Trojan treasure still waiting to come home

PHOTOCİHAN, MEHMET GÜLER

November 04, 2012, Sunday/ 15:07:00

A number of the many Trojan artifacts carried out of Turkey illegally many years ago have recently made their way home as a result of the efforts of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

 At the same time, though, the vast majority of Troy’s treasure still remains outside of Turkey. In fact, items taken out of Turkey in the 19th century by German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann are scattered among 47 collections around the world, though many have been located in Russia.

Several Trojan treasure that had been at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the US since 1966 made their way back to Turkey about a month ago. Dating from 2400 B.C., the pieces were part of a 24-piece set of gold jewelry. But that is just the beginning. Rüstem Aslan, a professor of archeology at Çanakkale 18 March University (ÇOMU) and assistant president of the Troy Excavation Committee, and his colleague Ali Sönmez, a professor of history at ÇOMU, confirmed that there are 8,800 pieces at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts as well as another 11,000 at the State Hermitage Museum. These include not only valuable jewelry but also silver plates and pots, and other gold, metal and bronze items.

Schliemann tried every way possible

Sönmez, in an article soon to be published in the Ankara University Journal of the Center for Ottoman Studies (OTAM), describes the early legal battles waged by the Ottomans against Schliemann for the stolen Trojan treasure. Apparently, the Ottoman archives note that Schliemann tried every way he could to steal the treasure.

His first obstacle was the landowners near his intended dig site. Local villagers rejected Schliemann’s offers to buy land in the area. Schliemann turned to the education minister, Savfet Pasha, but he also blocked Schliemann’s efforts by buying land in the area in the name of a museum, and thus added an Ottoman claim to any artifacts that might be found. Schliemann had originally hoped to start digging in 1869 but he was frustrated in his attempts and was only able to obtain the necessary permission in 1871 with the assistance of the American ambassador.

Ottomans lose legal battle

According to laws in place at the time, Schliemann was obliged to turn over half of the treasure he unearthed to the state, and he was given ownership of the remaining half. He was legally allowed to sell his items, but he was not allowed to take them outside the country. In 1873 though, the German archeologist ignored the many warnings the Ottoman state gave him about taking the Trojan items outside the country, and in fact shipped them to Athens that same year.

The Ottomans began a lengthy legal and political battle against Schliemann in Athens in 1874. The first court hearing rendered a decision in Schliemann’s favor, which the Ottomans decided to appeal. At the same time, newspapers published accounts of the events not only in the Ottoman Empire but also in Vienna, Berlin, Paris and London, protesting Schliemann’s activities and any plans to sell the treasure. As a result, the court then ordered Schliemann to return the items. Schliemann, however, immediately had the treasure secreted away in a new location. The Ottomans responded by demanding a payment of 1 million French francs, but a Greek court ruled that this amount could be reduced to 10,000 French francs. Schliemann happily paid this sum, and in the end, the Ottomans, tired of the expense and effort of the series of trials, wound up accepting the court ruling.

Schliemann caused diplomatic crisis

Despite being called a thief by both the Turkish and foreign press, Schliemann was undeterred. He had the support of not only German politicians but also the American Embassy. Political pressure on the Ottomans forced the state to give the archeologist permission to dig yet again, but they were able to place severe restrictions on his work.

All of the treasure found was to be given to Ottoman museums. Also, the dig was to be supervised, and if work stopped for more than two months at any time, permission to work the site was to be revoked. In many ways, Schliemann was not allowed to work comfortably. In fact, he was not even allowed in Troy at one point in 1884. This caused a diplomatic crisis, but none of this was enough to stop Schliemann, who was determined to reach his goal. He once again hid items he found, and his unrelenting efforts even caused serious damage to pieces in the upper layers of the excavation site.

Years later, many of Schliemann’s finds surfaced in Germany. Some of the pieces were on display in a major Berlin museum until World War II, but then disappeared again after the war. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union, the fate of the Trojan treasure was a mystery. Then, in 1992, some of the items reappeared in Russia. It is thought that Soviet troops occupying Berlin after the war claimed the treasure as the spoils of war.

Treasure should be in single museum

The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has asked for the return of the Trojan treasure from Russia, but this request has not been warmly received. The Russians have made it clear that they see Germany as a middleman in the matter.

At the same time, some foreign newspapers have stated that the Trojan pieces are in fact ancient Greek artifacts, and therefore have nothing to do with Turkey now, while others insist that they should be exhibited where they were found.

The UNESCO World Heritage Center shares that view, and the Troy Museum is to be built in Çanakkale in the near future to serve that very purpose. It is hoped that it will exhibit the treasures of Troy in one place, in their homeland.

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