discovered treasures of ancient Troy and became known as the father
of modern archaeology, all while suffering from excruciating ear pain,
debilitating headaches, and progressive hearing loss. Heinrich Schliemann
died in 1890 after undergoing one of the most advanced ear surgeries
of the day, but the exact cause of his death has remained as elusive
as the mysteries he explored in life.
Schliemannís death was the focus of the tenth annual Historical Clinicopathological
Conference (CPC). The annual event investigates the cause of death or mysterious
illness of historical figures. More than 300 alumni, faculty members and students
attended the CPC, which was part of the 129th Medical Alumni Association Reunion.
After studying personal letters and records chronicling his medical and surgical
care, I believe that Schliemann died of a brain abscess caused by a bacterial
infection contracted during surgery," says Hinrich Staecker, MD, PhD, associate
professor of surgery at Maryland and surgeon at the VA Maryland Health Care System.
Dr. Staecker, who specializes in hearing loss, revealed his conclusion during
Because he speaks several languages, Staecker was able to study the medical records
and original correspondence between Schliemann and his wife. "The descriptions
to Mrs. Schliemann of his condition and medical care, and the fact that files
had obviously been removed from Schliemannís medical records, were the strongest
clues about the cause of his death," he said.
Schliemannís past medical history included tuberculosis as a child and influenza,
yellow fever, and malaria as an adult. At age 54, he noted a marked increase
in his ear pain, progressive hearing loss, and burning headaches. Despite this,
Schliemann continued with the excavations and his desire to become famous.
He was "energetic, intelligent, observant, rich, and pushy," according to scholar
and historian Donald F. Easton, PhD, from London, who took part in the new excavations
at Troy in the 1990s. "Also physically fit, Schliemann was particularly fond
of swimming. Even on the coldest days and with ear pain, he would ride his horse
to the nearest body of water to swim." At the CPC, Dr. Easton, who was awarded
the Schliemann Medal of the Berlin Academy of Sciences, added historical perspective
to Schliemannís achievements.
In November 1890, when his earaches and hearing loss had finally become intolerable,
68-year-old Schliemann underwent a newly developed surgical procedure to treat
the infection in his left ear that had spread to the mastoid bone of the skull.
His surgeon, German ear specialist Professor Hermann Schwartze, and others, declared
the operation a success. About a month later, however, while on business in Paris,
Schliemann was struck by new pain and complete deafness in his left ear. From
Paris, he went to Naples where he suddenly collapsed on Christmas Day.
Although conscious, he was unable to speak and by the next day began to exhibit
signs of gradual right-sided paralysis. Surgeons opened his ear
and reported that, "the trouble had attacked the brain." Schliemann died later
Past historical CPCs have explored the deaths of such notables as Edgar Alan
Poe, Alexander the Great, Mozart, King Herod, and Florence Nightingale. The Medical
Alumni Association expresses its appreciation to Morton D. Kramer, í55, for establishing
an endowment fund through the Association to support the annual program.