The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Treasure from Troy

Priamosschatz Silbervasen

This “Treasure from Troy” is part of what became called the “Treasure of Priam” discovered in the ancient site of Troy, which is in modern day Turkey. Ancient Troy was the setting of the Trojan War described in the Iliad, one of the epic poems by Homer.

“Priam’s Treasure” was a cache of jewelry, gold, copper, terra cotta and other ancient artefacts discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1873. A partial catalogue of the treasure is shown in an early 1880 photograph below.

“Priam’s Treasure” discovered by Heinrich Schliemann. The collection was divided after 1880. This photo most was taken before the collection was broken up across multiple museums

The artefacts are now spread across multiple museums including:

Schliemann claimed the site to be that of ancient Troy and therefore 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 that time, archaeology was in its infancy and the stratigraphy at Troy had not been scientifically undertaken. Following Schliemann’s discoveries, the layer in which “Priam’s Treasure” was alleged to have been found has been more historically assessed and 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.

Sophia schliemann

Portrait of Sophia Schliemann (wife Heinrich Schliemann) wearing “Jewels of Helen” from “Treasure of Priam”

The stories 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. It is claimed that Schliemann’s excavations were carried out with such haste and 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:

A partial catalogue of the treasure is listed below:

  • A silver vase containing:
    • two gold diadems (the “Jewels of Helen”)
    • 8,750 gold rings
    • buttons and other small objects
    • six gold bracelets
  • A copper vase
  • A gold bottle
  • Two gold cups
  • Several red terra cotta goblets
  • An electrum cup (mixture of gold and silver and copper)
  • Six wrought silver knife blades
  • Three silver vases with copper parts
  • Silver goblets and vases
  • Thirteen copper lance heads
  • Fourteen copper axes
  • Seven copper daggers
  • A copper shield
  • A copper cauldron
  • Copper artefacts with the key to a chest and hasp of a chest

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     Treasure from Troy
  • Date:                     2200 BCE
  • Material:             Gold, Silver, Copper, Terra cotta
  • 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)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) CherryX per Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 3) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 5) See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons