The Antiquities Coalition Hosts Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli, Commander of the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage

The General’s Visit Marks a Growing Multilateral Effort to Combat Cultural Racketeering


Washington, D.C., July 31, 2018 — The Antiquities Coalition will host Brigadier General Fabrizio Parrulli of the Italian Carabinieri the week of July 30 in Washington, D.C. His visit follows a major bust of an international crime ring by the Carabinieri and other European law enforcement that spanned four countries, targeted dozens of suspected criminals, and lead to the seizure of $47 million in stolen art.

Brigadier General Parrulli heads the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (“Carabinieri PCT”), the world’s leading law enforcement team fighting the illicit trade in antiquities or cultural racketeering.

The purpose of General Parrulli’s visit is to raise awareness about the illicit trade of ancient art and antiquities, what actions Italy has taken in building partnerships to address this issue, and what remains to be done in the fight against this cultural racketeering.

On August 1, the Smithsonian will host General Parrulli in a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Richard Kurin, Director of the Freer-Sackler Galleries and the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative, and joined by Deborah Lehr, founder of the Antiquities Coalition, for a public discussion at the Freer Gallery of Art.

Dr. Kurin will interview Gen. Parrulli and Ms. Lehr about the importance of multilateral coordination in protecting cultural heritage and future objectives in contributing to art market transparency as well as ongoing challenges to curbing the trade in conflict antiquities. The General will also discuss will review the Carabinieri’s work, including his experiences with cultural heritage protection in Baghdad and work with the “Blue Helmets of Culture” in Iraq

On August 2, experts from the diplomatic, policy, governmental, and cultural heritage preservation sectors will convene at a closed-door roundtable discussion hosted by the Antiquities Coalition and the Middle East Institute.

The Carabinieri’s recent sting, Operation Demetra, saw simultaneous operations in the Italian regions of Sicily, Calabria, Piedmont, and Apulia, along with houses in London, Barcelona, and Ehningen, Germany. over 25,000 archeological items, worth $47 million were seized. To date, forty-one suspects have been detained.

The Carabinieri TPC spearheaded this international effort carried out with support from authorities in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all supported by Europol. Art and antiquities are particularly vulnerable to both money laundering and terrorist financing, and Italy has led the fight against art market exploitation for criminal activities.

About the Antiquities Coalition 

To protect our shared heritage and global security, the Antiquities Coalition is leading the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts. We champion better law and policy, foster diplomatic cooperation, and advance proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide. We are working toward a future when the past is preserved for the next generation, not looted, smuggled, and sold to finance crime, conflict, and terror. Learn more at

About the Carabinieri TPC

Founded in 1969, and largely regarded as the preeminent leader in combating the destruction of cultural heritage, the Carabinieri TPC works to combat theft, illegal excavations of archaeological sites, and trafficking and counterfeiting of stolen property. To date, the Carabinieri TPC has investigated over 35,000 individuals and detained over 1,000. The organization also maintains a database of paramount importance that stores millions of images and files relating to stolen artifacts. The Carabinieri TPC is also instrumental in providing training for judges, prosecutors, police, customs officials, and experts both in Italy and abroad.

Emily Benson, Program Associate
The Antiquities Coalition

Closing U.S. Borders To The Illicit Antiquities Trade: Bilateral Agreements


The looting and trafficking of ancient art is a persisting threat to our shared cultural heritage. Nations that have faced conflict and other economic and security crises, in particular, are in immediate danger of their irreplaceable antiquities disappearing into the black market. With a bustling art market worth $26.6 billion, the United States is an attractive end destination for stolen objects. However, there are a number of actions that so-called source countries can take to keep their illicit antiquities off the American market. One powerful option is a bilateral agreement negotiated under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

The U.S. implemented the 1970 UNESCO Convention with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983. This vital legislation allows any State Party to the treaty to request U.S. import restrictions on their undocumented antiquities. Once received, this request is then considered by the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), and if approved, is then implemented as a cultural bilateral agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU). Once in place, these agreements must be renewed by the requesting nation every five years, and during the renewal process, amendments to the agreement can be made.

Currently, the U.S. has seventeen bilateral agreements in place to close its borders to the illicit trade, as well as two emergency actions in which Congress passed legislation to restrict the import of undocumented cultural property from Iraq and Syria. This list continues to grow as more and more nations take this critical step to protect their history.

This interactive timeline provides a detailed history of the United States’ cultural bilateral agreements and emergency actions, highlighting the lengthy processes that these nations go through to protect their heritage, and demonstrating how the agreements got to where they stand today.

To learn more visit our page on bilateral cultural agreements.

Combating Illicit Trade in New York: DA Requests Return of Roman Sculpture

Following a string of successful repatriations, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced it is seeking the return of a marble head of Alexander the Great to Italy. The head, valued at around $150,000, depicts Alexander as the sun god Helios. Before entering into the collection of the Museo Forense it was discovered in the Roman Forum’s Basilica Aemilia during a state-sponsored excavation in 1909-1910. A review of the museum’s inventory in 1960 revealed the sculpture was missing, but by that time the head had already disappeared into the mysterious world of antiquities smuggling.

Head of Alexander
Head of Alexander as the sun god Helios. Source: Association for Research into Crimes against Art blog

The head’s journey is a classic case of an antiquity taken from its source country, vanishing without a trace for decades only to reappear later on the market. In 1974 the head resurfaced at a Sotheby’s auction in New York lacking ownership history. It was again put up for auction there in 2011, this time bearing false provenance. The head ultimately ended up at the Safani Gallery in New York, where it was seized in February 2018.

The DA’s petition claims lack of a paper trail is a telltale sign of looting and argues Sotheby’s failed to practice sufficient due diligence both in its 1974 and 2011 sales. Italy’s 1909 patrimony law requires an export license for any object removed from the country and declares that any artifact found on Italian soil is property of the state. Without an official export license the Head of Alexander therefore automatically constitutes a stolen work since it is property of the Italian government.

This case underscores the need for increased transparency in the art market to ensure that patrimony is not plundered. If repatriated, the Head of Alexander will join a number of other antiquities returned to their home countries, including a Greek krater restituted to Italy and a limestone bas-relief ordered back to Iran by a New York judge in late July 2018.

Manhattan DA Moves To Return Looted Persian Masterpiece: Update

he limestone masterpiece will be returned home to Iran. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office
The limestone masterpiece will be returned home to Iran. Credit: Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

A Persian bas-relief dating to 500 BCE and valued at $1.2 million will be heading home to the Islamic Republic of Iran after more than eighty years. In July 2018, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of a May 2018 petition filed by the New York District Attorney’s Office, which argued that a purchase without “reasonable inquiry” into an object’s provenance cannot be in good faith. The Persian Guard Relief’s owners seemed to have followed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule of antiquities acquisitions: do not ask questions about an object’s legality if the answer is undesirable. However, the court’s ruling demonstrates ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse in retaining ownership of an object.

Our previous post about the Persian masterpiece discusses its long and troubling history. The ancient relief was first taken from the World Heritage Site of Persepolis in 1935, likely from a frieze depicting a military procession. It is then believed to have traveled to New York before entering the collection of Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1951, only to be stolen again from the museum in 2011. In October 2017, the relief resurfaced at the European Fine Art Fair in New York, where questions about the artifact’s murky past led to its seizure. Hopefully, the relief’s return home will mark its final journey.

Learn more about the efforts of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to combat the illicit antiquities trade through our interactive timeline.

The AC Digs Into: The Medici Conspiracy

It reads like a Hollywood blockbuster: dashing detectives hot on the trail of an international ring of art thieves, hunting for millions of dollars’ worth of antiquities from the great civilizations of the past. Yet this isn’t the plot of an adventure film—it’s a nonfiction book. The Medici Conspiracy, a thorough account of the illicit trade in antiquities and its investigation by the Italian Carabinieri, is as informative as it is entertaining. Written by veteran journalists Peter Watson and Cecelia Todeschini, the book offers a gripping introduction to the struggle against the illicit trade in antiquities. With a cast of characters larger than that of a dime-store detective novel—brilliant investigators, cavalier tomb robbers, and fabulously wealthy collectors abound—The Medici Conspiracy does not falter over its 300-plus pages.

The authors take care to make us as readers feel swept up in the action, almost as if we’ve joined the ranks of the Carabinieri Art Squad. They describe the investigative process in great detail, from the cloak-and-dagger details (including tapped phone lines and plainclothes officers) to the challenges of international legal bureaucracy. They also take us inside the smuggling rings to reveal their hierarchical structure. Beginning with tomb robbers (tombaroli, as the professionals say), continuing through middlemen, and ending with high-profile dealers, these antiquities trafficking rings are complex operations. It is especially interesting to read about how they launder looted goods, giving stolen property a false veneer of legitimacy to sell on the open market. Beyond the exciting accounts of police raids and illegal backroom deals, The Medici Conspiracy provides a substantive discussion of the devastating consequences of antiquities looting for archaeology: the lack of information about an artifact’s context when excavated. Looted antiquities may be beautiful, but from the standpoint of archaeological knowledge, they are worthless.

Readers of The Medici Conspiracy will find themselves delving deeper and deeper into a criminal underworld they may have not even known existed, an unsettling feeling akin to spiraling down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. Rather than merely a few bad actors trying to make some money, Watson and Todeschini make the case that the global market for antiquities is deeply corrupted. In chapters on unethical behavior by auction houses and global museums, they seek to reveal active complicity or irresponsible negligence on the part of many individuals, including art dealers, curators, and collectors. Watson and Todeschini’s charges against some of the most prestigious custodians of the world’s artistic treasures are shocking, yet their arguments, developed on the basis of painstakingly collected evidence, are convincing.

Given the sprawling time span of the investigation, nearly 10 years, and the complex interlacing of the criminal relationships mapped out by the authors, The Medici Conspiracy may be challenging for readers less familiar with the subject. Despite the action and adventure, this is not a summer beach read. The authors make an admirable effort to explain technical terms, though, such as the various shapes of ancient Greek vases (kraters, kylixes, and so on), as well as many relevant terms in Italian. When pieces of evidence unveiled earlier in the text become relevant again at later stages in the investigation, Watson and Todeschini provide helpful reminders of the original point, which improves the coherence of an otherwise unwieldy plot. Even with these much-needed accommodations for the non-doctoral reader, the book does not want for detail, making The Medici Conspiracy a fascinating read for both amateur cultural heritage sleuths and subject matter experts alike.

The authors’ note at the beginning of this weighty tome offers a hint at the high stakes of the story to come: “This is a book about art, about the great passions it arouses and the crimes those passions can lead to.” Indeed, The Medici Conspiracy will capture the attention of those who take an interest in art, but it touches on so many more fields, such as criminology, law, and international relations, giving it wide appeal. Even a decade after the book’s publication, it remains a valuable source of insights on antiquities trafficking—and a thrilling read.

You can purchase The Medici Conspiracy and support the Antiquities Coalition’s efforts using Amazon Smile.

Andrew Lokay is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition. Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, he is now a student at Stanford University, where he studies International Relations and French. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to

Trafficking Animals and Antiquities: Policy Parallels in the Fight Against Illicit Trades

The Antiquities Coalition is dedicated to combating cultural racketeering, a multibillion-dollar global industry that closely parallels the poaching and trafficking of wildlife. These illicit trades seek to extinguish the cultural and biological diversity that shapes the world we share. Wildlife and antiquities trafficking pose a grave threat to communities’ futures, often directly funding criminal and violent extremist groups, weakening local economic viability, and ultimately destroying entire ways of life.

Our team joined the conversation at a recent bipartisan event at the United States Institute of Peace, discussing U.S. government efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and terrorist financing in southern Africa. Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and former chairman of the Africa subcommittee, and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on African Affairs, underscored the need for civic engagement, sustainable development, and strong law enforcement to combat illicit trades worldwide. Trafficking networks are a global phenomena, which will require multidisciplinary strategies to dismantle. A few key takeaways:

Short Term Cash vs. Long-Term Gain

As with those working in cultural heritage, the conservation community finds itself competing with industrial expansion and the lure of fast cash for a voice in development policy. Poverty exacerbates the need to provide for one’s family, driving people toward extremes, such as poaching or looting, to generate income. Yet, combating the illicit trade does not need to be a zero-sum game in which human development conflicts with preservation efforts. Rather, smart development, alongside conservation and adequate legal structures, can help build a system that ensures a better future for humans, animals, and heritage alike.

Engaging Communities

Communities must see value in the long-term existence of biodiversity and cultural heritage if both are to be preserved. Congressmen Royce and Coons pointed to Yellowstone, which annually attracts four million visitors and generates over $680 million in revenue, as a tangible conservation model for African community leaders. Yellowstone, and the National Park Service more broadly, enhances American credibility and serves as living proof of the income- and legacy-generating value of nature preserves. Similarly, heritage sites worldwidefrom Inca fortresses in the Andes to temple complexes of East Asia and ancient cities in the Middle Eastgenerate vital tourist income for local communities. Once looted or destroyed, these sites, and their long-term income-generating potential, are lost forever.

Human Lives

Trafficking is a dangerous business. Wildlife and antiquities trafficking fund organized crime and violent extremism, and often result in the murder or disappearance of those concerned citizens who try to protect at-risk animals and heritage sites. Conservationists in southern Africa often work with third-generation park rangers and the children of rangers who have lost their lives to wildlife traffickers. While the global demand for wildlife goods may be decreasing, this downward trend has been matched with an increase in terrorists’ firepower, particularly among groups such as Al-Shabaab and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Transnational trafficking networks do not care how they are making money, what they are moving, or how many human lives are lost in the process. Supplying grassroots resistors with adequate resources, including satellite tracking equipment, defenses, and forensic technology, is essential to the fight against trafficking.

The Collective Cost

Whereas the poaching and trafficking of iconic species such as elephants, tigers, and rhinoceroses is most likely to make headlines, the illicit wildlife trade in fact encompasses thousands of species, both plant and animal, moving in high volume and threatening to destabilize ecosystems worldwide. Reductions in biodiversity have a ripple effect throughout the environment, and contribute to climate change, accelerate desertification, and endanger human livelihoods. Similarly, we find that the high-volume trade in small, portable, easily concealed, and relatively low-value antiquities is less likely to make headlines than the trafficking of major works of ancient art, but is more difficult to police and arguably more destructive to the historical record.

Multilateral Coordination

Neither wildlife trafficking nor cultural racketeering is limited to faraway places; both take shape in the United States as well. For example, in 2017 in Los Angeles, California, Operation Jungle Book resulted in federal criminal charges against sixteen defendants who participated in a cross-border wildlife smuggling scheme. Likewise in 2016, prominent antiquities dealer Nancy Wiener was arrested on charges relating to looted and trafficked antiquities. The list of cases goes on. Combating the illicit trade requires multilateral coordination, engaging stakeholders in the United States and abroad to disincentivize and dismantle these networks piece by piece. Progress in combating the illicit trades in wildlife and antiquities underscores that it is possible, even across borders, conflict zones, and languages, to enact sweeping measures that protect some of our world’s most valuable resources.


At the domestic level, legislation can be a valuable tool in combating illicit trades. Laws such as the Delta Act (H.R. 4819) and BUILD Act of 2018 (H.R. 5105/S. 2463) strive to disincentivize wildlife trafficking by promoting inclusive economic growth through conservation and biodiversity programs, and by sustainably supporting the broader economic development of countries in need. In the antiquities realm, new legislation such as the Illicit Art and Antiquities Trafficking Protection Act (H.R. 5886) will help close the $26.6 billion American art market to money laundering, terrorist financing, and other crimes by removing the art market’s exemption from standard regulations.

Senator Coons, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is also presently drafting a bill to address the confluence of terrorism, poor governance, and internal conflict, all of which impact a country’s vulnerability to illicit trade. Senator Coons argued that resolution of these issues must be married to development and diplomatic strategies, and that working together with NGOs, diplomats, and those on the Hill is imperative.  

As Representative Royce retires, the Antiquities Coalition commends him for years of service to people at home and abroad, and wishes him all the best in this next chapter.

The Antiquities Coalition Supports the Fight Illicit Networks and Detect Trafficking Act

As an organization dedicated to combating the illicit trade in ancient art, which is funding crime, armed conflict, and violent extremism, the Antiquities Coalition is proud to support H.R. 6069, the “Fight Illicit Networks and Detect Trafficking Act” (“FIND Trafficking Act”). The bill was introduced by Representative Juan Vargas (D-CA) to the House Financial Services Committee, and Representatives Hensarling (R-TX) and Walden (R-OR) are bill co-sponsors. The bill would require the Comptroller General of the United States to carry out a study on how virtual currencies and online marketplaces are used to buy, sell, or facilitate the financing of goods or services associated with sex trafficking or drug trafficking, and for other purposes.

As the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) warned back in 2013, art and antiquities are particularly vulnerable to both money laundering and terrorist financing. We believe that Congress has an opportunity to do even more in its fight against the use of virtual currencies for illicit trade. The U.S. Department of State estimates that each year 3–5% of the global GDP is laundered, totaling some $2.17–$3.61 trillion. Moreover, the U.S. Department of State claims that as post-9/11 reforms have increasingly closed the formal financial sector to violent extremist organizations, they have turned back to “traditional ways such as… money laundering… to move their funds to finance their terrorist activities.” The proliferation of illicit cryptocurrency use opens new, non-traditional methods for terrorist groups to launder money and fund criminal activities and thus imperils strides made in combating financial crimes.

Mr. Robert Novy, Deputy Assistant Director, Office of Investigations, United States Secret Service, mentioned in his June 20th testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, that the two primary focus areas of the Secret Service with regards to virtual currencies are combating criminal schemes and money laundering. Those are two objectives we share.

In Thomas Ott’s testimony on behalf of the United States Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”), he urged Congress to take targeted action to prevent the growth of illicit activity involving cryptocurrencies. Mr. Ott also noted that more than one-third of all registered virtual currency money transmitters are based in the U.S.

In 2017, the U.S. remained the world’s largest art market, valued at a shocking $26.6 billion and accounting for 42% of the global total. When taking into account the substantial role of the U.S. in both art markets and cryptocurrencies, the need for precise policy in this domain is clear.

In accordance with our goals of adopting a targeted approach to combating the illicit trade of art and antiquities, our organization supports H.R. 6069. As of July 2018, the bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. You can track its progress here.

Interested in antiquities advocacy? See some of our other work here:
U.S. Legislation
Cultural Policy Correspondences
Oral and Written Testimony

The AC Digs Into: Customs and Trade Law

As of July 1, 2018, the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) has been revised to include more detail for archaeological goods. Historically, enforcement agencies lumped together archaeological, historical, and ethnographic pieces, but the new revisions require that importers of archaeological pieces report their items in additional specificity to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These changes add a new level of clarity and detail to import regulations.  

Lawrence Friedman, a customs lawyer at Barnes Richardson, worked on behalf of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, along with several interested not-for-profits (including the Antiquities Coalition), to petition the 484(f) Committee at the U.S. International Trade Commission to make these changes to the HTSUS.

The Antiquities Coalition asked him about this process and what’s next.  

Why was it important to get the HTSUS codes revised?

I am a customs lawyer. While I have some interest and knowledge of this area, I generally work with commercial importers of finished goods and production materials, so this was not something that was on my radar. However, I had heard from colleagues in the cultural property and cultural heritage field that the way import statistics were collected was preventing them from having clear data in imported archaeological and ethnographic pieces because they were categorized with historical pieces. Because of what I do, I was aware of the process for changing the statistical breakouts and offered to help.

In seeking the creation of new HTSUS classification numbers, what opposition, if any, did you face?

I am not aware of any outside opposition to this proposal. The issue was convincing the government people that the change was both worthwhile and could be administered by CBP. Because we were not privy to the governmental discussions, that was a little frustrating. We thought we would succeed last year, but it took until the July update.

We imagine that this process was not as simple as petitioning the 484(f) Committee alone. Could you guide us through this process?

Honestly, there is not a lot more to it. We drafted a pretty detailed petition with input from Prof. Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University College of Law and Prof. Nancy Wilke of Carleton College, both of whom are affiliated with the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, the lead party on this effort. I looked at the available data and worked with them to develop the petition. We showed that more detailed data will help legitimate traders, academics, and enforcement agencies track trade that might be subject to import restrictions under the cultural property laws. We also worked on a strategy of enlisting support from allied organizations and from interested elected officials.

How did you decide on the specific language to include in your petition? Did you have input from partners?

Professors Gerstenblith and Wilkie were very helpful in crafting the petition.

The new HTSUS 9705.00.00, the U.S. International Trade Commission.

To advance efforts to close U.S. markets to imports of illicit art and antiquities, what do you see as the next legal step following the HTSUS revision?

Rumor has it that efforts are underway to rewrite the chapter of the HTS covering these products. This would require an international effort at the World Customs Organization. If that happens, it would be helpful to move the distinction between archaeological, ethnographic, and historical pieces from a statistical breakout for the United States to an internationally accepted subheading. The new definitions the U.S. inserted into the statistical notes can serve as a useful model for that process and for updating the corresponding Explanatory Notes to the Harmonized System, which are the internationally accepted commentary on the scope of the various HTS chapters and headings. It is important to recognize that this is only one part of a larger enforcement exercise. The tariff data generally assumes that importers are properly reporting the nature of their goods. A smuggler will continue to either not report at all or to disguise the merchandise. By breaking out these categories, it will no longer be possible to use “historical pieces” as a cover and claim that the item was properly reported.

Thank you to the Committee of the Blue Shield for leading this successful effort to revise the HTSUS. For more on customs and international trade law, visit Lawrence’s blog.

Italian Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage Leads Efforts behind Major International Antiquities Seizure

Arrests and Seizures Follow a Multilateral Investigation Across Borders


Washington, D.C., July 12, 2018 —The Antiquities Coalition commends General Fabrizio Parrulli and the Italian Carabinieri for dealing a major blow to the illicit antiquities trade in a massive sting operation that spanned four countries and resulted in several arrests and antiquities seizures.

On July 4th at 4:00AM, over 250 police officers simultaneously searched 40 houses in the Italian regions of Sicily, Calabria, Piedmont, and Apulia, along with houses in Ehningen, Germany, London, United Kingdom, and Barcelona, Spain. Twenty-three suspects were detained, and over 25,000 archeological items, worth EUR 40 million (nearly $47 million USD), were seized. The Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale (“Carabinieri TPC”) spearheaded this international effort carried out with support from authorities in Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all supported by Europol. The case highlights the importance of multilateral coordination in combating the illicit antiquities trade and also illustrates what can be achieved when the focus shifts from repatriation to dismantling criminal networks through prosecution.

The Antiquities Coalition has long called for such policies. Recommendations in our #CultureUnderThreat Task Force report include shifting the focus from the seizure and repatriation of antiquities to dismantling criminal networks through prosecution. Another of our recommendations is for the United States Department of Justice or equivalent bodies to appoint designated prosecutors to bring criminal cases against individuals and organizations involved in the illicit antiquities trade.

Founded in 1969, and largely regarded as the preeminent leader in combating the destruction of cultural heritage, the Carabinieri TPC works to combat theft, illegal excavations of archaeological sites, and trafficking and counterfeiting of stolen property. To date, the Carabinieri TPC has investigated over 35,000 individuals and detained over 1,000. The organization also maintains a database of paramount importance that stores millions of images and files relating to stolen artifacts. The Carabinieri TPC is also instrumental in providing training for judges, prosecutors, police, customs officials, and experts both in Italy and abroad.

About the Antiquities Coalition 
To protect our shared heritage and global security, the Antiquities Coalition is leading the international campaign against cultural racketeering, the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts. We champion better law and policy, foster diplomatic cooperation, and advance proven solutions with public and private partners worldwide. We are working toward a future when the past is preserved for the next generation, not looted, smuggled, and sold to finance crime, conflict, and terror. Learn more at

Tess Davis, Executive Director
The Antiquities Coalition

The AC Digs Into: Art Crime During War

Arthur Tompkins is a District Court Judge in Wellington, New Zealand. Each summer, he teaches the “Art in War” component course as part of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art’s (ARCA) postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection held in Umbria, Italy. Tompkins is the editor of Art Crime and Its Prevention (Lund Humphries, 2016) and is the author of Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime During War. You can purchase Plundering Beauty and support the Antiquities Coalition’s efforts using Amazon Smile.

How did you become interested in art crime during war?

A series of serendipitous chance encounters; the first in a bar inside Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France; which led to meeting the founder of the Association for Research into Crimes against Art and a chance both to contribute a chapter to a book of essays on Art Crime book and then, as I was coincidentally in the UK the week before the first ARCA Art Crime Conference in 2009 I was able both to attend and to speak at that conference; and finally at the conference dinner I was invited to start teaching Art in War at ARCA’s pioneering multidisciplinary Art Crime summer programme in Umbria, Italy, the following year. Initially, I was interested in the cross-border criminal law aspects of art crime during war, but over the years my interest in art has blossomed as each year I have returned to Italy to teach my course.

What inspired you to write Plundering Beauty?

Plundering Beauty has had quite a long gestation! After a couple of years teaching my course, so I guess in about 2011 or 2012, I prepared a Proposal outlining the book, but then did nothing about that for a few years. Then in 2016 and as a result of yet another serendipitous coincidence, I was on a ship voyaging to Pitcairn Island. Also on board were an inspirational English couple, who had written numerous books and were very encouraging that I should take the plunge. So I did…

Can you speak a little to the research process for this book?

Most of the research for Plundering Beauty came from the work I did preparing my Art in War course lecture notes. In that research, I was looking for the major signposts along the long road from the “winner takes all” approach to the plunder of art during war, to the current, but imperfect and incomplete and often sadly ineffective, protection during war of art at international law. I read a lot, I brought probably far too many books, I traced the sometimes long and convoluted journey some artworks take during several wars, and I investigated the destruction, displacement, theft, and loss (and sometimes the wonderful and extraordinary survival) of art during war. But I initially had only my fairly rough and ready lecture notes – polishing and refining the text took a lot of time, as did finding the images to include. And I couldn’t have done it without the remarkable team at my publishers, Lund Humphries in London, and also my wonderful copy-editor, Abigail Grater.

It’s clearly difficult to cover over 2,000 years of history in less than 200 pages. What is one case you wish you had been able to include?

I wrote a chapter on the collecting and commissioning of art by King Charles I, then his collection’s sale and dispersal by Cromwell’s Commonwealth after the English Civil Wars, and then the partial reassembling of the collection by his son, King Charles II. It’s a fascinating story and reveals a compelling backstory to many of the masterpieces hanging in some of the world’s great art museums and collections. But for reasons of space, we had to leave it out.

You discuss how over centuries, plunder went from a legitimate wartime practice to a criminal act. However, as recounted in your book, cultural plunder is still a huge issue today, and legal protections for cultural property often are not sufficient. What needs to be done to better protect cultural heritage in war?

I wish I had the answer! The legal protection of art and cultural heritage, however comprehensive it might be on paper, will always be defeated by guns and bombs and violence, and malicious intent. And it has ever been thus: the very many wars covered in Plundering Beauty sadly prove that time and again. But what I think is the single most important turning pointing in the whole long history – the unexpected insistence of the Duke of Wellington, at the Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon, that the plundered art should be returned – gave and gives real substance to Cicero’s fundamental idea that art belongs to all humankind. And it is that basic principle that inspires and directs and guides all the very many people who are working so hard to protect art and cultural heritage, against all the odds. So, we need to resource those efforts better, we need to aid and support the researchers and the investigators, the curators and the advocates, the tribunals, and the institutions, that support the repatriation of plundered art. And perhaps ultimately and most importantly we need to reduce the market demand for plundered art so that the plunders cannot find, anywhere, a buyer, a market or a safe haven.

What is one place (museum, archaeological site, historic center) you think everyone should see?

For me, the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo in Venice resonates on many levels. There is a haunting and powerful Holocaust Memorial there, and the campo itself, and the surrounding buildings and community is quiet and reflective, almost serene despite its history. But if I’m there I’m also in Venice, a city that has been involved in many of the significant events in the long history of the plunder of art during war – from the Fourth Crusade to Napoleon to World War II and the Holocaust. So a visit is always memorable and moving and worthwhile.

The AC Digs Into: Plundering Beauty: A History Of Art Crime During War

In his new book Plundering Beauty: A History of Art Crime During War, Arthur Tompkins takes a look at dire effects of conflict on a nation’s cultural patrimony. The systematic pillage of sites such as Palmyra and Nimrud captured the attention of millions over the last five years, but this issue is not a new phenomenon. The destruction and looting of art in conflict can be traced back far into the history of Rome when cultural heritage was once merely considered the spoils of war.

The Romans adopted a “winner takes all” approach, in which anything of value they could get their hands on was shipped back to Rome as war booty. This plunder of Greek patrimony transformed Rome into the cultural and artistic center that is still revered today.

Although aesthetic pleasure was often the motivation of ancient actors, in more recent history, political and economic objectives are the catalysts in cultural heritage destruction. Tompkins discusses how Serbia’s program of ethnic cleansing contributed to the decimation of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, and how financial strife led to the looting of the Iraqi National Museum following the U.S. invasion. The perpetrators of these crimes were unconcerned with the immense value possessed by those buildings and objects, as they were seen only as political tools and monetary gain.

Measures such as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict were enacted to combat art crime during conflict, but Tompkins notes that without proper enforcement of these laws, there is little to deter criminals from targeting our heritage. Tompkins points out that only three cultural property cases secured convictions under international law: Nazi looting during the Nuremberg Tribunals; cultural destruction at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; and targeting of religious sites in Mali by the International Criminal Court.

Considering the long history of cultural destruction, Tompkins argues we must do more to protect our history before it becomes another casualty of war. Plundering Beauty is an essential read to understand how cultural heritage has too often been caught in the crossfire.

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Ali Tyler is an intern at the Antiquities Coalition and a student at George Washington University, where she studies art history. If you are interested in interning at the Antiquities Coalition please send a resume and cover letter to