A headless bronze statute of Marcus Aurelius has been seized by New York law enforcement from a museum in Ohio, worth $20 million.
According to Turkish officials, the oversized bronze statue of a man in draped embroidered cloth and carefully figured sandals was stolen during a “looting spree” from an archaeological site in Bubon in the 1960s. They’ve been telling the museum in Cleveland, Ohio this for years. And while the Cleveland Museum of Art displayed the statue with the provenance supplied by those same officials, labeling it as a statue of statesman Marcus Aurelius since 1986, they also denied that the officials could prove the statue was what they said it was, and so refused to return it.
Turkey’s claim on the statue hinged in part on persuading investigators that the statue in fact depicted Marcus Aurelius, because the stone plinth where they say it had stood is inscribed with that emperor’s name. The Cleveland museum’s website had until recently described the statue as “The Emperor as Philosopher, probably Marcus Aurelius (reigned AD 161-180),” adding that the item had originated from “Turkey, Bubon(?) (in Lycia), Roman, late 2nd Century.”
But a few weeks ago, while New York district attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit narrowed in on the traffickers accused of selling the looted headless bronze, the Cleveland Museum quietly removed that label, replacing it with “Draped Male Figure, c. 150 BCE-200 CE,” and implying it came from Rome or Greece instead.
This week, a warrant was issued to seize the headless bronze statue by the antiquities unit – as the traffickers were located in New York, this gave them jurisdiction. It will be transported to New York in September, and if the allegations prove to be true, repatriated to Turkey sometime in the future.
Zeynep Boz, the head of the Department for Combating Illicit Trafficking at Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, said in a statement that “the enduring dispute surrounding this matter has kept Marcus Aurelius separated from his hometown for far too long.”