Thursday, January 29, 2009


Marcelle Robinson, Schliemann's Silent Partner, Frank Calvert (1828-1908). Pioneer, Scholar and Survivor. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2006. Pp. 700; maps 3. ISBN 978-1-4134-2916-9. $35.09. 978-1-4134-2915-2. $24.64 (pb).
Reviewed by Jan P. Stronk, Oude Geschiedenis, Universiteit van Amsterdam (

Over the years, since 1871, the finds in the settlement hill of Hissarlik (to the general public better known as Troy) in northwestern Anatolia have been linked to Heinrich Schliemann. Though Schliemann had nominally transformed himself from a businessman into an archaeologist, he had with respect to the exploitation of his work very much retained the tricks of his former trade. One of those tricks was to gloss over the memory of the man who introduced him to the landmarks of the Troad (and, indeed, the hill of Hissarlik), Frank Calvert. The book under review, written by Marcelle Robinson (henceforward R), is the first elaborate biography of Calvert, a pioneer of archaeological research of the Troad. Since 1993 R has published on Calvert, trying to restore him to the position he--certainly in her opinion--deserves. So far, this book is the culminating point of that effort.

The first 41 pages of this book consist of the preliminary matter: acknowledgements, author's notes, abbreviations, maps, and the Calvert family tree. Introduction and background are described on p. 42-51. Next R paints Calvert's life in 46 chapters (52-443). The appendices start with a (numberless) chronological index of Calvert's writings (444-6), followed by a (numbered) selection of mostly letters or papers written by Calvert (some in facsimile). The book closes with an elaborate index of place names (499-502), a selected index personarum (503-11), reference notes (512-639), bibliography (640-56), illustrations (657-80), and a (general) index (681-700).

The work by R is a detailed biography of Calvert (and wherever needed also taking notice of members of his family,) from the day of his birth (in Valetta, Malta on September 3, 1828) until his death (in the Dardanelles on August 12, 1908). As the title suggests, she pays special attention to Calvert's relationship--and the evolution thereof--with Heinrich Schliemann. The latter first visited Calvert in August 1868 during a tour he made through the Troad in search of Troy.

In 1845 Calvert had moved to the Troad, to the Dardanelles (modern Çannakale), where part of his family already lived and where he finally would become the U.S. consul. Already in late 1846 he had become thoroughly familiar with the region, where the family owned several pieces of property. In 1857 Calvert became the owner of a piece of 2000 acres of "good ground, including the site of Ilium Novum" (81) at Hissarlik. Later, (at last in 1864) he also acquired part of the hill at Hissarlik (apparently, based upon a letter to Schliemann early 1869, half of it: p. 120 and note 22) and started excavating there. It was not his first excavation: previously he had worked at (and published on) Hanai Tepeh, Colonoe, and Ophrynium. These publications show him as an efficient, methodical, and precise excavator. However, he did lack the financial resources for a full scale excavation of the hill of Hissarlik: the work he did, though, convinced him he had found the site of Troy.

R argues that Calvert easily convinced Schliemann, who had ample financial means, of his views regarding Hissarlik. From his part, Schliemann was eager to make Calvert believe that he wholeheartedly trusted his judgment. Both men agreed to resume work together at Hissarlik in the spring of 1869. Meanwhile, however, the Turkish (the denomination R predominantly uses instead of the more proper word Ottoman) authorities forbade "excavations for exportation of antiquities ... throughout the Turkish dominions" (119), which frustrated the attempt to start excavating Hissarlik.

Large portions of R's book are devoted to very detailed accounts of the key moments of the growing tensions between Calvert and Schliemann. The first moment already came in 1869 when Schliemann published his work Ithaque, le Péloponnèse, et Troie. Calvert received a complimentary copy, but cannot have been pleased reading the parts regarding the Troad. Another widening occurred in June 1872, when Schliemann deliberately transgressed the line of Calvert's land. Soon he found some marble slabs, including the so called Helios metope: these slabs presented a problem, since there was no firman (official permission for excavation) to excavate Calvert's part of the hill. They were, technically, joint owner of the metope--until the moment Schliemann bought Calvert's part for a relative trifle. Later Schliemann started his efforts to transport the metope to Athens, an effort that succeeded early August. Later that month Schliemann himself returned to Athens, where he expanded on the value (in meaning and money) of the metope.

In January 1873 Calvert published an article, concluding that Hissarlik had not yet produced any firm archaeological evidence of being Homeric Troy: "(a) most important link ... is missing between B.C. 1800 and 700, forming a gap of over a thousand years, including the date of the Trojan War ..." (168). He expressed the hope that Schliemann would be able to fill that gap in due course. Nevertheless, the article undermined Schliemann's claims, in which Calvert played no serious part whatsoever. Meanwhile Calvert learned that Schliemann had tricked him with the metope: he was not amused. Early June of that year Schliemann discovered the so-called 'Priam's treasure' in the Turkish-owned section of Hissarlik and smuggled it out of Turkey. The Sublime Porte started to investigate Schliemann's actions; meanwhile Calvert expressed his feelings that the treasure did not date from the days of the Trojan War, by lack of notably iron objects in the archaeological context of the find.

The next confrontation started shortly after. "In Antiquités Troyennes, which was published early in 1874, Schliemann not only distorted the facts but maligned Calvert both as a scientist and a human being" (199). The direct cause was Calvert's article on Troy. Calvert responded with a rebuttal published in two journals, ending with the conclusion that Schliemann's wishes determined his interpretations. By now, however, Schliemann's appeals had caught the public's imagination and Calvert's alarm at the archaeological damage caused by Schliemann to Hissarlik was growing, but without avail. Schliemann had by now reached the status he so desperately wanted in the public imagination, making it virtually impossible for Calvert to compete with him.

Though Schliemann supported Calvert for the latter's excavation of Hanai Tepeh and promised to publish Calvert's account of it as an addendum to Schliemann's next book, Ilios, Calvert practically disregarded most of his obligations towards the Hanai Tepeh paper and finally only sent his notes to Schliemann to make the best of it. Schliemann did so (see Appendix IV in R's book) and won Calvert an international reputation as a meticulous archaeologist. Several of Schliemann's observations on Hissarlik in Ilios were, however, rejected by Calvert, and he wrote Schliemann so in no uncertain terms. Notwithstanding this, when Schliemann finally received his new firman for further excavation at and around Hissarlik in 1890, he immediately approached Calvert for collaboration. Nevertheless, when Schliemann found some colossal nephrite axes (on Calvert's land): "[t]here is no evidence to suggest that he intended to share these finds with Calvert. A few weeks later, Schliemann was dead" (400).

Though one might state that the relationship between Calvert and Schliemann is the main theme of R's biography--in accordance with the book's title--, Calvert's relations with other scholars are also discussed in detail. Notably his relations with Henry Sayce, Paul Ascherschon (from Berlin), and especially Rudolf Virchow (also from Berlin), with whom he struck up a deep, mutual, and profitable friendship from 1879 onwards, are related in some detail. Regrettably Calvert's correspondence with Virchow between early 1886 and 1902, the year of Virchow's death is lost. A lot of Calvert's activities, observations, and ideas remain therefore out of our reach. What we do have are some notes to others, including Schliemann, and reports in magazines and papers, which lack the measure of confidentiality he had with Virchow. From these reports we infer that Calvert had access to the fruits of two illicit grave robberies, which were confiscated by state officials, but he was allowed to study and describe them (evidently a token of faith towards Calvert by authorities).

An important landmark in Calvert's work was the publication of an article on the Asiatic shoreline of the Hellespont, which, through Virchow, was published in German in the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie of 1880. It showed Calvert's scholarship and was well received. A copy of the same article was sent to England, to Henry Sayce, but this was never published: it is added to the book under scrutiny as Appendix I, published for the first time in its original language. It shows, in spite of the industrial activities that have marred the shorelines of the Dardanelles as the price for progress since at least 1968--when I visited the region for the first time and progress' damage was still held at bay--, the value and the accuracy of many of Calvert's observations.

Though Calvert busied himself also with other fields of knowledge, like geography, geology in general and mining in particular, botany (both for Ascherson and Virchow), and entomology (cf. Appendix III of the book under review)--and received credits for his achievements in these fields--his main interests, as R makes unmistakably clear, were archaeology and the collection of antiquities. Central in this passion, no matter how we look at it, was the site of Hissarlik and the figure of Schliemann. Schliemann's death ended a relationship of some twenty-two years that displayed some bizarre features. The site that primarily bound them, Hissarlik, lay now open and unprotected against stone robbers and treasure seekers, in spite of Calvert's requests with the responsible authorities to protect it. Schliemann's successor at Hissarlik, Wilhelm Dörpfeld, was unable to stop the destruction of the site, aggravated by the way Schliemann had "attacked" it. An additional threat became the ever increasing number of tourists visiting Hissarlik.

Calvert kept his distance from these tourists, because he was busy making an inventory of his antiquities. He did this initially together with Alfred Brückner, an assistant to Dörpfeld. The catalogue of Calvert's collection would eventually be completed by Herrmann Thiersch in 1902: I very much regret it that R did not (or could not?) expand more on the meaning of this catalogue and its content. Meanwhile Calvert followed Dörpfeld's work with great interest. After the latter's second season at Hissarlik, Calvert wrote a paper entitled "The Discovery of Homer's Troy" (Appendix VII of the work under discussion). In this paper Calvert stated that, though there still was sufficient material to explore, the results of the excavation of Hissarlik were now sufficient to claim that the existence of Homer's Troy had indeed been confirmed.

About his own discoveries, identifications of sites etc. he remained, as usual, largely silent. As R rightly remarks: "The preservation of Assos on paper, thanks to Bacon's, Clarke's and Koldewey's meticulous work, illustrates all too clearly that many--perhaps all--of the sites Calvert had excavated could have survived in a similar fashion, had Calvert published more of his work, or had his papers been preserved" (417). It is a saddening conclusion.

Hissarlik continued to attract an ever increasing number of tourists--leading to different construction activities at the Dardanelles. Calvert occupied himself with his consular duties, reading archaeology, and overseeing the completion of the catalogue of his (vast) collection of antiquities. The staggering wealth of information which must have been hidden behind these objects,and the many objects he already had sold or donated during his lifetime, were never made public. It died with Calvert.

Some of this information may have at least partly been concealed in Calvert's papers. However, these have, to a large extent, disappeared as well. For the disappearance of Calvert's papers several causes may be adduced: an earthquake that destroyed The Dardanelles in 1912 or a deliberate destruction by Francis Bacon soon after Calvert's death, "to prevent them from being pored over and dishonoured by unfriendly critics" (441). R cannot make a choice between these options (or does not want to do so explicitly). She does, however, remark that Bacon found a number of letters by Schliemann to the Calverts in the attic of their Dardanelles mansion. Those letters were donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and they were the basis of the Schliemann archives at Athens. The letters also showed how much Schliemann really owed to Calvert: moreover they underline the relative correctness of the title of R's book. The book itself, however, makes unmistakably clear that there was no question of a real partnership, let alone mutual affection, between Schliemann and Calvert.

Schliemann was a complicated person, who--apparently effortlessly--always succeeded to make himself the focus of attention. That he in doing so did not always follow the straight and narrow path of truth, has already been demonstrated frequently.1 In the case of his activities in the Troad, the main victim of his scheme was Frank Calvert because of his knowledge and connections. On the other hand, Calvert also needed Schliemann because of his financial means and therefore probably accepted more from him than he would have tolerated from anyone else. Though R occasionally does pay attention to this mutual interdependency, this factor remains underexposed. Nevertheless, R has written a very accessible biography of Calvert, this 'dilettante' (no disrespect intended, on the contrary!), amply quoting from his preserved correspondence or other papers. It is only regrettable that she shows herself perhaps occasionally too biased: Schliemann certainly was not of the material saints are made of, but neither was Calvert. Sometimes R appears to forget that and may be accused of identifying herself too much with the object of her investigation, looking to blame Schliemann for every mishap occurring to Calvert.

Having stated this, this leaves unimpeded that the book under review is an essential asset for all those interested in the historiography of scholarship in the Troad, notably regarding the excavations of Hissarlik (and regardless of the fact whether we call that site 'Troy' rightly or not). The book is, over all, well produced and contains very few typos (e.g. on p. 361, Ezra Thyer (1866-2925)). There are some elements I am less enthusiastic about: first (a pet topic of mine), the use of endnotes instead of footnotes; second: the quality of the paper used for the reproduction of the photographs makes looks to the eye like that of books produced in Eastern Europe during the seventies and eighties of the twentieth century. Certainly this book deserves better, even if the quality of the pictures themselves would have been rather poor (now that issue can hardly be judged). A minor point of discontent is that R writes throughout the book Hissarlik with a dot on the final 'i' instead of an 'i' without a dot (as I know the place), but that may be either a consequence of the chosen font or a personal preference. A comparable point of attention is her use of the double 's' in the name of the place: Hissarlik both occurs with single and double 's', and there appears not to be a unanimous preference or rule (and from the presented facsimiles I cannot read the form Calvert normally used). Such trivialities, however, do not detract from the fact that R has written an important book that generally reads very easily. The presence of some of Calvert's contributions to science--some for the first time published in their original language--adds to this value.


1. See, e.g., W.M. Calder III, 1972, 'Schliemann on Schliemann: A Study in the Use of Sources', GRBS 13(1972), 335-353; W.M Calder III and D.A. Traill, Myth, Scandal and History. The Heinrich Schliemann Controversy and a First Edition of the Mycenaean Diary, Detroit 1986; D.A. Traill, 'Schliemann's Mendacity: Fire and Fever in California', CJ 74(1979), 348-355; D.A. Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, London and New York 1995: this book is a fairly balanced biography on Schliemann and his methods and really fascinating reading.


  1. Leofranc Holford-StrevensJanuary 29, 2009 at 5:03 PM

    The review does not make clear what use Robinson has made of Schliemann's diary, but readers will be interested by the translated excerpts in David Turner, 'Schliemann's Diary: Greece and the Troad, 1868', Annual of the British School at Athens, 102 (2007), 345-91 at 378-91; for Calvert see pp. 363, 373-6, 391.

  2. Is this the first study of Calvert?
    See Susan Heuck Allen, Finding the Walls of Troy: Frank Calvert and
    Heinrich Schliemann at Hisarlik
    (Berkeley 1998) (reviewed by me in Antiquity 73 [1999] 968-69).