Germany returns Ancient Roman bust to Italy

The marble bust of a Roman youth was returned to Italy this week for the first time since it was smuggled out over 50 years ago.

Germany returns Ancient Roman bust to Italy
The Roman head returned to Italy this week. Photo: Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali

The ancient sculpture, which disappeared from Italy sometime between 1944 and the early 1960s, was handed back to the Italian Ministry of Culture in a ceremony at the German ambassador's residence on Wednesday. 

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First unearthed in the 1930s in the city of Fondi between Rome and Naples, it dates from the second century AD and depicts the head and part of the shoulders of a young man.

It has spent the past 55 years in the University of Munster's Archaeological Museum, whose then director acquired it from a private citizen.

Photo: Ministero per i beni e le attività culturali (MiBAC)

Germany offered to return it without being asked, according to Italy's culture minister.

“This is a highly symbolic act,” said Alberto Bonisoli, who described it as a sign of the two countries' shared commitment to protecting cultural heritage.

“Italy is not only in the position of reclaiming stolen works of art, but when circumstances demand it, we're among the first to return works belonging to other countries' cultural heritage,” the minister declared.


With centuries of art and artefacts strewn all over Italy, many pieces have been lost over the years to thieves, traffickers and natural disasters. Italian police are some of the world's best at hunting down stolen works, with a specialized unit known as the 'Art Squad' devoted to tracking and protecting lost treasures.

But the new owners aren't always keen to give them back. Among the most notable disputes is Italy's ongoing tussle with the Getty Museum in the United States over the Statue of a Victorious Youth – better known as the Getty Bronze – which the American institution refuses to return despite a ruling by Italy's highest court that it was removed from Italy illegally.

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Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find

Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Archaeologists in Pompeii who discovered a room which likely housed slaves. 
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots.  Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.

An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.

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“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.

Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.

The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.

Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.

The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.

“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.

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Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.

Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.

The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.

The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.

While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.

The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.

Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.

The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.

“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”

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The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.

The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.

Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.