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Roman emperor statue seized from Cleveland Museum of Art in smuggling investigation

A Roman-era statue, thought to represent Marcus Aurelius, stands in a gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art on June 25, 2010.
Amy Sancetta
/
AP
A Roman-era statue, thought to represent Marcus Aurelius, stands in a gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art on June 25, 2010.

A headless bronze statue, believed to depict Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, has belonged to the Cleveland Museum of Art for nearly 40 years. But soon, the artifact will be in New York where authorities will investigate whether it was stolen from Turkey.

The life-size statue is over 6 feet tall, about 1,800 years old and valued at $20 million. It is believed to be one of many antiquities looted from Bubon, in southwest Turkey, and trafficked in Manhattan decades ago.

On Aug. 14, a New York judge signed a warrant ordering the statue to be seized. As of Friday, it is currently awaiting transport, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

The investigation into the sculpture's origins comes over a decade after the Turkish government's claimedthat 21 objects at the Cleveland Museum of Art were linked to an illicit trade.

Over the years, countries across the world, including Turkey and Italy, have been urging major American institutions to return artifacts they believe were stolen.

Todd Mesek, a spokesperson for the Cleveland Museum of Art, said museum officials are taking the allegations "very seriously" and could not speak further on the matter.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius ledRome during a time of famine, a major flood and plague. Those painful experiences gave Aurelius a unique perspective on how to cope with adversity. His writings in Meditations put Stoicism into practice and it is among the most popular self-help guides ever written.

The Cleveland Museum of Art obtainedthe statue in 1986. The sculpture, titled "Draped Male Figure," was part of the museum's Greek and Roman Art department.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.