Wednesday, 27 January 2016




Who Owns the Treasure of Troy?

Discovered at Troy in Turkey, smuggled to Greece, bestowed to Germany, and confiscated by the Soviet Union – the treasure of Troy is still causing conflict. Forget Hollywood’s numerous adaptations of the Trojan War (Brad Pitt anyone?), the ownership debate over the treasure of Troy is equally impressive.

Heinrich Schliemann's wife, Sophia, wearing the "Jewels of Helen". Source.

The treasure had its origins in Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations at the site of ancient Troy in northwestern Anatolia (Turkey) in the 1870s. Here, he discovered the ruins of a series of ancient cities, as well as a spectacular cache of gold. The treasure included golden earrings, necklaces, pots of silver and gold and other items. The most impressive of these were two gold diadems, referred to as the “Jewels of Helen”. By most accounts, Schliemann did remove the finds from his digs without permission. The treasure moved through several countries before showing up at the Pushkin Museum in 1993. But the story is not over. The following is a summary of the ongoing claims to the Trojan treasure:

The Turkish Claim

The Ottoman Government, which constituted Government of Turkey at the time, gave Schliemann permission to dig at Hissarlik and share the artefacts he found. However, a week after Schliemann found the treasure, he smuggled it out of Turkey in 1873.

In 1874 the Ottoman Government began a lengthy legal and political battle against Schliemann for illegally removing the treasure to his home in Greece. An out-of-court settlement was eventually reached in 1876. As of 2015, the treasure is located in 44 countries (notably Russia), and Turkish officials at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism aim to bring back as many of the artefacts as possible.

Heinrich Schliemann's excavations at the site of ancient Troy, as sketched in the late 1800s. Source.

The German Claim

In 1880, Schliemann decided the treasure was to go to “the German people in perpetual possession and inalienable custody”. But the war and the arrival of the Soviet Union's Red Army, it was taken from Berlin in 1945. For their part, Germany is making strong claims under Article 16 of an existing 1990 bilateral agreement with Russia that provides for the return of all “missing or unlawfully removed art treasures” seized during the Second World War. On a political level, as of 2011, nothing has happened.

The Treasures of Troy, as first displayed. Source.

The Russian Claim

As mentioned, Russia is technically bound by a 1990 bilateral agreement that provides for the return of all pilfered art and artefacts back to Germany. But the return of the treasure is blocked by museum directors in Russia who defer to the 1998 Russian Cultural Property Law.

One of the gold diadems on display at the Pushkin Museum. Source.


More than 20 years after its reappearance in Russia, the question still remains as to where the treasure of Troy rightfully belongs. Other claims for the treasure have been made by Greece and other archaeologists, but no updates have been given. As for the return of artefacts, a 24-piece gold accessory from the Penn Museum is already on “indefinite loan” to the Republic of Turkey.

With the construction of the Museum of Troy nearing completion, I hope more of the treasure makes its way back to the site of ancient Troy. As archaeologist Manfred Korfmann once said: “[N]ot only finds of Schliemann but also every single one of the objects extracted from Troy should be gathered in one place”.

What are your thoughts?

Sources Consulted

Goldman, Klaus, Özgen Agar, and Stephen K. Urice. “Who Owns Priam’s Treasure?: An Odyssey Debate.” Archaeology Odyssey July/August 1999.
Moorehead, Caroline. 1994. The Lost Treasures of Troy. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.


  1. This was such a hotly contested issue that we discussed inside & outside of the classroom all the time while I was an undergrad in the Classical Studies program at uOttawa. It's a compelling story, but with no immediately apparent right answer. It would be the easy way out to suggest a joint partnership between these nations to care for the collection, but that is such a highly unlikely outcome. In the end, I hope the collection gets the care and respect it needs as a world treasure.

  2. I agree completely, Madeline. Before writing the article, I had a firm idea as to where the collection should be housed and cared for but now I am less certain. At this point, cultural collaboration would be the most favourable outcome. There is another plot twist to this story: the treasure of Troy might be fake. Historians and archaeologists have been able to confirm that Schliemann doctored his notes and accounts concerning the discovery of the treasure. As well, the collection (if authentic) has been dated to 1250 years OLDER than the site of Homeric Troy. It is another on going debate.