

Walls of Troy (2)

Walls of Ancient Troy, Hisarlik, Turkey

The story of Heinrich Schliemann discoveries are now famous and controversial. During 1871-73 and then 1878–79, Schliemann excavated a hill called Hissarlik in the Ottoman Empire, near the town of Chanak (Çanakkale) in north-western Anatolia, Turkey. At this site he discovered the ruins of a series of ancient cities, dating from the Bronze Age to the Roman period. Heinrich Schliemann declared one of these cities to be the city of Troy and this declaration was widely accepted at that time and publicised in the global press. Schliemann reported the discovery as follows:

“In excavating this wall further and directly by the side of the palace of King Priam, I came upon a large copper article of the most remarkable form, which attracted my attention all the more as I thought I saw gold behind it. … In order to withdraw the treasure from the greed of my workmen, and to save it for archaeology, … I immediately had “paidos” (lunch break) called. … While the men were eating and resting, I cut out the Treasure with a large knife…. It would, however, have been impossible for me to have removed the Treasure without the help of my dear wife, who stood by me ready to pack the things which I cut out in her shawl and to carry them away.”

Schliemann’s excavations were condemned by later archaeologists as having destroyed the main layers of the real Troy. One archaeologist claimed that Schliemann’s excavations were carried out with such non-archaeological methods that “he did to Troy what the Greeks couldn’t do in their time”. Other scholars agree that the damage caused to the site is irreparable.

Heinrich Schliemann - Imagines philologorum

Heinrich Schliemann (1822 – 1890)

More insights on Heinrich Schliemann’s historical discoveries in “Joy of Museums” can be found at the following links:

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Priam’s Treasure Necklace
  • Date:                     2200 BCE
  • Material:             Gold
  • Discovered:        1873: Site of Ancient Troy in modern Turkey
  • Museums:           Neues Museum, Berlin

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“Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed. You will never be more lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
― Homer, The Iliad

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Photo Credit: 1) By Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France (Collier du Trésor de Priam (Neues Museum, Berlin)) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) CherryX per Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 3) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons