The son of a Lutheran pastor, Heinrich Ernst Schliemann was born on January 6, 1822 in Neubuckow, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, Germany. The following year, his family moved to Ankershagen, the town that Heinrich Schliemann considered his hometown. The house where he grew up has since been converted to the Heinrich Schliemann Museum. In 1841, at the age of 19, he planned to leave Germany and sail to Colombia, South America for employment opportunities. The ship, however, met with a tremendous storm and made it only as far as Holland before it was stranded on the coast. With the help of a local family, Schliemann recuperated from the shipwreck and moved on to Amsterdam where he worked as a clerk and began to study a wide variety of languages. As it turns out, Schliemann had an aptitude for languages and during his life expanded his knowledge to include English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Italian, Greek, Latin, Russian, Arabic, and Turkish.
In 1844 he became an employee of the trading house B.H. Schröder and Co. Two years later, after learning Russian, the company sent him to St. Petersburg to serve as a commodities trading agent. Although he remained an agent for B.H. Schröder, Schliemann started his own agency as well. This independent venture was the first step in accumulating his great personal fortune. In 1852, he married a Russian woman, Ekaterina Lyshina, and had three children with her. In the following years, Schliemann, by now economically secure, began the first of his many travels around the world which would eventually include Egypt, Greece, the Near East, North Africa, India, Singapore, China, Japan, North and South America. During these travels he always kept a diary and it is from these that we learn much about his life. Today, these diaries reside in the Gennadius Library.
In 1863, worn out by the commercial business world and estranged from his Russian wife, Schliemann decided to semi-retire and revert to his childhood love of ancient Greek. The story Schliemann himself told was that he became enamored with ancient Greek as a young grocer’s apprentice when he heard a drunken man in the store reciting passages of Homer. In 1866-7 he made formal steps towards the study of ancient Greece by enrolling in archaeology courses at the Sorbonne in Paris. As Schliemann became more absorbed in the ancient Greek world and more estranged from Russia and his Russian wife, he decided to make Greece his home and began searching for a Greek wife. While on a trip to America in 1869, Schliemann was granted U.S. citizenship in New York and a divorce from his Russian wife by the State of Indiana. In September of that same year he married the 17 year-old Sophia Engastromenos, who was chosen from a pool of prospective brides presented to him by Theocletos Vimpos, Archbishop of Mantinea and Schliemann’s friend and former ancient Greek teacher. The following year, Schliemann commissioned Ernst Ziller to construct a permanent residence for his new bride. The house, named the Iliou Melathron in honor of Troy, was finished in 1880 and still stands—one of the finest examples of Neoclassical architecture in Athens today. It presently houses the Numismatic Museum of Greece.
Schliemann absorbed by his passion for Homer and archaeology, spent the remainder of his life on archaeological endeavors all of which he was able to finance personally. The discovery of Troy (1870-73) was one of Schliemann’s greatest accomplishments and brought him worldwide fame. His other excavations were also significant and include important sites such as Mycenae, Tiryns, and Orchomenos. In 1882 he met Wilhelm Dörpfeld, with whom he collaborated at Troy and Mycenae for the rest of his years and who, after Schliemann’s death, continued excavations at Troy with the financial help of Sophia. Despite all these activities, Schliemann managed to publish the results of his excavations quite rapidly, and often in more than one language (see, for example, major publications such as Mycenae, Ilios, and Tiryns).
Heinrich Schliemann died December 26, 1890 in Naples, Italy succumbing to an infection which had developed after an ear operation earlier that November in Halle, Germany. Wilhelm Dörpfeld accompanied the body back to Athens a few days later. Schliemann is buried in the First Cemetery of Athens in a mausoleum he designed himself. His second wife, Sophia, and their daughter, Andromache, along with her family (surnamed Melas) are also buried there. Heinrich and Sophia’s son Agamemnon is buried in Paris, France.