History Book Club
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
Treasure Hunts in History
Wednesday, July 26, 2017:euser]
Treasure Hunts in History. This is your opportunity to find a treasure and discover the hunt for it, whether it is the quest for gold in California, diamonds in Africa, the hunt for the pharaohs buried in the pyramids, the hunt to discover a cure for polio or yellow fever, the terracotta army buried with Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, the search for the source of the Nile, the discovery of Neanderthal man… This topic is for you to imagine! [Suggested by Walt Frederick]
Map of Ancient Troy, western Turkey and Hellespont
Payne, Robert, The Gold of Troy: The Story of Heinrich Schliemann and the buried cities of ancient Greece, New Yori: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1959. W index. 273 pp.
This is the story of an amazing man who seems to have been able to smell gold while it was still in the ground. Heinrich Schliemann was born January 6, 1822, in Neu Buckow in Mecklenburg. Two years later his father became pastor of a church in the little town of Ankershagen,. also in Mecklenburg. and near the border with Poland.
Young Heinrich grew up in a family that encouraged learning. His father would read German translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. At an early age Heinrich began learning languages and reading. The stories of ancient Troy captured his imagination.
Heinrich’s father sent him to good schools, but in his teen years his father got caught stealing money from his church and was found to be having relations with the maid, so he lost his parish, school stopped, and Heinrich went to work.
A young neighbor one time when Heinrich, at age 18, was feeling discouraged about his life. The man, although he was drunk, recited a hundred lines of Homer in the original Greek. Heinrich was thrilled, and soon began to read Homer, and learned classical Greek.
Heinrich discovered that he could learn a language in weeks, and so he learned French, and English, and Modern Greek…and Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Danish, Turkish and Arabic. He also found that he could make money.
Heinrich took a job with a shipping firm which sent him to St. Petersburg, Russia. He met Ekaterina, daughter of a wealthy merchant. They were married in 1852.
At the time when Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire were fighting Russia in the Crimean War, (1853-1856) he bought a cargo of saltpeter, used in the manufacture of gunpowder, and sold it to the Russians. Just when countries were closing ports because of the war, he cornered the market in indigo dye. He figured a way to ship it to a neutral port, and sold it for a fortune. He did this again with olive oil, tea and cotton, and found that he could outguess the other merchants to make more money.
Although Heinrich and Ekaterina had three children, he found out early on that she was frigid and despised him, and he worked at obtaining a divorce. Her “frigidity” may have been caused by the fact that Heinrich had become quite self-centered and obnoxious.
Heinrich pursued divorce proceedings through the United States, using liberal Indiana divorce law. He went to Indianapolis, convinced authorities that he was an American and wished to make his life in Indiana. He waited for the divorce to become final. He didn’t like the hotels, so he bought a house in a fine part of Indianapolis. All this time Ekaterina stayed in Russia.
Now 47 years old, he still kept alive a yearning to go to Greece and retrace the stories Homer told, and to discover the secrets of Troy. When the divorce became final in 1869, he left for Athens, to look for a new wife and to start his archeological career.
He asked a Greek priest whom he had met in Russia to find a beautiful Greek girl for him to marry. She had to be intelligent, know Homer, and be willing to put up with him. The priest produced a young relative, Sophia, aged 17, 30 years younger than Heinrich. They married and immediately he went to look for the remnants of the civilization that Homer had described.
His first explorations were at Mycenae, near Argos, on the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Heinrich spent a lot of time negotiating with the Greek and Turkish governments to get permission to dig. However, he distrusted the officials, and so it became a cat-and-mouse game with them dragging their feet to give him permission, and trailing him to ensure he was not cheating, which he was.
In these years, archeology was very new, and Schliemann indeed was doing a very earnest and ambitious search. He had the money to employ a large team to carry out the heavy work of lifting huge stones, and digging down through many layers of 6000 or more years of civilization.
He began his digging to find ancient Troy. This was where Helen was kept captive, where the ten-year war was fought. Xerxwes, King of Persia, had passed here. Heinrich could imagine Alexander, on his way to make war with Persia, would swim the Hellespont.
In May 1873 Heinrich made his big discovery in a fortification wall. When he caught the glimmer of the metal, he released the workers for a holiday, then tore away with his pocket knife. He found a copper shield, a copper cauldron, a silver vase and another of copper, a gold bottle, two gold cups. Here was a silver goblet, three large silver vases, seven copper daggers, six silver knife blades, gold diadems, four gold ear-drops, 56 gold earrings and nearly 9000 gold rings and buttons, many very small. The Trojan diadems were more elaborate than Persian and Roman diadems.
Heinrich immediately proclaimed that this hoard belonged to King Priam and the Trojan war with the Greeks, about 1200 B.C. Later it became apparent that this all belonged to an earlier era, probably 1000 years earlier.
Sophia Schliemann wearing a Trojan diadem
He immediately hid all this treasure, and soon smuggled it out of the country, and hid it in various places in Greece. He then began writing about his find in German archeological journals, and the Turks got wind of this and were on his trail.
Schliemann was intelligent, industrious, but he was a braggart, and a con man. He took all the credit, when some credit was due others. Although he was brilliant, his writing was described as enormously ponderous and complex.
Schliemann returned to do more excavation and discovery in Troy in 1878-79 and again in 1882-83.
Payne’s Gold of Troy was published in 1959, and since then, with new techniques for detection of buried objects, archeology has improved greatly, and some have criticized Schliemann for disturbing whole layers of a civilization as he dug deeper in his search. Nevertheless, his work was the first to establish that Homer’s stories were based upon real events in history, and his discoveries have helped us to learn about an important period in the development of western civilization.
Schliemann’s last five years of life were spent quietly. He wrote and spoke in classical Greek and seemed interested only in Homer and that era. He died in 1890. He was 68. His wife Sophia, always a loving partner, died in 1932. She was 83.
. As one contemporary writer wrote: “Schliemann may not have discovered the truth, but the publicity stunt worked, making Schliemann and the site famous and igniting the field of Homeric studies in the late 19th century.”
HISTORY BOOK CLUB TOPICS FOR 2017-18
Wednesday, August 31, 2017: Gloucester and the Sea. euser]
Gloucester has throughout four centuries cast its lot with the North Atlantic, remaining a maritime port for better or worse. The maritime culture of Cape Ann is the mix of a noble maritime heritage; ubiquitous sea influences that reach as far as the quarries behind Rockport and into the haunted tracks of Dogtown Common; seductive but capricious natural splendors; and untidy independence that repels some but converts other visitors into lifetime devotees. We plan to invite Chester Brigham, author of Gloucester’s Bargain with the Sea, to join us. Read this or any other book about the maritime history of Gloucester. [Suggested by Richard Verrengia]
Wednesday, September 28, 2017: The History of History. Read any book about Historiography, or methods of recording history, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Saint Augustine to Ibn Khaldun. You might want to read about ways people have used history as propaganda, or to build up the image of a leader, or focus upon a particular kind of history. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]
Wednesday, October 25, 2017: The Industrial Revolution in New England. Development of mills, the textile industry in Lowell, Lawrence, Manchester and elsewhere. Life in the mills, quality of life in the cities. Advent of the steam engine. Railroads. Banking and commerce in the Industrial age. Labor problems and unionization. Iron and steel production. Coal mining. Communications. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]
Wednesday, November 29, 2017: The Decline of Major Powers. How does it happen, that a nation that has been calling all the shots suddenly finds out that it’s not the Big Cheese any longer? Read about Athens and Sparta, or look at Rome, or the Arab Caliphate, Spain, Great Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union. Do we see China coming to take the mace away from the United States of America? [Suggested by Beverly Verrengia]
No meeting in December
Wednesday, February 28, 2018: Famous Travelers and Adventurers before the 20th Century—their lives and stories. Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Stanley and Livingstone, more. [Suggested by Walt Frederick]
Wednesday, March 28, 2018: The U.S. Navy in Asia. The Asiatic Squadron. The Yangtze Patrol. Patrolling the Philippine Islands, “China Sailors”, World War II, The Seventh Fleet. [Suggested by Walt Frederick]
Wednesday, April 25, 2018: A look at the world and times of Jane Austen. Rockport Public Library is celebrating “Austen in April”. Read about the life of Austen, or focus upon England in the early 1800s, the Royal Navy at that time, the gentle English world Jane lived in. Feel free to read Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, or any of her novels to gather a sense of Jane and her world. [Suggested by Christiann Guibeau]
Wednesday, May 30, 2018: A History of Public Relations. Managing the news, propaganda, image-building. Hitler’s Joseph Goebbels. Ancient persuasive techniques. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]