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The truth behind treasure in fiction

In 1885 Sir H. Rider Haggard’s ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ was published and became an instant hit. The book captured the Victorian imagination for the exploration of hidden, ancient worlds within the Assyrian empire, in particular the tombs in The Valley of Kings that were, at that time, starting to reveal their secrets. The novel is lazily retold in at least six movies, the most notorious being a 1985 offering starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone. The less said about that the better.

Like the Egyptian antiquities, the Africa that Haggard wrote of was authentic - the author had travelled across the continent as a young man - and the treasures of King Solomon, he of the Old Testament, aren’t entirely without gravitas too. It’s accepted by scholars that the King probably existed around 10BC (later according to the bible) though it would seem that his vast wealth is confined to ancient tomes. And Hollywood. 

Take ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, the raiders in question are the Nazi’s who believe the Ark has supernatural powers, the Ark being the chest containing the tablets on which are written the Ten Commandments. According to the bible, Solomon completed a Temple in Jerusalem in which the Ark was to be permanently housed, but after the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian’s 500 years after his death the Ark, according to the bible, disappeared.

Apparently, the Ark is purported to be housed in The Chapel of the Tablet in Ethiopia. What is without question is that ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ kicked-off the Indiana Jones franchise and went on to generate very real riches for all involved.

While mutterings that the Nazi’s made genuine attempts to acquire supernatural powers by meddling with the occult, the occult plays a key-role in Disney’s ‘National Treasure’. According to legend the Knights Templar, now more commonly associated with the Freemans (or the Illuminati) acquired the treasures of King Solomon and in the movie Nicholas Cage, amateur cryptologist extraordinaire, is attempting to reach the loot before the FBI. 

In truth, the Knights Templar weren’t just formidable soldiers, during the middle ages they devised an early form of banking and became hugely wealthy as a subsequence. Their power threatened the status quo and they were deemed as heretics by King Philip of France and Pope Clement V and put to death. Much of their wealth was acquired by the Catholic Church as rumours spread that the Knights were, among other colourful accusations, worshipping false idols. 

The Knights were also reputed to be in possession of powerful relics such as the Ark of the Covenant, wood from the one true cross and the ‘Holy Grail’, the chalice that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper. Monty Python’s hilarious film of the quest to find this most sacred of relics is probably about as accurate as all the legions of spurious tales that surround the Knights, the Ark and mines of Solomon put together. But not all the tales of hidden treasure are mere flights of fancy.

The most famous treasure of them all, found in the classic ‘Treasure Island’, is far closer to reality than it may seem. For a start it features once-living people, including Blackbeard, Israel Hands, Edward England and, more significantly, Captain William Kidd who, at the end of the 1600’s, buried a small quantity of pirated loot on an actual Island - specifically Gardiner’s Island, New York. But don’t get your bucket and spade out just yet, the loot was found and sent back to England to be used as evidence against Kidd, leading to his execution.

Whilst it may seem that most hidden riches lay buried in the imagination it's worth remembering that all the artefacts that populate the museums of the world were, once upon a time, treasure. It may even be fair to presume that, outside of the mind, treasure only truly exists in its undiscovered state.

James Dwelly