Twenty-nine ancient artefacts worth USD 20 million have been returned to Greece by the United States, including a coin that was minted to commemorate the murder of Julius Caesar.
The artefacts, seized by US officials after they were looted from Greece, included the “extraordinarily rare” Eid Mar Coin, which was minted to commemorate the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Newsflash obtained statements from the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Greece, the Consulate General of Greece in New York, and the Manhattan District Attorney.
The Manhattan District Attorney said on Tuesday, 21st March: “Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., announced today the return of 29 looted antiquities to the People of Greece.
“Among the pieces, which are collectively valued at over USD 20 million (GBP 16 million), is the extraordinarily rare Eid Mar Coin, which commemorates the murder of Julius Caesar.”
The Manhattan DA explained that all of the items were seized from traffickers and smugglers. The DA said: “All were seized pursuant to multiple criminal investigations into high-profile traffickers and smugglers.
“The antiquities were returned during a repatriation ceremony at the Greek Consulate attended by Greek Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni, Consul General Konstantinos Konstantinou, and Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations, New York.”
District Attorney Alvin Bragg said: “I am proud that under my administration this office has now repatriated 950 antiquities to 17 countries.”
He added: “I thank our outstanding team of analysts, investigators and attorneys, along with our law enforcement partners, for their excellent work finding and returning these historical marvels.”
And Greece’s Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, said: “On behalf of the Hellenic Government, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to congratulate and thank the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and in particular Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos and his associates for their contribution in investigating and eventually repatriating 29 ancient Hellenic antiquities.
“The close relationship and cooperation that has been built over the last years between Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Hellenic Republic, guarantees that many more successes will follow.”
While Special Agent in Charge for HSI in New York Ivan J. Arvelo said: “Antiquities trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar business with looters and smugglers turning a profit at the expense of cultural heritage, and Greece – long acknowledged as the cradle of Western Civilization – is especially susceptible to this type of criminal enterprise.”
He added: “These treasured artifacts date from as far back as 5,000 BC. and were a valued part of life in the ancient world. We are honored to join our partners today in the repatriation of this priceless cultural heritage to the people of Greece.”
Some of the key pieces returned to Greece include the Bronze Calyx Krater, which dates back to 350 BC and once held the bones of a deceased individual in a chamber tomb.
The Manhattan DA said: “It was looted and smuggled into Switzerland, where it was cleaned and restored by Fritz and Harry Burki, the Zurich-based restorers and business partners of Robert Hecht.
“Hecht then arranged to smuggle the piece into New York, where it was sold to Leon Levy and Shelby White. It was seized by the Office in January of this year.”
Another item of interest is the Eid Mar Coin, which was minted in 42 BC to commemorate “the murder of Julius Caesar”.
The Manhattan DA said: “Eid Mar Coins were minted to pay Brutus’ troops after he fled Greece following Caesar’s assassination.
“Gold Eid Mar coins are extremely rare, and this is only one of three known coins of its type. The coin first surfaced on the international art market in 2016, where it was offered for sale in Munich with no provenance.
“It was then smuggled into London, where it was sold to a US-based buyer. It was seized by the Office in February of this year during a joint investigation with multiple foreign law enforcement agencies.”
Other objects returned to Greece included the “Neolithic Family Group”, which the authorities said dates back to 5,000-3,500 BC and is valued at USD 3 million.
The authorities said: “This group of objects compromises five human and animal figures carved from marble, and was looted from the island of Euboea by a Greek trafficker who smuggled the pieces into Switzerland.
“In 1982 dealer-trafficker Nicolas Koutoulakis sold the group to New York-based collectors Leon Levy and Shelby White.
“White loaned the group to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2000, where they remained on display until March of this year, when it was seized by the Office.”
The Ministry of Culture and Sports of Greece said on Wednesday, 22nd March: “Twenty-nine Greek antiquities, products of illegal excavations from Macedonia, Epirus, Central Greece, the Cyclades, and Crete, which ended up in the United States through the criminal networks of illegal trafficking in cultural goods, were delivered by the Manhattan Prosecutor’s Office to the Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, to return to the birthplace, the place, and the people who created them.
“Among them are marble and bronze statues of humans and animals, marble, silver, bronze, and clay vessels, gold and bronze jewellery, a fragment of a wall painting, which were part of the Shelby White Collection, as well as a very rare gold coin, which refers to the Ides of March, the day of the assassination of Julius Caesar, which was seized at an auction house. These antiquities cover a wide chronological range from prehistoric to Roman times.”
Speaking about the ceremony, the Consulate General of Greece in New York said on Wednesday, 22nd March: “We are honoured to announce the repatriation of 29 Hellenic antiquities to Greece in the presence of Minister of Culture of Greece, Lina Mendoni!”