Amazing story: chariot (which is actually not ancient) stolen by helicopter in 2017 found

The story of the so-called “biga of Morgantina,” as someone recently renamed it (perhaps just in the last few hours, since even googling it does not find any attestation of the expression older than... today). And not only because of how it was stolen (in 2017 at the Monumental Cemetery in Catania) and found (today), but also because of how newspapers are passing the news, since a false dating has been spread that dates it to 450 BC. In reality, it is a modern object, as has been shown by recent studies (the work of judicial archaeology expert Antonella Privitera and art historian Luisa Fucito are particularly noteworthy) and as several experts explained today on Facebook (Professor Dario Palermo, full professor at the University of Catania, commented on social media thus: “if there had not been someone who had filled newspapers and mass media with the false news of its provenance from Morgantina and its enormous value, perhaps it would still be in place”).

After all, one might have wondered how it was possible for a two thousand four hundred year old object to remain out in the open, in a cemetery, and keep itself in a perfect state of preservation. The popular belief was that the bronze chariot, stolen in 2017 from Catania’s Monumental Cemetery, where it decorated the top of the Sollima family chapel, came from the archaeological site of Morgantina: in fact, Privitera pointed out in some of his studies, it is a copy of the marble chariot preserved in the Vatican Museums, a group made in 1788 by sculptor and restorer Francesco Antonio Franzoni using an ancient, first-century AD case as a base. Since the alleged “chariot of Morgantina,” an almost faithful copy of the original (moreover, from the Augustan period) heavily integrated in the eighteenth century, bears many of the details that are due to Franzoni’s additions, any dating prior to the eighteenth century is ruled out at the outset. Moreover, as Privitera pointed out, in the 19th and 20th centuries the bronze production of copies of the Vatican Museum chariot was widespread: a specialized firm, the Chiurazzi foundry in Naples, even had reproductions of the Vatican chariot in its catalog. And according to the photographic expertise of Luisa Fucito, reported by Privitera, the fictitious “biga of 450 B.C.” is actually a product made in the early 20th century by the Chiurazzi foundry, to which it can be attributed “without hesitation,” Privitera says.

Having ascertained that the chariot is a modern object, we can move on to the facts of the case: as mentioned, the 20th-century chariot had been stolen in 2017 from the Monumental Cemetery of Catania, and the thieves, in order to remove it, had even made use of a helicopter: the sculptural group had been slinged, then placed on a truck and taken away. After that, the work had been smashed to pieces to facilitate its concealment and sale: the carriage was hidden in a garage in Aci Catena, while the horses had been transported further away, to Piazza Armerina. Carabinieri found it as it was about to be sold to a potential German buyer.

The work was found by Carabinieri from the Catania provincial command, who then executed a Catania prosecutor’s order arresting 17 people, all of whom were variously involved in the theft, on charges of robbery, extortion, receiving stolen property and theft of ancient works of art. According to magistrates, the investigation made it possible to “unravel a criminal group of high social dangerousness, dedicated to the commission of crimes against property in the provinces of Catania, Enna and Syracuse.” The criminal group hoped to obtain about two million euros from the sale: the carabinieri were able to recover the work first by identifying the perpetrators of the theft and the people who managed the post-theft operations (the concealment and management of the “transaction”), and then by following them through wiretaps.

In short, a story that to call it rocambolic is an understatement. Finally the chariot can return to its place, but one thing is certain: it is not a work “found in the nineteenth century in Morgantina,” as many say. Much less a work from 450 BC.

In the photo of the Catania Carabinieri: the reassembled chariot, in the presence of the Carabinieri, before it was handed over to the Catania Superintendency.

Amazing story: chariot (which is actually not ancient) stolen by helicopter in 2017 found
Amazing story: chariot (which is actually not ancient) stolen by helicopter in 2017 found

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