They were discovered in a joint operation by Italy's customs officers and finance police, who seized three containers at the La Spezia port.
They belonged to an American businessman, who had intended to send them on to his villa in the Tuscan countryside, a statement from customs said. However, he was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation as to how the Roman artefacts came into his possession.
The operation was known as ‘Operation Opulentia’ due to the high value of the artefacts, which included oil paintings, statues and pieces of furniture. Customs officials described the inspection of the containers as “a real journey back in time”, and particular notable finds included a funeral vase from the fourth century BC and two rare marble statues.
Now the businessman faces charges under the code of cultural heritage as well as criminal and customs offences, not least the evasion of over €23,000 in customs charges.
Investigators described the find as “an important achievement in the interest of the country”.
Italy's customs officials are constantly trying to stop precious relics of cultural heritage being taken illegally out of the country, whether by professional smugglers or thoughtless tourists who want a novel souvenir.
Last year, Italy recovered 25 valuable pieces of cultural heritage stolen in recent decades and smuggled into the US, including frescoes from Pompeii and a Venetian cannon.