A cultural Cold War between Russia and Germany took on an intensified chill Monday when the Pushkin Museum unveiled its long-hidden booty from the legendary “Gold of Troy,” excavated more than a century ago by German adventurer Heinrich Schliemann.
The exhibition of 259 gold items of jewelry, service and ceremony is a small but unique share of the more than 8,000 pieces Schliemann unearthed between 1872 and 1890 in his lifelong quest to prove that the Trojan tales were not the fiction of his revered Homer but historical fact.
Guided by “The Iliad” to a site in modern-day Turkey, Schliemann discovered the cache of rings, coins, goblets, earrings, pendants and diadems that have since been dated to 2450-2600 B.C., or a full millennium before Homer’s story.
Despite its dubious link with the fabled city, the objects are still referred to as Schliemann’s Trojan gold and as King Priam’s Treasure.
But if the gold’s origin remains a mystery, its ownership is even more perplexing. Like the purloined collection of Impressionist paintings displayed last year in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Trojan gold was spirited out of Germany at the time of the Nazi defeat in 1945.
Long thought to have been stolen or destroyed in the chaotic Allied conquest of Berlin, the priceless artifacts of Schliemann’s collection that go on public display at the Pushkin beginning today actually languished in a vault at the Moscow museum for the past half century.
Schliemann collected passports and controversy as much as antiquities and had variously promised his brilliant treasure to Greece, Russia, England, France and the United States before bequeathing the most valuable items to his native Germany in 1881.
The Trojan collection was displayed in Berlin until just before the war, but the whole collection was packed away and hidden near the Berlin Zoo for safekeeping at the outbreak of World War II.