Antiquities Recovered in Rome

Italian authorities announced on Friday they had recovered over a dozen antiquities hidden in a boat garage near Fiumicino, which is very near Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. The AP report indicated:

The most spectacular find was a marble head of Lucius Verus, a portrait of the emperor who co-ruled Rome from 161 until his death in 169 alongside his adoptive brother, Marcus Aurelius.

The bearded visage of the emperor is believed to have been secretly dug out at a site in the Naples area and was probably destined for the international market, said Capt. Massimo Rossi, of a special police unit that hunts down archaeological thieves.

No arrests have been made, but 13 people are being investigated for allegedly trafficking in antiquities, Rossi said.

The announcement also indicated another recovery:

In a separate operation, Italy recovered a marble head depicting Faustina, the wife of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the predecessor and adoptive father of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius, police said in a statement.

Faustina’s portrait had been stolen in 1961 from an ancient theater in Minturno, south of Rome, and made its way to an American collector. The statue was returned by the collector through U.S. authorities after he realized it had been looted, Rossi said.

This strikes me as the more interesting announcement. It strikes me as odd, and is more indication of the means Italy has used to recover objects. They really have capitalized on this tide of repatriation from North America, and have secured a number of secondary returns, without having to resort to costly international litigation. The legal claims for this portrait, apparently illegally excavated in 1961, would have probably been expensive and time-consuming, and likely quit difficult. It is interesting the success Italy has had by eschewing litigation, and pointing out (rightly so) of the damage done to contextual information.

It seems a bit odd though that we do not learn of the collector, how she acquired the object, or who the dealer was who sold it. At a certain point, it may be worth asking the Italian authorities where all these recovered objects are going to be studied or displayed, and if these “repatriation exhibitions” will serve to decrease illegal excavation and export, or merely serve to display some drugs on the table. Perhaps this display does give heart to the authorities and heritage advocates, however these gains also provide other political benefits; and may provide an distorted image of the effectiveness of Italian and international efforts. After all, even well-known sites are being damaged in the heart of Rome.

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One thought on “Antiquities Recovered in Rome”

  1. Dear Sir

    If the portrait bust of Faustina illustrated in your report is identical with the portrait head of Faustina offered by Sotheby’s on 5 December 2007, Lot. 80, (and it does indeed appear to be so), then I would like to draw your attention to the catalogue entry of that item.

    Under provenance it claims:

    “Swiss private collection, late 19th century – Swiss family collection, 1937 – by descent to Angelo Vittori, Montagnola, Ticino, Switzerland, 1958”.

    under “published” it lists: Michael Grant, The Antonines: The Roman Empire in Transition, London 1994, fig. 4″.

    I hope that this might answer part of your question and trigger new doubts.


    Marc Fehlmann
    Dept. of Archaeology and Art History
    Eastern Mediterranean University
    Famagusta (Northern Cyprus)

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