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Swiss court confiscates ancient Greek coin

More coverage of the court ruling concerning a Greek coin in Switzerland [1]. Once again thoguh, this article takes the line that collectors are being unfairly subjected to laws [2], restricting the free sale of ancient coins.

Numismaster [3]

Swiss Court Confiscates Ancient Coin
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
February 22, 2012

An Associated Press news release of Jan. 12 originating from Thessaloniki, Greece, is worthy of attention not only due to the news of the confiscation of an ancient coin but because of the noticeably nationalistic sympathies reflected in the story.

The coin, described as an octadrachm “coin struck by a little-known Thracian ruler named Mosses around 480 BC, the time of the second failed Persian invasion of Greece,” was confiscated following a ruling by a court in Switzerland. According to the AP story, the coin “was allegedly illegally excavated in northern Greece and sold at auction in Switzerland, Greek and Swiss officials say.”

Michalis Tiverios is a professor of archaeology at Thessaloniki University. He is quoted in the AP story as saying, “There are very few coins struck in his (Mosses) name. Octadrachms were heavy coins used for transactions abroad, usually for mercenaries’ wages, which is why they are very rarely found in Greece.”

Octadrachms struck in what is today Greece have been found in other Mediterranean countries, likely most notably in Turkey. The Turkish government confiscated the well-known Decadrachm Hoard during the late 20th century for allegedly having been smuggled out of that country, which regards all antiquities found there to be state property.

Swiss prosecutors notified Greek authorities during early January that the coin now in question had been confiscated while awaiting what is described as “a legally binding verdict on the circumstances of its discovery from Greece, which regards all its antiquities as state property” The AP news story contains several comments that reveal the attitude of the Greek government. At one point the story reads, “The lawyer representing Greece in the case said Thursday that the ruling in October (2011) opens the way for the early 5th century BC coin’s return to Greece. The debt-crippled country’s rich cultural heritage has long suffered depredations from antiquities smugglers supplying a lucrative international market.”

The coin collecting community can question this posture by asking: If the “debt-crippled country” has such a “rich cultural heritage,” why isn’t that country sharing that “rich cultural heritage” with the world? Why not sell some of this “rich cultural heritage” to raise money to retire that debt? What good are these antiquities to Greece’s beleaguered economy if all the antiquities are by law exclusively state property? Doesn’t this encourage smuggling, since anyone finding anything must surrender it to the state without receiving any compensation for their efforts?

An individual named Ilias Bisias who is not otherwise identified is quoted by AP as saying, “The coin was treated in the Swiss court ruling as a product of criminal activity that was illegally exported from our country and was then illegally offered (for sale) abroad.”

No one in the numismatic community would approve of criminal activity such as the illegal export of a coin or any other antiquity from one country to another, but is it necessary to include the comments: “In recent years, Greece has secured the return of important illegally excavated antiquities from foreign museums and collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It has waged a long and unsuccessful battle against the British Museum in London to wrest back the Elgin collection of sculptures, taken from the ancient Parthenon temple on the Acropolis 200 years ago” without prejudicing anyone reading the article with these comments?

It should also be noted that the Elgin sculptures were moved to the British Museum in England with permission from what was at the time the Ottoman Turkish Empire. This is not the independent country named Greece who today has laws making the export of such items a crime, although the Elgin sculptures were located in what is today Greece. Perhaps Manhattan should be returned to the Indians using the same logic?

The facts regarding the octadrachm in question are that the recently confiscated coin changed hands in very recent history through what is described as “a number of offshore companies … sold in 2009 to an unidentified collector for 100,000 Swiss francs ($106,000 US). It was then provisionally seized following a Greek request.” Further, northern Greek authorities are reported to have “pressed charges of antiquities theft in the case, although no suspects have yet been named.”

At the time this article was being written, the Swiss court had not yet identified who sold the coin in the Swiss auction, nor had the court established that the coin was excavated in Greece.