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Terracottas in News

Italian Police Seize $1 Million Worth of Antiquities From Roman Businessmen

Naomi Rea


An article in artnet News published on May 14, 2018, details the seizure of Roman antiquities in Lazio that included several figurative terracottas, including two animal heads of monumental size. These are related to the recent surge of illegal antiquities sales that take place on-line through Facebook, Ebay, and Amazon, among other portals.

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Ancient artifacts worth an estimated €900,000 ($1 million) were seized by police in the central Lazio region of Italy on Friday.

1Some of the objects dating back to the 4th century BC were recovered after being advertised for sale on Facebook. The antiquities, which reportedly date back to the 4th century BC and the 2nd century AD, were recovered by the Cultural Heritage and Anti-Counterfeiting department of the Carabinieri, the Italian police service. The seizure was reported in a notice on the Carabinieri’s website from ANSA, the country’s leading wire service (Fig. 1).

2The seizure was the result of a two-part operation: Police tracked the financial activity of two Roman businessmen who allegedly used large sums of money to buy artwork. According to police, one of the businessmen even set up a small private museum featuring dozens of objects of historical and artistic interest, including some ceramics and two coroplastic (ancient terracotta) heads: a bull and a horse, which likely belong to a larger sculptural grouping. He did this without informing the relevant offices of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (Mibact).

3The second part of the operation involved monitoring online activity, particularly a Facebook profile which police say was used to sell a fragment of a Roman column made from tuff (porous rock formed by the consolidation of volcanic ash) dating back to the site of the ancient town of Ardea, 22 miles south of Rome. (Ardea was founded during the 8th century BC, and it is described in the Aeneid as being the capital inhabited by the legendary Rutuli tribe.)

4The seizure of the artifacts is part of a recent trend in the marketplace, which has seen a surge in the sale of looted artifacts online. According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, 80 percent antiquities available online at any given moment have no recorded provenance—which means they are probably looted or fake. Two volatile factors are driving the spike: Unprecedented looting by ISIS across the Middle East has brought an avalanche of illicit objects into the marketplace. And novice collectors now have nearly unfettered access to un-vetted material as a result of the rapid growth of online outlets like Facebook, WhatsApp, eBay, and Amazon.

5Reprinted from artnet News, May 14, 2018,


Fig. 1. The objects seized by the Carabinieri

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List of illustrations

Credits © ANSA
File image/jpeg, 116k
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Electronic reference

Naomi Rea, « Italian Police Seize $1 Million Worth of Antiquities From Roman Businessmen », Les Carnets de l’ACoSt [Online], 18 | 2018, Online since 15 October 2018, connection on 26 January 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Naomi Rea

Associate editor, artnet News

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Licence Creative Commons
Les Carnets de l'ACoSt est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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