What is at stake for Greece?

Greek male statues recovered from smugglers
AP/Thanassis Stavrakis
Ancient male statues recovered from antiquities smugglers in southern Greece

The culture of ancient Greece stands at the historical, artistic, philosophical, scientific, literary and intellectual foundation of the West. Because of this, objects associated with ancient Greece are desired by collectors all over the world. A large number of the objects which fulfill the desires of these collectors have come, quite literally, from the Hellenic soil itself, dug out of fields, mountain villages, caves and coastal inlets all over Greece. Simply put, the material culture of the Hellenic Republic, including that of the Neolithic, Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods, continues to be habitually looted. Why? Because the market for these objects is robust.

Indeed, because of the unique record of original literary sources which survive from ancient Greece, archaeological finds from this land are often particularly rich and thrilling  For instance, Thucydides, the great Greek historian of the 5th century BC, describes in book 4 of his History of the Peloponnesian War, a battle on the island of Sphacteria off the coast of Pylos during which the Athenians captured 292 Spartan soldiers. In the American School of Classical Studies’ excavations at the Athenian Agora, a bronze shield from one of these captured Spartan soldiers was discovered which had been displayed in the public square of ancient Athens, inscribed: “The Athenians (took this) from the Lacedaimonians at Pylos”  (AJA 40 (1936), p. 189, fig. 2, no. 2). Rarely can archaeological remains so vividly enrich literature and history.  Every tomb that is looted, every archaeological site which is destroyed eliminates the possibility of exactly this sort of excitement and enrichment to be enjoyed by the general public.

—Senta German