ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
This file photo shows two guards waiting in front of Roman sarcophagus in Rome.
According to Britain-based The Art Newspaper, an ancient Roman alabaster sarcophagus that had been stolen more than 20 years ago from a church south of Rome was returned to Italy July 18. It came from a London-based collection of antiquities and was flown back to Rome on a cargo flight in a container reportedly displaying the official seal of the Italian Embassy in London.
A special team from the cultural heritage protection division of Italy’s police force, the Guardia di Finanza, gruppo Tutela Patrimonio Archeologico, lead by Massimo Rossi, conducted the repatriation operation, reported The Art Newspaper.
The sarcophagus, which dates from between the second and third centuries BC, was presented at a press conference in Rome and then returned to its hometown of Aquino, around 100 kilometers south of the capital, where it is on display in the deconsecrated Church of Santa Marta.
The Art Newspaper said that although official sources had not confirmed it, Italian newspaper Il Giornale has reported that the private collection in question belonged to the late U.S. antiquities dealer Robert Hecht, who died on February 9. Hecht had been accused in Roman court of conspiring to receive antiquities illegally excavated and exported from Italy, but his trial ended in January without a verdict when the statute of limitations ran out. Il Giornale also reported that the executor of Hecht’s will first contacted Italian authorities.
The work, which features in relief scenes of chariot races at Rome’s Circus Maximus, was stolen in 1991 from the Madonna della Libera Church in Aquino. It was one of Italy’s great unsolved antiquities thefts. No one has ever been charged with its theft.