A prized artifact in the form of a Roman Era coffin emblazoned with the 12 labors of Hercules is to be repatriated to Turkey in the wake of an extended legal battle over the three-ton marble sarcophagus.
Originally owned by Swiss-based Inanna Art Services, the artifact turned up in a customs-office warehouse in Geneva several years ago. The massive sarcophagus, thought to be just one of 12 of its kind in existence, shows scenes from Roman mythology featuring the demigod, with images of Hercules slaying the mythical Hydra and killing the Nemean Lion.
According to an Associated Press article, the Turkish government has been campaigning for the sarcophagus’ return for several years. Cultural officials said that it has been definitively placed to Dokimeion, a Roman-era city understood to have been located in Turkey’s modern province of Antalya.
Inanna Art Services attempted to retain ownership of the artifact at first, even going so far as to block the restitution for months through the appeals process. However, the importer decided recently to drop its campaign to reclaim the sarcophagus, instead choosing to contribute to the artifact’s return.
Didier Bottge, the importer’s lawyer, commented in a phone interview with the Associated Press that his employer considered the case to be closed. This is in stark contrast to how Inanna Art Services objected to the September 2015 legal ruling to return the priceless artifact to Turkey.
The handover is slated to take place sometime in the next few months, and is representative of a new measure of cooperation between Turkey and Switzerland. Tensions have remained high between the two countries, with Swiss authorities on alert after a rash of protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The country also faces allegations of espionage activities within Swiss borders, perpetrated by individuals linked to Turkey.
Perhaps considering the decision by the Swiss courts and Inanna Art Services the offering of an olive branch, representatives from the Turkish Consulate in Geneva stated they were satisfied with the decision to repatriate the sarcophagus. The statement drew attention to investigations made by prosecutors from both Antalya and Geneva that indicated the artifact was taken from Turkey in the wake of illegal archaeological digs during the 1960s.
While the provenance of the sarcophagus seems straightforward, what’s not clear is how it ended up stored in the Swiss Free Port warehouse – or how it became a legal possession of Inanna. The free port system as practiced by the Swiss has been the subject of criticism in the past, with French authorities claiming the lack of transparency makes it easy for these ports to receive and harbor stolen art. The sarcophagus itself is likely worth several million dollars, according to lawyer Marc-Andre Renold, who represented the Turkish government in the Geneva courts.
The artifact, once it is returned to Turkish soil, will ultimately end up transferred to Antalya’s Archaeological Museum. Prior to that, the sarcophagus will be placed on public exhibition, according to the Turkish consulate.