We published in the last week's Number of this Journal the Portrait of Dr. Schliemann, with Views and Plans of his excavations on the site of the Acropolis of Mycenae, drawn by our Special Artist, Mr. William Simpson, and with some Illustrations of the relics of Greek antiquity there found by Dr. Schliemann, which are now deposited in the Bank of Athens, as the property of his Majesty the King of Greece.

On Friday evening last week, a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries was held at its rooms, Burlington-House—Mr. Frederick William Ouvry, president, in the chair. There was a crowded attendance of Fellows and visitors. Among those present were Mr. W. E. Gladstone, M.P., Lord Houghton, Lord Acton, Lord Aberdeen, Sir George Gilbert Scott, the Hon. Spencer Walpole, Mr. Beresford-Hope, M.P., the Rev. Dr. Thompson (Master of Trinity College, Cambridge), Mr. Alfred Tennyson, Mr. W. R. S. Ralston, Professor Leone Levi, Sir Philip Egerton, Earl Stanhope, Professors Colvin and Machaffy, and Mr. James Spedding.

Mr. Watson, secretary, having read the minutes of the last meeting, which were confirmed, the following gentlemen were admitted members:—Lord Houghton, the Rev. Dr. Thompson, the Hon. Spencer Walpole, Lord Acton, the Earl of Aberdeen, and Mr. Philip Egerton. The secretary then said that they had arrived at the real business of the meeting. After eight days and nights of incessant travelling, Dr. Schliemann arrived in this country only this morning, with the object of reading his paper before the society on his discoveries at Mycenae. In illustration of these discoveries photographs and plans were exhibited on the walls. Upon the last occasion Dr. Schliemann was present the late president, who then occupied the chair, said he was certain that if the lecturer again visited this country he was sure to have a good reception. The crowded meeting that night verified the late Lord Stanhope’s prophecy.

On rising to read his paper the illustrious discoverer was greeted with the heartiest welcome. Dr. Schliemann said that, in his opinion, there was, next to Troy, no Eastern prehistoric city of so high archaeological interest as Mycenae, because, owing to its secluded site in a rugged wilderness, the grandeur and massiveness of its ruins, and its distance from Argos and Nauplia, it has not attracted the modern mason, who found it much easier to cut new blocks from the quarry according to his wants than to destroy Mycenae’s walls and to carve their enormous and amorphous stones, lienee the conservation of Mycenae’s ruins, which can hardly have deteriorated since Pausanias visited them, a.d. 170. At all events, they are far better preserved than those of any one of the Greek cities, the flourishing condition and splendour of whose monuments he describes. His short description (II. 16, 6) of Mvcenae runs thus:

Among other remains of the wall is the gate, on which stand lions. They (the wall and the gate) are said to be the work of the Cyclones, who built the wall for Partus in Tiryns. In the ruins of Mycenae is the fountain called Perseia, and the subterranean buildings of Atreus and his children, in which they stored their treasures. There is a sepulchre of Atreus, with the tombs of Agamemnon’s companions, who on their return from Ilium were killed at dinner by Ægisthus. The identity of the sepulchre of Cassandra is called in question by the Lacedemonians of Amyklæ. There is a tomb of Agamemnon and that of his charioteer, Eurymedon. Teledamos and Pelops were deposited in the same sepulchre, for it is said that Cassandra bore these twins, and that, when still little babies, they were slaughtered by Ægisthus, together with their parent. Hellanikos (b.c. 495-411) writes that Pylades, who was married to Electra by the consent of Orestes, had by her two sons, Medon and Strophios. Clytemnestra and Ægisthus were buried at a little distance from the wall, because they were thought unworthy to have their tombs inside of it, where Agamemnon reposed, and those who were slain with him.

Pausanias gives no further details, but his short description is of prime interest to science, because it proves that by tradition the great subterranean domelike buildings had been treasuries, to hoard the wealth of Atreus and his children; it further proves that tradition had handed down the site of the five tombs where Atreus as well as Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon, and their companions, who had been murdered along with them by AEgisthus, lay buried. 44 “But, luckily for me,” continued Dr. Schliemann, “this passage of Pausanias regarding the site of these tombs had always been misunderstood— nay, misinterpreted—by such eminent scholars as W. M. Leake, Edward Dodwell, Prokesch, and Ernest Curtins, who, with Pausanias in hand, explored the Peloponnesus for years, and wrote on it learned works, which will for ever remain celebrated.” They had misunderstood their author, because they thought that in speaking of the wall he meant that of the city, and not the great Acropolis wall, and they, therefore, imagined that he finds the site of the five sepulchres in the lower city, and the site of the tombs of Clytemnestra and Ægisthus outside of it. But that he had the citadel walls only in view he shows by saying that in the wall is the Lions Gate. True, he afterwards speaks of the ruins of Mycenæ, in which he saw the fountain Perseia and the Treasuries of Atreus and his sons, by which latter he can only mean the large Treasury, which is, indeed, in the lower city, and, perhaps, some of the smaller Treasuries. But as further on he again says that the graves of Clytemnestra and Ægisthus are at a little distance outside the walls, because they were thought unworthy to be buried inside of it, where Agamemnon and his companions reposed, there cannot be any doubt that he had solely in view the huge Cyclopean walls of the citadel.

Rock-cut chamber in the Treasury of Atreus. Illustrated London News (31 March 1877): 306.

Having adduced other grounds for his having always understood Pausanias in the sense that the five tombs are in the Acropolis, citing for the fact that such was his opinion in 1869 his work, “Ithaque, le Péloponnése, et Troie” (p. 97), Dr. Schliemann said that on the strength of it he, three years ago, sunk thirty-four shafts in different parts of the Acropolis to probe the ground and find the spots where he would have to excavate for the tombs. In twenty-eight he found nothing; but the other six, which he sunk in the first western and south-western terrace, gave encouraging results, and particularly those two which he had dug one hundred yards south of the Lions Gate. For not only did he there strike two Cyclopean house-walls, but he found also there a number of female idols and small cows in terracotta. He, therefore, began extensive diggings here, but met with serious hindrances, and only at the end of last July did he find it possible to carry out his plans. But going, with Mrs. Schliemann, from Nauplia to Mycenæ, they found it impossible to pass Tiryns, the Royal city of Proetus, and the birthplace of Hercules, without stopping a week to explore it, its huge Cyclopean walls, deemed by the Greeks themselves the work of the demons, and more stupendous than the Pyramids of Egypt. . . .

Interior of the Treasury of Atreus. Illustrated London News (31 March 1877): 306.

[The buildings were] of a primitive kind, being composed of uncut stones, joined without cement. The accumulation of the rubbish in Tiryns having been formed by the débris of the successive populations, one sees there how the terra-cottas gradually beoome more and more archaic the deeper one digs. Since its capture by the Argives (b.c. 468) the citadel of Tiryns, as proved by the pottery, was never again inhabited until the Middle Ages—say, the thirteenth century—when it was for a long time the site of a villa, with its dependencies. Immediately below the strata of the ruins of this villa follows the archaic pottery, to which archeology cannot assign a later date than the sixth century b.c., or the beginning of the fifth. He would not on that occasion describe the beautiful Tirynthian pottery, because he would have to speak of the Mycenean, with which it was homogeneous. He would only remark that Hera (Juno), the tutelary goddess of Mycenæ, seems to have been the tutelary of Tiryns also. For there, too, just as at Mycenæ, he found the homed idols of the “cow-faced Hera.”

After mentioning other finds at Tiryns, including coins, Dr. Schliemann continued the account of his excavations at Mycenæ, where he gradually increased the number of his workmen to 125, which for four months had been the average. He ordered the workmen near the Lions Gate to open a passage into the Acropolis, which, when the citadel was taken, had been blocked up by the huge stones hurled by the Mycenæ men at the besiegers and by the ruins of houses which had been washed down from the top of the Acropolis, producing a heap of débris much higher than the gate itself. A much larger gang dug 40 ft. from the gate trench, 113 ft. square. A third party of workmen dug a trench on the south side of the Treasury in the lower city, near the Lions Gate, in search of the entrance. This Treasury, like that of Atreus, was to turn out subterranean. But either by accident, as some of the inhabitants of the Argolid say, or by the sacrilegious hands of Vely Pasha, son of the notorious All Pasha, who is said by others to have tried to force an entrance this way, the upper part of the domelike vault has been destroyed and the stones had fallen into the interior building, which had by degrees been almost filled with the rubbish.

The examination of this Treasury, under Mrs. Schliemann, had been one of the most difficult they had ever made, partly from the nature of the terrain and partly from the obstructiveness of the delegate of the Greek Government, under whose Argus eye all the excavations were conducted. Hence they succeeded only in clearing out the passage of the entrance to the central part of this Treasury. The door has the enormous height of 18 ft. 5 in., and is 8 ft. 4 in. broad. On the threshold, which consists of a hard breccia, and which is 2 ft. 5 in. broad, was found a very thin round plate of gold. In the entrance also was one of the 4 ft. 3 in. high long-fluted semi-columns of calcareous stone; one of a pair which once stood to the right and left of the entrance. There was also a large fragment of a frieze of blue marble, with an ornamentation of circles and rows of wedge-like signs in form of fish spines; further, an almost entire frieze of white marble, with an ornamentation of beautiful spirals. Nothing further was found in this Treasury, which was evidently empty when the upper walls fell in. There are here no signs of the walls having been lined with brazen plates; it is, besides, less sumptuous, and seems older than the Treasury of Atreus.

In the Acropolis Dr. Schliemann had entirely cleared the famous Lions Gate, which he went on to describe, discussing also the old question of the symbolism of the lions surmounting the gateway, and of the altar surmounted by a column, on each side of which rest the forepaws of one of the two lions. One theory was that the column related to the solar worship of the Persians; another that the altar is a fire-altar, guarded by the lions; a third that we have here a representation of Apollo Agyieus. Dr. Schliemann himself was of this last opinion, which he thought was borne out by the Phrygian descent of the Pelopidæ. The lion-cult of the Phrygians was well known. Besides, among the jewels found in the tombs, of which he was to speak afterwards, and especially in the first tomb, this religious lion symbolism reappeared. On two of the repoussé gold plates there found was seen a lion sacrificing a stag to Hera [Greek] who was represented by a large cow’s head, with open jaws, just in the act of devouring the sacrifice. On entering the Lions Gate were seemingly the ancient dwellings of the doorkeepers, of whom some account was given. Further on, as at Troy, was quadrangular Cyclopean masonry, marking the site of a second gate of wood. Still further on were two small Cyclopean water-conduits; to the right of the entrance-passage were two Cyclopean cisterns.

A little further on came to light that large double parallel circle of closely jointed slanting slabs, which had become so famous daring the last three months. Only about one half of it rests on the rock, the other half rests on a 12 ft. high Cyclopean wall, which has been expressly built to support it in the lower part of the Acropolis. The double circle had been originally covered with cross slabs, of which six are still in situ. Inside the double slabs was, first, a layer of stones, for the purpose of holding the slabs in their position. The remaining space was filled up with pure earth mixed with long, thin cockles, in the places where the original covering remains in its position, or with debris of houses mixed with countless fragments of archaio pottery wherever the covering was missing. This circumstance could leave no doubt that the cross slabs were removed long before the capture of Mycenæ by the Argives (b.c. 468). The entrance to the double circle was from the north side. In the western half of the circle Dr. Schliemann discovered three rows of tomb steles, nine in all, made of calcareous stone. All stood upright; four only which faced the west had sculptures in relief. One stelæ, precisely that beneath which was found the body with the golden plates representing the lion sacrificing the stag to Hera [Greek], represents a hunting scene. The two next sculptured sepulchral slabs represent each a battle scene. Details of these scenes were given, as well as of those presented by the other sculptured tombs, of which Dr. Schliemann's letters in our columns have already given some account. The Mycenæ slabs, he said, were unique of their kind. The manner in which they fill up the spaces not covered by men and animals wit a variety of beautiful spiral ornaments reminds us of the principles of the painting on the so-called Orientalizing vases. But in the Mycenæn sculptures nowhere do we see a representation of plants, so characteristic of ancient Greek ornamentation of this class. The whole is rather linear ornamentation, representing the forms of the bas-relief. Hereby we have an interesting reference to the epoch in Greek art preceding the time when that art was determined by Oriental influences, an epoch which may approximately be said to reach far back into the Second Millennium (b.c.). Dr. Schliemann knew of no example in history of an acropolis having served as a burial place save the small building of the Caryatides in the Atnenian Acropolis, the traditional sepulchre of Cecrops, first king of Athens. But we now . . . rendered by them to Mycenæ which deserved such splendid funereal honours. It was argued at length that the inhabitants of these tombs could be none other than the very persons spoken of in the extract Dr. Schliemann had cited at the outset from Pausanias, in spite of the certainty that the traveller of the An to nine age could never have seen the tombs, which were then covered by a 10 ft. thick layer of prehistoric rubbish. No ancient writer mentioned that Mycenæ was rebuilt after b.c. 468, and Strabo even said that the site had remained uninhabited ever sinoe its capture; but facts proved that the city had been rebuilt about b.c. 400, and again about b.c. 200.

Dr. Schliemann then proceeded to state what he had found below the ruins of the Hellenic city. He spoke of the vast masses of splendidly painted archaic vases. Iron, he remarked, was found in the upper Hellenic city only, and no trace of it in the prehistoric strata. Glass was found now and then in the shape of white beads. Opal glass also occurred as beads or small ornaments. Sometimes wood was found in a perfect state of preservation, as in the board of a box (Greek word), on which were carved in bas-relief beautiful spirals. Rock-crystal was frequent, for beads and also for vases. There were also beads of amethyst, onyx, agate, serpentine, and the like precious stones, with splendid intaglio ornamentation representing men and animals. When, towards the middle of November, he wished to close the excavations, Dr. Schliemann excavated the spots marked by the sepulchral slabs, and found below of them immense rock-cut tombs, as well as other seemingly much older tombstones, and another very large sepulchre from which the tombstones had disappeared. These tombs and the treasures they contained, consisting of masses of jewels, golden diadems, crowns with foliage, large stars of leaves, girdles, shoulder-belts, breastplates, Ac., were described in detail. He argued that as one hundred goldsmiths would need years to prepare such a mass of jewels there must have been goldsmiths in Mycenæ from whom such jewels could have been bought ready-made. He spoke of the necklaces, too, and of the golden mask taken from one of the bodies, which must evidently be a portraiture of the deceased. Dr. Schliemann then proceeded to show that in a remote antiquity it was either the custom, or, at least, it was nothing unusual, for living persons to wear masks. That also immortal gods wore masks was proved by the busts of Pallas Athene, of which one copy was in the British Museum and two in Athens. It was also represented on the Corinthian medals. The treasures of Mycenæ did not contain an object which represented a trace of Oriental or Egyptian influences, and they proved, therefore, that ages before the epoch of Pericles there existed here a flourishing school of domestic artists, the formation and development of which must have occupied a great number of centuries. They further proved that Homer had lived in Mycenæ's golden age, and at or near the time of the tragic event by which the inmates of the five sepulchres lost their lives, because shortly after that event Mycenæ sank by a sudden political catastrophe to the condition of a poor powerless provincial town, from which it had never again emerged. They had the certainty that Mycenæ’s flourishing school of art disappeared, together with its wealth; but its artistical genius survived the destruction, and when, in later centuries, circumstances became again favourable for its development it lifted a second time its head to the heavens. In conclusion, he said that if they thought Mrs. Schliemann and he had by their disinterested labours contributed a little to show that Homer did not describe myths, but real events and tangible realities, this would be to them a most flattering acknowledgment and a greater encouragement in the continuation of their works in Troy, which they would resume very soon, for they had the necessary Firman of the Turkish Government in their hands.

After a few remarks from Mr. John Evans, Lord Houghton, and Mr. Watson upon the discoveries of Dr. Schliemann, Mr. Gladstone rose to address the meeting, and was loudly cheered. He said Dr. Schliemann had over-bountifully paid him for the little he had been able to do in the fields of Homeric inquiry. He felt the lecturer's liberality must react in weakening the foundation of anything he (Mr. Gladstone) presumed to say on Dr. Schliemann’s behalf, and must lead to the suspicion that he was only endeavouring to requite the generosity shown. He (Mr. Gladstone) was glad that another person besides Dr. Schliemann had been mentioned on this occasion—he meant Mrs. Schliemann. In every respect Dr. Schliemann by his immense labours had gone far bejond expectations. There was one point, however, in which they felt he was not so happy. They had means, when he came back from Ilium, of verifying more or less almost everything he had seen in the way of weapons, utensils, &c., by comparing them with the poems of Homer. It was the standard of an age in which they could carry these remains. He (Mr. Gladstone) was still very strongly of opinion, as he was hopefully impressed at first with the belief that a very remarkable correspondence would be found to exist between them. Now, thanks to splendid munificence, unwearied perseverance, and discernment, they seemed to have attained to a great accession to the antiquarian wealth of the world. They were told there were great men before Agamemnon who remained unknown because they had no sacred poet to sing their praises. Dr. Schleimann's present discoveries seemed to fall between the period of Homeric literature and the Classic age of the Greeks. It was probable that it would be reserved to Dr. Schleimann—such was his energy and such was the large fund of buoyancy and strength which seemed to abide both in him and Mrs. Schliemann—to traverse the scenes so as to complete and explain his own discovery. Although the impression given in listening to him was that, for the most part, they were dealing with the remains of a later age than the Dorian Conquest, yet there might be among the objects which he described some which were of greater antiquity even than what were referred to in the poems of Homer. He had seen comments upon some of these discoveries of Dr. Schliemann which had filled him with pain, because they had not been conceived in that spirit of generosity and brotherhood which ought to unite whatever differences of opinion might arise in this inquiry. He was only sorry to say that even in Germany, among that great and learned fraternity, they were not united by that true brotherhood and spirit of generosity in this matter. The only point upon which Dr. Schliemann had dwelt which he was tempted to refer to was regarding his theory and belief as to the Hera &o*nns. It might be well supposed that he was not prepossessed in favour of Dr. Schliemann’s view of the ”owl-faced At hen d ; ” yvet he might be allowed to cite his own “Homeric Synchronisms” as to the cow-faced ”Hera.” Mr. Gladstone then proceeded to read the extract in which the relation was pointed out between the Egyptian cow goddess Isis and Hera and Io the Argive deities, who were each represented as fawns. This, added Mr. Gladstone, was an important link between the animal worship of the Nile land and [the deities of ancient Greece.]

Related Material


“Dr. Schliemann’s Researches at Mycenae.” Illustrated London News. (31 March 1877): 304-07. Google Books. Web. 29 April 2021.

Last modified 13 May 2021