Manhattan DA returns ancient sarcophagus fragment to Greece nearly 30 years after smuggling
The Prosecutor Mr. Cyrus Vance Jr. and the assistant Attorney of Greek descent, Mr. Matthew Bogdanos returned to the Consul General of Greece in New York, Constantinos Koutras, the marble sarcophagus, that was stolen and smuggled abroad in the 1980s.Christos Tsirogiannis, a forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow, identified the artifact and alerted the authorities. The item, which originally dates back to 200 A.D. and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan warriors, was stolen from Greece in 1988.
Christos Tsirogiannis and the Consul General of Greece in New York, Constantinos Koutras, talk to ellines.com about the repatriation of the sarcophagus.
Christos Tsirogiannis at ellines.com
“The identification of a stolen antiquity, the concentration of all the necessary evidence concerning the illegal trading and, mainly, the repatriation, are elements that enable national pride to all Greeks, especially in these difficult times. This is my reward as a researcher and archaeologist, the reactions of all the Greeks who have the “thirst” to know their history and heritage, constantly offering what they can to their home country”.
The Consul General of Greece in New York, Constantinos Koutras at ellines.com
– Tell us a few words on the repatriation of the Sarcophagus to Greece
“This part of the marble sarcophagus, which represents the battle between Greeks and Trojans, was seized by an order of the Prosecutor of Manhattan from Royal-Athena Galleries Galleries. The repatriation of the sarcophagus is a big and important step in the efforts made by Greece to protect and restore of our cultural heritage, which illegally has been transpored abroad and is either in a gallery, as in this case, either in private collections or in museums or in antiquities selling houses. A huge part of our cultural past has been looted and I think it is the duty of all the Greeks all over the world to be alert and vigilant. We are thrilled with the fact that this part of the marble sarcophagus was found and that it will be repatriated in compliance with all the formal processes in our country”.
– What are the next steps for the return of the sarcophagus in Greece?
“By the authorization of the Greek Ministry of Culture, we will receive the part of the marble sarcophagus with all the necessary documents and will it will be returned and exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum, which this year celebrates 150 years since its foundation.”
– Two Greeks were involved in this case: the archaeologist Mr. Christos Tsirogiannis, who ideltified the stolen antiquity and informed the authorities and the assistant prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos. How difficult is it to have a positive outcome in such cases;
“The issue of illegal trade and export of Greek antiquities and their identification is huge and difficult. There are cases where for many years repeated attempts are made without having the desired results until this day, such a case are the Parthenon Marbles, for which as you know there is not a positive outcome for the time being. In other cases, the antiquities repatriation is much more easy and smooth. At this point, we must stress out the role of the Greek Ministry of Culture and of the archaeologists. The Greek State through its Ministry of Culture always initiates any legal proceedures, to have the antiquities, for which there is documented evidence that they have been looted or for which their return to their origin is considered imperative as an integral part of our history and our cultural identity, returned. Once again, finally, I would like to thank on behalf of the Greek State, the American authorities and in particular the Prosecutor Mr. Cyrus Vance Jr. and the assistant Attorney of Greek descent, Mr. Matthew Bogdanos, who without their decisive contribution the repatriation of the sarcophagus to Greece would not had been reached”.
The story of the identification of the marble sarcophagus
In January 8th, 2017, a new identification of an ancient Greek object illegally exported from Greece and which was for sale in one of the two major New York galleries, was made by the forensic archaeologist and Research Assistant in the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow, Christos Tsirogiannis. It was a Roman marble sarcophagus in the Royal-Athena Galleries owned by Dr. Jerome Eisenberg in New York.
The section of the sarcophagus depicts the battle between the Greeks and Trojans, also appears in 4 Polaroid type photos and is mentioned in three handwritten notes, all of them were confiscated in 2001 by the Italian and Swiss authorities and were files of the Italian antiquities looter Gianfranco Becchina. Gianfranco Becchina has already been convicted, both in Italy and in Greece, for acceptance and handling of stolen works of art (antiquities), while dozens of antiquities displayed in the file have been identified and repatriated to Italy, and in Greece (such as the gold Macedonian wreath repatriated from the Getty museum in 2007 and the case of the marble Hermes head repatriated in 2015), while others are still pending in Greece (case of the identification of 3 antiquities in the museum Michael Carlos in Atlanta, United States in June 2007). The Royal-Athena Galleries of New York, has often been involved in selling illegal antiquities, for example the pottery coming from the great theft of Corinth museum in 1990. These antiquities finally, almost all of them, were repatriated to Greece. Also, the owner of the gallery, Jerome Eisenberg, has been forced to return to Italy antiquities depicted in the seized Medici and Becchina files.
On January 13, 2017 the object was confiscated from the Royal-Athena Galleries in Manhattan, New York. Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Manhattan-based art gallery forfeited the item willingly, and the repatriation ceremony represents the return of the ancient sarcophagus fragment to Greece, where it will be displayed for public view and research at the National Archeological Museum of Athens.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has recently recovered and repatriated several items forfeited as part of criminal investigations and prosecutions: In August 2014, five ancient coins dating as far back as 515 B.C. were returned to Greece following the investigation and prosecution of Arnold Peter Weiss, a coin collector who was convicted of multiple counts of Attempted Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree for possessing several coins that the defendant believed to be stolen dekadrachma and tetradrachm from the Sicilian cities of Agrigento and Catania.