Thirty Ancient Artifacts Worth $3.7 Million Were Returned to Greece by the US

February 23, 2024

In a symbolic gesture of cultural preservation and cooperation, the United States recently returned 30 ancient artifacts to Greece, including an array of marble statues, bronze helmets, breastplates, and other priceless relics. These objects, dating back as far as 4,700 years ago to the Middle Ages, were discovered to have been illicitly removed from Greece, prompting their repatriation to their rightful home.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who played a pivotal role in this restitution, described the returned artifacts as “exquisite” and collectively valued at a staggering $3.7 million (3.39 million euros). The significance of these pieces extends beyond their monetary worth, as they hold a profound cultural and historical resonance for Greece.

Thirty Ancient Artifacts Worth $3.7 Million Were Returned to Greece by the US

Nineteen of the artifacts were voluntarily surrendered by Michael Ward, a New York gallery owner, underscoring the importance of ethical stewardship within the art world. Additionally, three other artifacts were seized from British art dealer Robin Symes, shedding light on the shadowy world of art trafficking. Furthermore, one item was discovered in a storage unit belonging to an undisclosed New York-based private collector, emphasizing the need for vigilance in tracking down stolen antiquities.

Among the returned treasures stands a remarkable Roman-era headless marble statue of Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love. This particular statue has been concealed in Symes’ storage unit since at least 1999, underscoring the lengths to which some individuals will go to circumvent the law in pursuit of valuable antiquities.

Thirty Ancient Artifacts Worth $3.7 Million Were Returned to Greece by the US

The repatriated artifacts encompass a diverse range of historical periods and artistic styles. They include seven bronze helmets dating from the 6th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C., two bronze and two iron breastplates used by ancient soldiers, a medieval silver platter, a marble Cycladic figurine from 2,700–2,300 B.C., as well as Mycenaean and Minoan Cretan pottery. These objects collectively represent a tapestry of Greece’s rich and multifaceted cultural heritage.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni commended the “strong cooperation and hard work” by U.S. and Greek experts that paved the way for the return of these antiquities. Such collaboration highlights the international commitment to rectifying the illicit trade in stolen cultural treasures and safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage.

This repatriation effort is not an isolated incident. It follows two similar operations earlier this year, in which 29 antiquities were returned, and a significant repatriation event last year, when 55 works were brought back from New York. These actions reflect a growing global awareness of the need to combat the illegal trade of antiquities and restore stolen heritage to its rightful owners.

Greece has been a prime target for criminal networks engaged in the trafficking of illegally excavated antiquities, which often command high prices in the international art market. By law, all ancient artifacts found in Greece are considered state property, further emphasizing the importance of repatriating these cultural treasures.

In conclusion, the return of these 30 ancient artifacts to Greece serves as a powerful testament to the enduring value of cultural heritage and the international commitment to protecting it. It is a reminder that the past should not be plundered for profit but preserved for future generations to appreciate and learn from, and it underscores the vital role that cooperation and vigilance play in safeguarding our shared history.