Manhattan District Attorney Returns Two Artifacts to Libya

Manhattan District Attorney Returned Two Smuggled Antiquities Worth $1.26 M to Libya, the Office Announced on Friday.

Jul 18, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Manhattan District Attorney
Ruins of Cyrene (Shahhat), Libya. Via Wikipedia


Manhattan District Attorney decided to restitute two artifacts to Libya, which the British art dealer Robin Symes previously smuggled. The authority’s office announced the decision on Friday. The artifacts intended for restitution are Marble Face of a Ptolemaic Queen and Female Bust. Previously looted from the ancient city of Cyrene, they are worth $1.26 million.


Manhattan District Attorney Looks Forward More Repatriation Ceremonies

The Temple of Zeus
The Temple of Zeus, Cyrene. Via Wikipedia


After the theft, art dealer Symes acquired the antiquities in his individual acquisition. Given that he acquired the valuables illegally, he could not display them. So, they remained in his private storage in New York for more than two decades. The Female Bust sculpture’s purpose was to decorate the relief of the cemetery (Necropolis) of this historic city. Libyan archaeologists strongly believe the “body of the sculpture” is intact and still in the necropolis.


The two Libyan artifacts made their debut on the world artwork scene, as a result of “rampant looting” at the historical town of Cyrene in the late 1980s and 1990s. “It is shameful that these beautiful pieces were stored away for decades by a convicted trafficker”, District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.


Manhattan District Attorney


He also added: “Cyrene faced significant looting, but thanks to the work of our Antiquities Trafficking Unit and partners at Homeland Security, we returned several pieces from this ancient city back to the people of Libya. We also have an ongoing investigation into stolen Libyan artifacts and look forward to more repatriation ceremonies in the future”.

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Not the First Case of Symes’s Involvement

The Tomb of Battus
The Tomb of Battus, Cyrene. Via Wikipedia


Speaking of art dealer Robin Symes, this is not the first case of theft in which he was involved. Also, not the first in which the Manhattan District Attorney’s office decides. This is the fourth case in five months. The DA’s department gave back a Hadrian granite skull from the year 200 CE in February. Symes smuggled the skull from Italy by using bogus background data.


After that, he sold it in NY, in 1992. In April the authorities also returned to Yemen an alabaster female figure dating to 2nd century BCE. The art dealer sold it to Shelby White, the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s trustee. The DA also investigated Shelby White. He also had many looted artifacts in his personal earnings. The district attorney’s office returned a Mesopotamian limestone elephant to Iraq in May.


Female Bust
Pictured: “Female Bust”. Via the DA’s office


In addition to those investigations, Greece also announced in May that its Ministry of Culture would recover 351 looted items that were previously in the possession of Symes’ liquidated company after a 17-year legal battle. The Italian Ministry of Culture held a press conference in June to display 750 items it had also recovered from Symes‘ liquidated company, estimated to be worth $12.9 million.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.