Tuesday 16 March 2010

Two men arrested attempting to sell antiquities. Lysippos (?) bronze statue of Alexander among the loot.

Greek police arrest 2 with valuable antiquities

THESSALONIKI, Greece — Greek police arrested two men trying to sell several artifacts, including a bronze sculpture of emperor Alexander the Great from the 4th century B.C., for which the asking price was euro7 million ($9.5 million), authorities said Sunday.

Police identified the suspects as a 48-year-old Thessaloniki businessman and a 51-year-old farmer, but did not provide their names.

This image made available on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 by Greek police shows in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki a bronze statue of emperor Alexander the Great flanked by two bronze heads from the Roman period. Police arrested two individuals trying to sell these and other antiquities on Saturday. The asking price for the Alexander statue alone was 7 million euros. Experts say the statue is likely from the workshop of Lysippos, a 4th century BC Greek sculptor who was Alexander's contemporary and personal sculptor. (AP Photo/Greek Police)

The marble copy from the Getty Museum.

The men were arrested Saturday morning near the town of Kavala, east of Thessaloniki, police said. Police searched their car and found a treasure trove that included a 65-centimeter (2-foot) statue of Alexander, two bronze heads of a boy and a young man and other artifacts, including two rare Qurans.

"According to our information, the (suspects) have been trying to sell the sculptures for about a year," senior Thessaloniki police official Dimitris Tsaknakis told The Associated Press. "They have been asking euro 7 million for the Alexander sculpture and between euro 4-6 million ($5.43 million-$8.14 million) for the boy's bronze head."

The Louvre copy.

Experts say the Alexander statue appeared to come from the workshop of Lysippos, Alexander's personal sculptor. Chemical tests are being conducted at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum to see whether the sculpture is an original or a contemporary copy, since Lysippos' workshop, which employed several artists, also produced replicas of original works.

The young boy's bronze head, apparently part of a larger sculpture, is dated from the Roman era, in the 1st century B.C.

Police officials say it is likely the two smuggled the antiquities and the Qurans from Turkey, but at this point they are not certain about their place of origin.

Comparison of three statues: Getty Museum. Thessalonike. The The Louvre. The (newly-found) Thessolonike statue is the mirror image of the other two, but otherwise all three have a source-relationship (i.e. they all three copy the same source/model or the two are copies of the other)... In any case it is certain that Lysippos and his workshop themselves produced a variety of statues of the same type varying in details and size.

Concerning the Lysippos statue the following hypothesis are possible:

a. The head and the body were created at the same time. This means that we not only have the first known statue created by Lysippos and his workshop but the first actual representation of Alexander III, dating from his lifetime!

If the head is prooven to have been added at a later date:

b. it will be interesting to discover whether the addition was made in antiquity (to replace a damaged head), or
c. The addition was made in modern times. If this is the case - and the hypothesis is reinforced both by the crudeness of the head and the presence of the fake head of an adolescent amongst the objects confiscated - then we can but once again only wonder at the high level of organisation of the antiquities-trafficing circuits: Not only did they work with someone able to identify Lysippos' Alexander, but they had the knowledge
(although fortunately not the know-how to pull of the scam!) to create a head with the main characteristics of Alexander, including the famous anastole of his hair. All this shows, once again, how sophisticated the people who deal in the illegal trade of antiquities are - and by all accounts always have been (we shall go into this at a later date: suffice it to say that ALL famous collections - including all the big museums - have been proven to have included fakes as originals at some point at least of their history!). Of course if the, by all accounts, narcissistic king had seen their attempt to render his head, I would hate to imagine what he would have done to them!
d. Of course there is the possibility that both the body and the head are fakes, which brings us back to the remarks we have already made concerning the antiquity commerce circuits.

UPDATE 11/2023: 

In the acts of the colloqium «Αρχαιοκαπηλία Ιστορία, πολιτιστική πολιτική και νομική διαχείριση», the object is simpli listed (p. 53, no 7) by Demetrios Papaoikonomou as being among the objects confiscated by the authorities. There is no information about its current whereabouts or any more information concerning its identification.


  1. I'd be an astounding discovery. I've always wondered if we would find an original peice of art of Alexander the Great. I've always wondered what he looked like (obviously taken from artistic perspective). Priceless if original

    1. What ever happened to this case? Did you find out anything following this?

    2. Added an update... Not much information, which leads me to suspect this find: either just the head, or the whole object might have been a fake. Still, I would like to find a complete analysis of the object (w/ metallurgical results). I will ask around and see if anyone knows anything!