Italian authorities returned the funerary stele of the 2nd century AD plundered from the ancient city of Zeugma to Turkey. The stele, considered by archaeologists to be of exceptional historical and artistic significance, was handed over to staff at the Turkish Embassy in Rome at the end of April and was welcomed at a ceremony at the Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum this week.
The stele is carved from a single block of limestone found in the Gaziantep region. It was the main stone used for statues and tombstones in Roman-era Zeugma. It is a rectangle with a deeply embedded arch. Inside the arched niche is a bust of a woman dressed in the traditional chiton of a Roman bride, whose right hand holds a veil over her heart and whose left hand holds a spindle. The Greek inscription on the base reads: “Satornila, wife who loves her husband, goodbye.”
It was removed from a house in Florence during an investigation by the Carabinieri to protect the cultural heritage of Venice last year. The suspect bought it in France and then filed a fraudulent request for a temporary entry certificate, claiming that the stele was made in Italy. If the certificate were issued, he could export the artifact without any obligation to protect the national cultural heritage for five years. Before issuing a licence, the Florentine Export Authority required proof of legal possession prior to 1909 (the year the Italian law for the protection of archaeological property came into force) and legal documents proving that its original export from Italy was legal.
The suspect hastily withdrew his statement, but now his suspicion was under attack. With the help of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, Zeugma archaeologists, Interpol and the database of the Italian Ministry of Culture on illegally stolen cultural property, the Carabinieri undertook to restore the real story of the transportation of the stele. Careful examination of the iconography, style, size, materials, and traces of soil found on the stele confirmed that it was from Zeugma and not from Italy.
The stele is an outstanding example of Zeugma’s artistic style during the Antonine period, and archaeologists believe that its inscription will shed new light on the history of the ancient city, especially on local families who adopted Latin names after becoming Roman citizens.