Trove of 600 Looted Italian Artifacts Worth $65 Million Comes Home

The collection includes artifacts spanning the ninth century B.C.E. to the second century C.E.

American authorities rounded up all 600 of the artifacts in a single year. Emanuele Antonio Minerva © Italian Ministry of Culture

Some 600 ancient Italian artifacts—once stolen, trafficked and sold to museums and collectors in the United States—have returned to their homeland. Italian law enforcement collaborated with their U.S. counterparts to recover the $65-million trove, which was displayed earlier this week in Rome.

The collection dates to between the ninth century B.C.E. and the second century C.E., with all of its pieces originating in southern Italy, per a statement from the Italian Ministry of Culture. Stolen from individuals and institutions or excavated during unauthorized digs, the objects’ ownership records were falsified to facilitate their export abroad.

Among the recovered goods are life-size bronze statues, Etruscan vases, coins and helmets. As CNN’s Barbie Latza Nadeau reports, New York prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos and his team confiscated the entire collection in the span of a single year. Bogdanos has made a name for himself by tracking down stolen antiquities; his work earned him a National Humanities Medal in 2005.

Carabinieri TPC, presentate 600 opere rimpatriate dagli Stati Uniti

Combined with 60 other items repatriated to Italy in 2023, the trove is worth more than $80 million. But as Bogdanos tells CNN, this figure doesn’t include the 100 pieces that his team just seized in the U.S. And the collection pales in comparison to the total amount of stolen artwork still hidden in private warehouses or on display in the U.S.

As General D. Francesco Gargaro, commander of the Italian police force’s Protection of Cultural Heritage unit, tells CNN, grave robbers do not catalog the origins of stolen artifacts. As a result, the items’ historical context is lost, and investigators usually have little idea of what exactly they’re looking for.

Not all of the repatriated items were illegally excavated. Some 16th- through 19th-century oil paintings were looted from Italian museums, churches and residences, reports ARTnews’ Tessa Solomon. One of the cache’s most valuable artifacts is a fourth-century B.C.E. silver coin decorated with the likeness of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. It was dug up in and stolen from Sicily around 2013, then taken to the United Kingdom and later New York, where a coin dealer attempted to sell it for $500,000.

The artifacts were stolen from Italian individuals and institutions or dug up during unauthorized excavations. Emanuele Antonio Minerva © Italian Ministry of Culture

As Italian Minister of Culture Gennaro Sangiuliano says in the statement, the ministry’s database of stolen cultural artifacts is essential to repatriation efforts. Bringing these pieces of Italy home will help restore a sense of cultural identity in the regions they were taken from.

“Looting is local,” Bogdanos tells the Associated Press’ Nicole Winfield. Locals “know when the security guards come on, they know when they come off. They know when the security guards are guarding particular sites and not others. They know when there are scientific, proper, approved archaeological excavations, and then they know when those archaeological excavations close, for example, for the winter or for lack of funding.”

Bogdanos adds, “Our job is to minimize [looting], increase the risk to those who would engage in this traffic, convict them and, where appropriate, sentence them.”

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