Seven pieces of silverware from the late Roman Empire known as the Seuso or Sevso treasure have been reacquired by Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Parliament, Orban said Hungary had spent 15 million euros to recover its “family silver”.
“Given that it’s ours, it is better for it to be here rather than elsewhere. This is why we decided to bring it home,” he said, adding that the treasure returned last weekend.
“If a country has power and prestige, it is able to reacquire what belongs to it,” he said.
Laszlo Baan, director of the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, called the purchase an “historic moment”. From Saturday on, the silverware, thought to have originated in the town of Polgardi near Lake Balaton, will be on display, free-of-charge, in Hungary’s Parliament. Later on, it will most probably be one of the “gems” of the Museum Quarter to be established along the City Park, he said.
Half of the 14 pieces from the late Roman Empire, including the famous Seuso dish, have now been returned to Hungary, Baan said, adding that recovering the remaining pieces would only be a matter of time.
He said the treasures were transported over land secured by the Counter-terrorism Centre (TEK).
Baan said that the treasures’ two English owners, who are siblings, got in contact with them about 18 months ago and they were able to extensively examine and establish the origin of the treasures with exact precision. The siblings, who are members of a consortium represented by Lord Northampton, did not question the Hungarian state’s claim to the treasure which helped negotiations and a final settlement of a compensation fee of 15 million euro. The treasures’ starting bid was 40 million British pounds originally, or 40 million euros, at current prices, Baan said.
The British authorities finally approved the release of the treasures from the country after a series of procedures to acquire permission, he said.
The treasure had been kept in a vault of the London auctioneer Bonhams ever since a dispute over the silverware’s provenance.
The precious 4th-century silver plates, jugs and tableware were purchased by Lord Northampton between 1982 and 1990.
Lord Northampton put up the collection for auction in New York in 1990. Back then, Hungary, Lebanon and then Yugoslavia claimed ownership, arguing that it had been found on their territory. In a 1993 ruling, a New York court turned down the claims by Hungary and Croatia, since neither country could present evidence of the objects’ origin.
Over the past 25 years, Hungary made repeated attempts to reacquire the treasure but the transactions were thwarted for several reasons, including prohibitively high prices.
In the recent negotiations, Hungary was represented by cabinet chief Janos Lazar and Baan.