Italian authorities return smuggled ancient artefact to Turkey

Italian officials responsible for anti-smuggling activities have returned an ancient Lydian Greek stele to the Turkish ambassador in Italy, according to Anadolu Agency.

The state owned AA reported that the tablet, which was found by Italian anti-smuggling authorities in a raid in 1997, is 1800 years old, and “dates to the ancient Lycian era”.

The Lycian people, who lived on the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia, around what is now the Fethiye-Antalya area, spoke an Indo-European language related to Hittite. 

The Lycian language continued to exist after the end of Hittite dominance of Anatolia (1100 BCE), but after about 500 BCE, the Lycians were culturally absorbed first by the Persians, and then by the Greeks following the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE).

According to AA, the artefact was taken from the Apollon Aksyros Temple in Manisa province of Turkey. This area was part of the Lydian kingdom, rather than the Lycian one. It was previously reported by Hurriyet on Thursday that the tablet was Lydian, not Lycian.

“The stele is believed to have been stolen from the Apollon Aksyros Temple located in the ancient city of Saittai in the western province of Manisa at the beginning of the 1990s.”

The tablet represents a form of atonement by the parents of two people who had been caught burgling fishing equipment. A part of the tablet reads,

“Melita and Makedon stole Eia’s fishnet and other belongings. Therefore, they were punished by God. Their parents consulted Apollon Aksyros for their sake and made a vow”.

If the stele is 1800 years old, it would have been created during the Roman Imperial period, in which all of Anatolia was ruled by the Roman Empire, while most Anatolians remained culturally Greek.

The legal process of returning the artefact took a long time, according to Luca Brachi, a lawyer representing the Turkish government. Brachi said the process had been delayed because judges in charge of the case had been changed.

Turkey’s ambassador to Rome, Murat Salim Esenli, emphasised the Anatolian character of the artefact to Hurriyet, saying “Professor Hasan Malay himself was able to show that such steles are actually a part of the Anatolian culture where many civilizations had passed through over the time.”

The fact that Turkey’s government and press agencies are avoiding the culturally Greek nature of the artefact may be related to the poor political relationship between Turkey and Greece over their rival claims to maritime territory in the Eastern Mediterranean.

At a time of heightened political tensions between Greece and Turkey, it appears that the Turkish government is conspicuously avoiding a part of Anatolia’s ancient heritage.