March 31, 2014
It appears that China isn’t the only country that has decided that buying disputed artefacts back is sometimes the simplest way to re-acquire them following looting.
In this instance, it is the Sevso Silver, fourteen items which Hungary claims were looted, but were sold to private buyers during the 1980s. The treasure constitutes fourteen items in total. This purchase re-acquires seven of them for €15 million, from undisclosed sellers.
My earlier reservations still stand, as do those presented previously by Kwame Opoku.
Sevso treasure items repatriated by Hungarian government after UK sale
The Roman silver, discovered in Hungary in the 1970s, was bought from an ‘unidentified London seller’ for €15m
Thursday 27 March 2014 17.51 GMT
The Hungarian government has repatriated seven of the 14 pieces from the Sevso treasure, a spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver whose ownership had long been contested by several countries.
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, announced this week that the pieces have been repatriated to Budapest in return for €15m, reportedly paid to unidentified sellers in London. The pieces include the so-called “Hunting Plate” and the “Dionysiac Ewer”.
He said that “Hungary never abandoned the goal” of acquiring a treasure found in the middle of the 1970s around Polgárdi, close to Balaton.
The treasure will be exhibited free of charge in the Hungarian Parliament. From 2018, it will be kept in the new museums’ quarter.
The hoard was named after a Latin inscription on one of the large plates: “Let these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily.” Such is the treasure’s importance, the entire hoard had in the past been estimated at £100m.
But it has had a troubled history, with some archaeologists viewing it as archaeological loot. Reports suggest the man who originally found the treasure in the 1970s was murdered.
The Marquess of Northampton acquired the haul in the 1980s on the advice of the late Peter Wilson, a former deputy chairman of Sotheby’s. He tried to sell it in 1990 through Sotheby’s in New York. To ensure the collection had not been stolen or illegally excavated, the auctioneer contacted the governments of countries that had once formed part of the Roman empire. That led to the silver being impounded by a Manhattan judge, amid initial claims by Lebanon that it had been illegally excavated and smuggled out of the Bekaa Valley.
Hungary and Croatia also claimed the silver had been illegally excavated from their countries but failed to prove ownership through the US courts, which found that the marquess was the legal owner. A Lebanese export licence was later found to be a forgery.
Northampton’s lawyer, Ludovic de Walden, said “the best pieces” are with the marquess and that the treasure is “very safe”. He noted that other pieces have been with a third party.
- The shame associated with the Sevso Hoard : April 29, 2014
- Sevso Hoard on display in London : November 12, 2006
- Private exhibition of fourteen Roman treasures : October 26, 2006
- Who owns the ancient past : November 5, 2008
- Hungary offers to return looted artefacts to Greece : September 16, 2008
- Hungary to return looted artefacts to Greece : September 11, 2008
- The importance of documented archaeological excavations : December 19, 2012
- Greece asked to return looted artefact : September 11, 2008