Schliemann and after

Finding the Walls of Troy
June 11, 1999

Susan Heuck Allen's substantial new book brings a refreshing new perspective to the now-fashionable practice of "Schliemann bashing". Rather than concentrating on narrow philological analysis of Schliemann's self-promotion, she diverts the focus to Frank Calvert, placing him and Schliemann in their 19th-century social and intellectual contexts. Although he consistently plays a "walk-on role" in revisionist accounts of Schliemann's career, Calvert's contribution has hitherto not been foregrounded.

Calvert, born in Malta in 1828, went to the Dardanelles (now Çanakkale) in 1845, where his elder brothers, Frederick and James, were consular officials for Britain and the United States. From 1852 he assisted his brothers in their consular and commercial activities and himself became US consular agent in 1874.

The Calverts continued a long tradition of exploration by ancient and modern travellers in the Troad, a landscape steeped in ancient tradition, where every feature had attracted a "Homeric" significance. Within that tradition, the big question was the location of "Homer's Troy". Calvert's approach to this question involved fieldwork (both topographical and archaeological) and the use of ancient written sources. Allen links his work to the mid-19th-century revolution in the study of antiquity. In 1859, the same year as On the Origin of Species , Calvert published his first article, in the journal of the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain, itself recently founded in 1843. But his career as an archaeologist was frustrated by his location away from the centre of intellectual developments in Britain.

Calvert's explorations generated a collection of antiquities and also led him to the conclusion, contrary to prevailing opinion, that "Homer's Troy" was to be identified with a mound known as Hisarlik, part of which he purchased between 1853 and 1856. In 1863 he commenced excavations there to prove his theory, but scandal intervened. His brother Frederick unwittingly became involved in an insurance fraud and disappeared in 1862. Calvert continued his excavations as best he could until 1865, but received a further setback when Frederick reappeared in 1867 and was given a prison sentence in 1868.

Enter Schliemann. In August 1868 he visited the Troad and met Frank Calvert, from whom he heard about the identification with Hisarlik. Schliemann "massaged" his account of this meeting to imply that the identification with Hisarlik was his own. Schliemann's excavations are familiar from other accounts, but their consistent presentation from Calvert's perspective is new. Allen shows that Calvert was repeatedly the victim of Schliemann's ego and unscrupulous behaviour. Having come to a gentleman's agreement regarding the disposition of finds from work at the site he partly owned, the two fell out over a find made on Calvert's section of the mound. When Schliemann identified the lowest level of the site with "Priam's Troy", Calvert's intellectual integrity demanded that he question the identification, suggesting the remains were 1,000 years too early. When he put these doubts in print, Schliemann savaged them and considered himself vindicated when he discovered a group of objects he dubbed "Priam's Treasure" in 1873. The two men's different attitudes to the treasure's clandestine export in contravention of their permit from the Ottoman government are also instructive.

After a reconciliation in 1878 Calvert and Schliemann collaborated for a further 12 years until Schliemann's death in 1890. Their rivalry was mediated by the involvement of professionals, notably Rudolf Virchow and the architect Wilhelm Dörpfeld. Shortly before Schliemann's death the discovery of Mycenaean Greek pottery in Troy VI closed Calvert's 1,000-year gap in its stratigraphy.

Calvert lived until 1908, long enough to receive Dörpfeld's public recognition of his contributions in Troia und Ilios , published in 1902. Even in death Schliemann outdid Calvert. Schliemann was buried in Athens, in a mausoleum designed by Ernst Ziller with sculpted friezes of his excavations; Calvert beneath a simple stone in the family's cemetery at the Dardanelles.

Calvert's antiquities collection was dispersed, some of it donated by his family to the Canakkale museum, where it may soon be properly displayed. Schliemann's, "lost" at the end of the second world war, resurfaced dramatically in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse. Its complicated history has led to claims on it by Russia, Germany, Turkey and Greece. As Allen observes, "Now, at the end of the second millennium ad, East and West are waging perhaps the last Trojan War. The booty is Priam's Treasure."

Allen's account spans 13 chapters, supported by impressive documentation from published and unpublished correspondence. By extending her narrative beyond the confines of individual actions and personalities, she has written arguably the most balanced overall account in one volume of the "discovery of Troy" and its shifting intellectual significance from antiquity to the present. She has successfully reinstated Frank Calvert into the grand narrative surrounding Troy, ancient and modern. But this book is not just for those immersed in the world of Homer; it is also of interest to cultural and intellectual historians. Allen's rich portrait of Calvert has as its frame life at the interface between late Victorian Britain and the disintegrating Ottoman Empire and intellectual endeavour on the threshold of the professionalised modern academy. Ultimately Calvert could not succeed because he was ill-equipped by class, resources and location to participate at the centre of new developments in his field. Schliemann, able by virtue of his wealth to move between the centre and the margins, was hampered by his approach and disposition. Both men were overtaken by professionals like Dörpfeld, Carl Blegen and now Manfred Korfmann (whose work at Hisarlik since 1988 is sketched in a brief epilogue). These scholars, rather than Schliemann, are the intellectual heirs of Calvert, as Allen shows, but it is perhaps ironic that many archaeologists today would question the very enterprise of seeking to identify any specific site with the Troy of Homer's poems, something Allen appears to take for granted.

John Bennet is lecturer in Aegean prehistory, University of Oxford.

Finding the Walls of Troy

Author - Susan Heuck Allen
ISBN - 0 520 20868 4
Publisher - University of California Press
Price - £.50
Pages - 409

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns