Years ago, when I first made the transition from merely collecting Mediterranean and related antiquities, to becoming a dealer in antiquities with a world wide clientele, I would never have imagined that I would so often be solicited by so many strange and misguided people. By e-mail, phone and post, I regularly receive messages from persons attempting to sell looted antiquities in violation of national and international laws, as well as those trying to sell fake, forged and fabricated “antiquities” to turn a quick profit.
In part because the illicit trafficking in looted antiquities is a serious concern, and in part because many of these solicitations are entertaining, I have decided to post here some examples of actual solicitations received by Clio Ancient Art. These have come mainly by e-mail, usually accompanied by digital images.
There are three general categories of messages:
1. Persons residing in antiquities-rich countries who have found or looted antiquities and are attempting to sell them to dealers in the US, UK or Europe, in violation of both their own national laws and international conventions governing the transfer of cultural property.
2. Persons who have created and are attempting to sell fake antiquities, either obvious copies of real ancient objects or composite fakes made from bits and pieces of real antiquities. Plenty of examples of both may be found on ebay.
3. Tourists or armed services personnel from the US who have acquired fake “antiquities” from local dealers or have found genuine ancient objects and unwittingly violated national laws by removing those objects from their source countries and bringing them to the US. This broad category also includes US citizens who have inherited genuine, replica or deliberately faked objects from family members who acquired them in good faith in antiquities source countries.
Below are just a few samples, as promised, of actual messages soliciting purchase of their objects, authentication, dating or assistance with selling their objects. Of course, all names have been removed, except in one case where an e-mail address has been left in, should anyone reading this blog also be solicited by these criminals. Part or all of the original message is in bold italics, while my response is in plain text.:
I have a beautiful stone axe head that I found on a hill above Athens, Greek. I checked the Greek and Cypriot museums and the one I have is better than theirs. It is apparently about 6,000 yrs. Old. I am wondering if there is a market for something like this and if so how do I get an expert to manage the sale of it?
MY RESPONSE: I’m afraid the best advice I can offer is that you turn this object over to the nearest Greek Consulate or the Greek embassy. Having taken this object out of the country (Greece) is a violation of Greek laws that have been in place for many decades governing antiquities and the transfer of cultural property. You may not legally sell this object.
Dear sirs ,
Peace be upon you …,
We are an Egyptian Family from upper Egypt , while digging to build a new built we have found a 3 ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) Statues in their Coffin .
We knew that you are interested to buy the ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) statues to expand your collections , so we offer to sell these 3 statues to you .
I think that you should know that these matters are always very urgent as it is illegal to some extent .
Any way I am sure that you may not trust my e-mail , but also we are ready to prove to you by any means that we are right and telling the truth .
I am also respect all your rights to be sure that these 3 pieces are original & I will respect any procedure you may want to do to be sure from this matter , but again please put in your consideration that these matters are always very urgent , so we need your reply as fast as you can .
I want to tell you that their lengths are between 1.9 – 2.4 meters , they are big beautiful and very respectful statues , they are made from wood covered by a layer from gold .
Please , put in consideration that in case you accept to buy these 3 statues or any one of them , we can only give them to you in Egypt and you will bear their travelling to their final distention .
I also want to say that we have some videos for these statues , we can send them to you before we prepare the whole matter .
Again and again , please put in your consideration that these matter are always very urgent , top secret & trustful as it is illegal to some extent .
Hope you have understood the matter and trusted us , and please we need your reply so urgent either you accept or not .
Again please send us your reply either you accept or not .
And finally , Please accept our great respect .
MY RESPONSE: I must point out that if you found the items in question on Egyptian soil, you are illegally in possession of them. Egyptian law is very clear that antiquities and cultural artifacts found on Egyptian soil are the property of the State. Removing them from Egypt, or even possessing them, however innocently, is a violation of Egyptian law and a serious offense.
These are photos of the Greek bull I was given on Crete. I am sure it is Minoan or Mycenaen.
Thanks for sending the excellent photos of your bull. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this piece is not ancient. The casting technique is quite unlike anything that would have been used in Crete in either the Mycenaean or Classical periods. The piece is not bronze but slag metal that has been artificially patinated to resemble bronze. The overall style is something of a hybrid between Mycenaean bulls seen in Cretan art and later images of the early Classical period. This may be something of a disappointment but really you should be relieved. If this piece had proven to be a genuine antiquity, you would have been obliged to hand it over to the Greek government at your nearest Greek Consulate or Embassy, in order to comply with international conventions governing the transfer of cultural property to which both the U.S. and Greece are parties. In addition, the transfer of antiquities illicitly excavated in the modern era from Greek soil to a foreign party is quite illegal in Greece. This is in contrast with the Greek antiquities available from a reputable antiquities dealer, which have long ownership histories predating modern laws governing ownership of such items. (I should point out here that the American couple who sent the images were indignant at my response, certain that I was wrong because the person who gave them this "antiquity" was a friend.)
My name is XXXX XXXX and I have found an ancient coin and only recently discovered what it was after several years. I uncovered what it was while brushing it off during a snow storm and some extra time at the house. I found it in southern Iraq in 2003 while fighting there. I un-earthed it in the sand and thought it was just a peice of weird metal. Being perplexed and in a hurry I shoved it in my back pocket and I have had it ever since. I have taken it to several coin specialist shops and to a collector of ancient coins all to no avail. I would be pleased if you could help me figure out what it is. It is in great condition and has the face of a ancient conquerer or commander. On the reverse is writing in some ancient language i haven’t been able to find it even on the internet but of course i am no expert. i have included some photos of the coin and think maybe it was from alexander the great time frame as no coin online resembles it quite like the alexander coins, but it has no direct match. Please contact me via email at
XXXXXXXXX@yahoo.com or by cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you happen to have any information on the origin or story behind this coin.
MY RESPONSE: Please be aware that by leaving Iraq with this coin you have committed a crime. I understand that you did so unwittingly, but this is considered looting of another nation’s cultural heritage. A single coin (which is late Medieval Islamic and has very limited value) may not seem much but the principles involved remain the same. You should immediately contact the U.S. State Department and / or the Iraq Embassy and arrange to hand over this item. In good conscience, I will be obliged to contact both the U.S. State Department and the Iraq Embassy if you do not do so yourself.
Unlike most people, who either do not respond at all, are sure that I’m wrong about their treasures, or reply with obscenities, this person agreed to return the coin via the State Department.
It should be pointed out that when dealing with overseas contacts attempting to sell genuine, looted antiquities, I always inform them that that their contact information, including e-mail, and images of the objects in question, will be passed on to US Customs and to the embassy of the country from which the solicitation came, usually Egypt but sometimes Turkey, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East, and occasionally Eastern Europe. Whether or not any governmental body has taken meaningful action on the basis of the information provided by me is unknown.
I hope in a future post to share with readers some of the bizarre, comical or sometimes convincing fakes, forgeries and reproductions that have come across our real or virtual desk.
I love this story — if it were not so sad it would be hilarious!
Sadly, this incident, while widely reported because it involves a prominent European football star, illustrates many flaws in Italian cultural patrimony laws. These laws are often enforced unevenly, with the powerful and influential escaping prosecution. They tend to focus on punishment alone as a solution to the problem of looting or unauthorized ownership of antiquities, rather than following a more rational model that would encourage reporting of finds by the public with financial incentives. And these laws are based solely on outdated nationalistic, emotional arguments that all Roman antiquities, for example, must belong to the modern Italian state, which of course has very little relationship to the vast majority of ancient Roman artifacts. In the case of Pompeii and many other Italian archaeological sites, the near total neglect of these sites, in terms of the Italian government’s overall financial resources, is a disgrace, given the sheer scale of tourism these sites generate. Perhaps I’ll engage in a more detailed examination of these issues using this blog in the near future.
The British Museum’s holdings of Roman antiquities, broadly covering about 800 years, from the early Republic through the collapse of the western Empire, are so vast that only a very small percentage of the material on display can be presented here. We hope this brief photo essay, focusing on antiquities and displays that are the author’s personal favorites, will inspire greater interest in Roman art, history and culture, to which we are all so indebted.
The Great Dish from the Mildenhall Treasure, Britain, 4th Century
A pair of silver bowls from the Mildenhall Treasure, Britain, 4th Century AD
Mold made ribbed dish of marbled blue glass, made in Italy, 1st half of the 1st Century AD
Mosaic glass dish, probably made in Egypt, found in Italy, Circa 25 BC – AD 25
Roman blown glass vessels of the 1st Century AD
Roman blown glass and mold made glass vessels, 1st & 2nd Century AD
A nice selection of Roman transport amphorae, 1st-4th Century AD
Examples of lead glazed pottery from various dates and locations around the Empire.
Examples of ceramic oil lamps from throughout the Empire, 1st-4th Century AD.
Disc brooches (fibulae), just one of many types of brooch, from the western provinces of the Empire, utilizing enameling or gilding.
Bronze and terracotta deity statuettes for household or votive use.
Gold body chain from the Hoxne Treaure, Britain, early 5th Century. Part of a vast treasure of gold and silver coins and objects buried as Roman Britain came to an end.
Silver rings and scrap silver and the vessel they were found in, from the Snettisham Jeweller’s Hoard, Britain, 2nd Century AD.
Lead water tank from Roman Britain, 4th Century AD, bearing the Chi-Rho symbol (early Christian).
Terracotta architectural relief of Victory sacrificing a bull. Italy, late Republic or early Imperial.
Terracotta panel showing scene from a Palaestra (wrestling school). Italy, 1st Century AD.
Terracotta statue of a girl, perhaps a Muse, 1st Century BC or AD, found at Porta Latina, Rome, in the 18th Century.
Bronze head of Hadrian, detached from a large statue, found in the River Thames in 1834.
Venus (Aphrodite). Marble, probably made in Rome, 1st or 2nd Century AD, after an earlier Greek original.
Portrait busts of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138) and his 2nd cousin Matidia.
Portrait busts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD) and co-emperor Lucius Verus. Found at Cyrene, North Africa. Made circa 160-170 AD.
Three layered Sardonyx cameo of Emperor Augustus, made AD 14-20.
Mosaic with cable pattern from a Roman house in Utica (North Africa), 3rd Century AD.
Mosaic panel from a late Roman house in Carthage (now Tunisia), 4th-5th Century AD.
Mosaic panel with dolphins, from a Roman house in Halicarnassos (now Turkey) 4th Century AD.
Clio Ancient Art offers many Roman antiquities in ceramic, bronze, glass and other materials, with prices ranging from under fifty Dollars up to several hundred Dollars, here:
The archaeological site of Kourion, on the south coast of the modern Republic of Cyprus, has a long history by any standard. Herodotus, writing in the 5th Century BC, records that the site was founded by Achaean colonists from Argos in Greece, a claim that is supported by modern archaeological excavations revealing Mycenaean expansion in the Late Bronze Age (13th Century BC). The settlement developed rapidly and is attested in 12th Century Egyptian inscriptions. Kourion, along with the other kingdoms of Cyprus, later underwent occupation or political domination by the Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian Empires between the 8th and 5th Centuries BC. Under Ptolemaic and Roman rule, Kourion, (Curium in Latin) remained a prosperous but provincial center. The tragic recent events in Haiti serve as a reminder of how devastating a major earthquake can be to a relatively isolated island community. Badly damaged by the great quake of about 365 AD that devastated so much of the Eastern Mediterranean, the City was rebuilt and served as the seat of a bishopric in the Christian era. It was eventually abandoned after a series of Arab raids from North Africa in the 7th and 8th Centuries.
The excavated parts of Kourion, situated on high ground overlooking the sea, today straddle two kilometers of spectacular coastline. The modern visitor typically approaches the site from the town of Limassol, on Akrotiri Bay, traveling west for just a few kilometers along the coastal road. Along the way one may observe many rock cut tombs, mainly of the early Iron Age, in the local limestone hillsides. At the westernmost end of the site is the famous Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates (Apollo of the woodlands) and its many associated buildings, while at the eastern end of the site is the impressive Theatre and the House of Eustolios. Between these are the Roman Forum, an early Christian Basilica and several late Roman houses famed for their mosaics. In this Travelogue installment, I will describe the Sanctuary of Apollo, the Theatre and House of Eustolios.
The Sanctuary of Apollo seems to have been a sacred place even before the cult of that god was imported by the Greeks, as votive offerings of the 7th Century BC have been found. The term “Hylates” was not applied to the sanctuary until the mid-3rd Century BC. In its heyday during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, the sanctuary would have included a palaestra (exercise court), a bath, several buildings that may have served as dormitories for pilgrims, and a colonnaded processional street that led directly to the Temple of Apollo. The partly reconstructed remains of this building are thought to date to the reign of Nero. To either side of the processional street were an Archaic altar and an early tholos building enclosed in a small sacred grove.
For the modern archaeological visitor, it is difficult to imagine a more picturesque setting. The Temple complex stands on high ground with a view out to the shore and the Mediterranean almost directly below. The skies are free of pollution and the ruins often bathed in brilliant sunshine. While the partly reconstructed ruins of the Temple are impressive for their simplicity of line and solitude on the highest point of ground, one should not overlook the subsidiary buildings. The bath is especially well preserved, and one may observe in detail the sub-floor and interior wall heating technology (hypocaust system) used in a typical Roman bath. There are no real amenities at this part of the site but there is ample parking for those who have rented a car.
At the east end of the site is Kouion’s Theatre and several important associated residential structures. The Theatre itself seems to have originated in the 2nd Century BC but was greatly enlarged around AD 50. After suffering damage in an earthquake in AD 77, the structure was repaired and took on the form the visitor sees today. It continued in use until the great earthquake of AD 365 and was then gradually stripped of much of its stone, including most of the seats, the colonnade and the stage building. Partly restored by the Cyprus Department of Antiquities in 1961, the building is still used today for plays and concerts. The setting is, like so much of Kourion, spectacular.
Adjacent to the Theatre at Kourion is an important private residence dating from the late 4th to mid-7th Century AD. This structure, built upon the ruins of an earlier palatial residence, is the House of Eustolios, named for its builder / owner. Eustolios seems to have been a major patron of Kourion in the Christian period and contributed significantly to reconstruction of the town. Among his contributions were repairs to the Theatre and construction of a public bathing facility. Upon entering the House, one sees a Greek mosaic inscription welcoming the visitor with “Enter for the good luck of the house.” The House’s east hall features a fine and well preserved mosaic panel featuring fish and various birds (all early Christian symbols) amid geometric motifs and an inscription proclaiming the Christian nature of the residence. The bathing facilities provided by Eustolios are well preserved and contain one of Kourion’s most famous mosaic panels. This is in the frigidarium or cold room of the baths and depicts a medallion with the head of a young woman holding in her right hand a measure equivalent to one Roman foot. The inscription reads “KTICIC”, meaning Creation or Founding Spirit. This is a highly unusual representation in mosaic art and may be a direct reference to the rebirth of the City following the great earthquake of AD 365.
This end of the site has excellent amenities, including plenty of parking, restrooms, a small gift and bookshop, and snack bar. There is much more to see at Kourion, including many more fine mosaics, and many important finds housed in the site museum at the nearby village of Episkopi. Signage is generally good throughout the site and access from Paphos or Limassol is easy. I definitely recommend a visit. For an excellent review of Kourion’s history and excavation, I suggest David Soren and Jamie James, Kourion, The Search for a Lost Roman City, Anchor Press Doubleday, NY, 1988. Also very useful is the site guide by Dr. Demos Christou of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, Kourion, Its Monuments and Local Museum, Filokipros Publishing, Nicosia, 1996.