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Smuggled Ancient Funerary Stele Returns to Greece

Ancient Greece Funerary Stele
The stele’s provenance is lost because it was the product of smuggling. Credit: Ministry of Culture

A funerary stele dated to the 4th century BC that was returned to Greece by British authorities was revealed to the public at the Epigraphical Museum in Athens on Tuesday.

The stele’s provenance is lost because it was the product of smuggling. But its stylistic details and the white, fine-grained Pentelic marble it is made of indicate it was made in Attica.

It is 87.5 cm tall, 37 cm wide, and 10 cm thick, and its top end has the familiar triangular shape of a pediment, which once had painted plant decoration on it.

The main part depicts a sculpted loutrophoros – a vase used for funerary rites and the bridal bath – and carved on the body of the vessel is the seated figure of a woman and the standing figure of a young man.

Between the top and the main body is carved the name ‘Epikrates’, probably belonging to the young man.

Ancient Greece Funerary Stele
The name ‘Epikrates’ is carved on the stele, probably belonging to the young man. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The funerary stele was about to be auctioned by Christie’s

The stele made its way onto a Christie’s catalog for an auction on December 8, 2021, and was given a starting price of 60.000 British pounds ($73,000).

Routine market research by the Greek Culture Ministry’s Directorate of Documentation and Protection of Cultural Goods flagged the item for further research, and it was eventually determined it was a product of antiquities smuggling.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said the stele would remain at the Epigraphical Museum, instead of being transferred to a local museum, since its city of origin could not be determined so far.

Ancient artifacts returning to Greece

Last week, Pope Francis has decided to send back to Greece the three fragments of Parthenon Marbles that the Vatican Museums have held for centuries.

The Vatican termed the gesture a “donation” from the pope to His Beatitude Ieronymos II, the Orthodox Christian archbishop of Athens and all Greece, “as a concrete sign of his sincere desire to follow in the ecumenical path of truth.”

In a statement shortly afterward the Acropolis Museum in Athens said that the artifacts will be displayed on its premises.

In November, an American citizen returned ancient artifacts he had inherited from his grandmother when he realized that they had no provenance.

There were nineteen pieces in total—twelve belonging to Greece, four to Italy, one to Pakistan, and two to Cyprus.

Though some of the artifacts had receipts, he was warned by Greek archaeologist Christos Tsirogiannis that the Greek merchants mentioned in the receipts may have participated in the illegal trade of other ancient relics in that era.

Items inherited included fourth-century ceramic tables by painters from Southern Italy with figures of acrobatics. There was also a vase from the fourth century that ancient Greeks used in their wedding ceremonies.

Related: Illegal Trade in Antiquities is the Scourge of Millennia

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