Italy returns ancient stele, illegally exported, to Turkey

This picture made available by the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage on Friday, April 28, 2023, shows a funerary stele, conventionally referred to as "Bride of the Desert" and illegally excavated in the ancient Roman archaelogical site of Zeugma in eastern Turkey. The stele had been illicitly exported from Turkey and Italian Carabinieri sized it in a private house near Florence in central Italy. (Carabinieri via AP) (Carabinieri, Carabinieri)

ROME – Italy on Friday returned to Turkish authorities a funerary stele, dating from the second century and carrying a loving inscription to the dead woman's spouse, after investigation determined that it was illegally excavated from southeastern Turkey.

Italy’s specialized Carabinieri paramilitary police art squad said it had determined after extensive investigation that the object was illegally exported, eventually winding up in a private home in Florence, Italy, after being purchased in France.

The art squad for decades has been in the vanguard of efforts to ensure that artistic and archaeological works are returned to their rightful country of provenance if exported without permission. Its efforts have resulted in hundreds of artworks and artifacts being returned to Italy from prestigious museums and from private collectors worldwide.

The stone work depicts a noblewoman, wearing a veil and a tunic. Her right hand is placed on her left breast. Under the bust refiguring the deceased is an inscription in ancient Greek reading, “Satornila, the wife who loves her husband, farewell!”

The stele was illegally excavated near the ancient city of Zeugma, in what is near Gaziantep, in present-day southeastern Turkey, the police said. It dates from the mid-to-late second century, the Carabinieri said.

Zeuguma, on the Euphrates River, was first an ancient Greek settlement and later became part of the Roman Empire. It was founded around 300 B.C. by a general of Alexander the Great.

The stele was handed over to the Turkish ambassador to Italy for return to Turkey.