Ancient Athenian Marble Vases Triumphantly Repatriated after Two Decade Odyssey


In a triumph of cultural repatriation, two ancient marble vases hailing from the golden age of Athens have finally found their way back to their homeland of Greece. The pair of marbles returned home following a protracted legal struggle after a sojourn in Switzerland. Over two millennia old, these mausoleum-perched relics bore witness to the lamentations and remembrances of grieving Athenians, lending earthen shoulders to their tears.

The Greek Culture Ministry announced in a recent statement that the vases— one adorned with a poignant depiction of an anguished Athenian family saying their goodbyes to a departing patriarch, and the other bedecked with elaborate botanical motifs— were once part of the classic Athenian funerary tradition. The enigmatic charm of these marbles has only been accentuated with time; their physical state a testament to their turbulent past. Once whole, they now bear the scars of their journey— necks and bases chipped away, but their beauty, undiminished.

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Despite their respective measures of 60 centimeters and 54 centimeters in height, these hauntingly beautiful vases, dating back to the 4th century B.C., have left an outsized impression indeed. Once standing proudly as funerary statues in an Athenian necropolis, their clandestine exhumation and illegal export means that their original resting place may forever remain a mystery.

Greek Culture Minister, Lina Mendoni, praised the repatriation effort, stressing the significance of bringing home looted antiquities from abroad as a “top political priority” for the ministry. These two vases are the latest in a series of high-profile repatriations secured by the ministry over recent years.

The marbles journey began twenty years ago when they were discovered in an intervention raid against an Italian antiquities dealer in Basel, Switzerland in 2002. Released back into the dealer’s custody in 2014 by an Italian court ruling their non-Italian provenance, the marbles went under the radar until they resurfaced in 2017. Upon their re-emergence onto the market under a Swiss dealer’s remit, Greek authorities successfully campaigned for their seizure. It came to light that the Swiss authorities sold the vases to the dealer to cover the Italian dealer’s legal expenditures.

The tiresome, six-year legal siege finally came to an end through out-of-court negotiations, and on June 26, the duo was handed over to Greek officials. They are set for public display along with other notable artifacts originating from the Kerameikos, the main cemetery of ancient Athens, in a local museum, bringing their long sojourn to a fitting end.