US returns stolen Afghan wine jug11th September, 2013 by Rupert Millar
The US has returned a looted Roman wine pitcher alongside other stolen treasures to Afghanistan.
The repatriation ceremony was held at Afghanistan’s embassy in Washington DC on Monday (9 September) and included five gold artefacts and a Roman oinochoe from the 5th to 8th century AD.
The oinochoe, or oenochoe, was a common wine vessel in the ancient world, the name derived from the Greek for wine, “oino” and liquid offering, “choe”.
The items were stolen from Afghanistan and seized by US customs at Newark airport in March 2011.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) reported that it believed the objects had been stolen to order and were destined for a business somewhere in New York that deals in ancient artefacts.
After investigating the origin of the artefacts (an investigation into who stole them is still on-going) the items were formally seized in 2012 pending the recent
The Afghan ambassador, Eklil Hakimi, said: “These items are national treasures that form the country’s identity and distinguish Afghanistan from the rest of the world.
“We are grateful to the US government, particularly US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations for returning these extraordinary symbols of our past civilizations to their rightful owner today.
“As we look beyond 2014 into the ‘Transformation Decade’, the repatriation of these artefacts assures us that Afghanistan will once again thrive as a cultural and artistic hub. We value our relationship with the US and the assistance they have provided in helping to preserve our nation’s history and identity.”
HIS’s assistant director, John Connolly, added: I’m delighted that HSI has been instrumental in returning to the Afghan people a long lost piece of their history that should have never been stolen.
“Today marks HSI’s fourth cultural repatriation to Afghanistan since 2005. We are committed to the continued cooperation between our countries and beating back this illicit trade through dedicated law enforcement efforts, partnerships and training thus preserving and protecting the world’s ancient and valued treasures.”
Previous repatriations have included ancient Greek coins left behind from Alexander the Great’s conquests and subsequent Greco-Bactrian empire in the region, as well as a 19th century speed loader for a “jezail”, the traditional long-barrelled rifle used by Afghan and Pathan tribesmen.
Although the jug is described as “Roman”, Afghanistan was never a part of the Roman Empire, although it is perfectly possible that it was traded between the Romans and the neighbouring Sassanian Persian empire.
Alternatively it could be older and date back to Greek occupation, which lasted from Alexander the Great’s invasion in 330BC after the defeat of the Persian emperor Darius until the fall of the Greco-Bactrian successor empire to the Scythians in the 1st century BC – although an Indo-Greek kingdom spanning parts of modern Afghanistan and Turkmenistan lasted until the 1st century AD.
Before the Islamic conquest of the area, Iran and Afghanistan had a long tradition of wine production and wine drinking. The great kings and heroes of the Iranian epic the “Shahnameh” (The Book of Kings), particularly the giant Rostam, lord of Zabulistan (Zabul province today), are often described drinking wine – and very often getting drunk and waking up with hangovers too, “heads clouded with wine”.