In a mid-February armed robbery, two masked men stole 76 artifacts from the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games. The men bound and gagged a female museum guard, smashed their way through display cabinets, and fled with artifacts of incalculable value. On Saturday, Greek police report that they have successfully recovered all 76 stolen objects.
The most valuable object taken was a 3,200-year-old golden seal ring. The remaining objects were bronze and clay, and included a 2,400 year-old oil jar, a bronze statue of a victorious athlete, clay lamps, bronze tripods and miniature chariot wheels. According to the Greek Culture Ministry’s general secretary, the recovered artifacts will be restored to their places at the museum next week.
Officials have arrested three Greek nationals in association with the robbery, and believe that two more suspects remain at large. The three men were detained near the city of Patras as they attempted to sell the golden seal-ring to undercover police officers for 1.5 million Euros. Police found the remainder of the artifacts buried 3 kilometers away from the museum in ancient Olympia.
Although the robbery marks the first time that the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games has been robbed, it is the second major Greek heist of this year. The robbery came on the heels of a January robbery at the National Gallery in Athens, Greece’s largest state art museum. There, robbers managed to remove several objects, including masterpieces by Picasso and Mondrian. The two heists have prompted speculation that the financial crisis has lead to weakened security in Greece’s museums.
According to president of the Greek Archaeologists’ Association Dimitra Koutsoumba, the most recent robbery is cause for concern. Said Koutsoumba, “It is the first time that we have an armed robbery at a museum during operating hours. It shows that the cuts the Culture Ministry has made since the crisis hit in 2009 make it easier for such incidents to take place . . . The minister himself had told us that the cuts were ranging between 30% and 35%, and they include cuts in personnel.” Koutsoumba has called for Greece to take greater steps to protect the nation’s cultural heritage.