Record-breaking EID MAR aureus looted from Greece, now repatriated

The EID MAR aureus that set a new world record when it was sold at auction for $4.2 million in October 2020 has been confiscated and repatriated to Greece whence it was looted. The owner of Roma Numismatics, the London-based auction house that sold the aureus, has been arrested and charged with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, conspiracy and scheme to defraud.

The coin caused a sensation when its sale was announced, because it is one of only three known examples in gold of the coin struck by Marcus Junius Brutus celebrating the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March. (There are 85 or so examples of the EID MAR silver denarius, so still rare and highly coveted in numismatic circles.) This aureus had never been published before and is by far the most pristine of the three, in near mint condition.

According to Richard Beale, owner and managing director of Roma Numismatics, the aureus’ provenance was as impeccable as its condition. It had an ownership history going back centuries. Sure, its documented history began with a private Swiss collection, but not the laughably fake kind. This was the renowned collection amassed by Baron Dominique de Chambrier in the 1700s.

The only problem was that it was all a lie, the “documented history” forged by Beale and coin expert Italo Vecchi who found the aureus and secured it for Roma Numismatics. They had tried to sell it before at the 2015 New York International Numismatics Convention, but at that time all they had in terms of ownership history was the laughably fake kind. Potential buyers heard the classic cover-up phrase that it was from “an old Swiss collection” and ran the other way. So Beale and Vecchi ginned up a glamorous and unimpeachable provenance. Coupled with an authentication certification by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the EID MAR aureus was now on its way to breaking the world record as the most expensive ancient coin ever sold at auction.

The house of cards started to collapse in 2022 when Beale attempted to sell five coins that were known to have been looted from Gaza. That drew suspicion on his whole operation, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) began to investigate the sale of the EID MAR aureus in collaboration with several foreign law enforcement agencies. They found that Beale had paid for the falsified ownership history. One informant said he’d been offered $107,000 by Beale to sign the fake documents but he refused.

The EID MAR was seized in February from an undisclosed location. On Tuesday, March 21st, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office officially repatriated the aureus and another 28 looted antiquities in a ceremony at the Greek Consulate in New York City attended by Greece’s Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni. The oldest of the objects is a Late Neolithic (5000-3500 B.C.) family group of carvings looted from the island of Euboea and trafficked through Switzerland into the private collection of Leon Levy and Shelby White.  Details of where the coin and other artifacts were looted from have not been released, just that the pieces were the products of illegal excavations in Macedonia, Epirus, Central Greece, the Cyclades and Crete.

I love this statement made at the ceremony by Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan and the founder and director of the Manhattan DA’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit.

New York Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos, referring to the daily efforts he and his colleagues make to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural goods, noted characteristically: “The Minister of Culture Lina Mendoni has placed two outstanding members on our team, Mrs. Papageorgiou and Vlachogiannis. We all work together, long hours, through the night, and on weekends as a family, like a good Greek family, and we are passionate about discussing what the next goal will be because we all share the same vision. To return the cultural heritage to where it was born and belongs. While archaeologists and other scientists study these ancient artifacts and wonder how they were found, this particular group will work together, as one man, for the next goal.

Bogdanos’ father Konstantine was a Greek immigrant who owned and operated a Greek restaurant in lower Manhattan and it was very much a family business. Matthew and his siblings all waited tables there, so he knows whereof he speaks. Among his many accomplishments, Bogdanos has a master’s degree in Classical Studies as well as a law degree, which is why he is so uniquely suited to head the Antiquities Trafficking Unit. He advocated for its creation for four years, finally achieving that goal in 2010 when Cyrus Vance Jr. became District Attorney.

8 thoughts on “Record-breaking EID MAR aureus looted from Greece, now repatriated

    1. Here’s one example of a blatantly fake “document” created so the museum buying the looted artifact could claim it was a “good faith” purchase instead of the shady extra-legal deal it was. The document was a photocopy of a typewritten statement ostensibly from someone long dead. Even if it hadn’t been a forgery, it still would not have been evidence of legitimate ownership.

      The saddest part is that for many years dealers/traffickers in antiquities didn’t even have to bother coming up with forged documents. They just attributed the object to an anonymous Swiss private collection with a big wink and everyone played along to keep the loot train running.

  1. Museums and collectors need to adopt something similar to the Rules of Evidence which govern testimony and physical evidence to be admitted in a court proceeding. I have seen some pretty laughable attempts at documentation and provenance on ebay. Also, there should probably be differing standards for really significant items like the EID MAR aureus or other significant items for a country’s cultural patrimony and common items like loose (unstratified) flint artifacts, oil lamps, or spindle whorls.

  2. This aureus is by far the most pristine of the three, in near mint condition? – Gortyna, anyone? – Elsewhere in Greece is of course a possibility, and it definitely suits the National Museum in Athens better than any private collection.

    “In February 44, Caesar showed clearly that he would never restore the republic that he had overthrown. He received the senators as a king (not rising from his seat when they entered the room), wanted himself to be crowned and had himself proclaimed dictator for life. All this was extremely unrepublican, and Brutus decided that he had to act. […]

    As Marc Antony delivered a short funeral oration, in which he inflamed the emotions: That night, Brutus and the other murderers had to escape from the city that they had wished to liberate. Brutus went to Crete, the small eastern province that he had been assigned to. This was the end of his career, or so it seemed.”…

  3. It’s interesting that the Ides Aureus was graded by NGC.
    It’s in the second picture slabbed.
    I wonder if anyone at NGC thought to ask about its provenance?
    Perhaps they asked around in the higher end collectors world about its story??
    It would be extremely expensive to have it graded based on its rarity. NGC has a scale for the value of the coin being graded. The ides AV would be top tier.

  4. Does anyone know the story of how the coin was discovered? Metal detector on a beach? Looted from an Archaeological site? I can’t find the back story anywhere.

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