Hungary buys back Roman 'family silver' for $20 million

Wed Mar 26, 2014 1:51pm EDT
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By Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary unveiled on Wednesday Roman silverware it says was found in the country in the 1970s, smuggled abroad and recently bought back in a deal Prime Minister Viktor Orban said brought home a family treasure.

The seven decorated pitchers, platters and bowls were half the original 4th-5th century "Seuso treasure" and cost 15 million euros ($20.67 million) to buy, he said as they were put on display in the parliament building in Budapest.

Hungary says the objects were dug up near Lake Balaton in western Hungary during the communist period, smuggled to the West and not seen in public until a 1990 auction in New York that failed because of a dispute over where they were found.

Budapest has always claimed the treasure as its own.

Two people described only as "British siblings" contacted Hungary with a view to making a sale, Hungarian officials said.

"Hungary has reacquired and brought home seven pieces of the invaluable treasure," Orban said. "It has always belonged to Hungary. This is Hungary's family silver."

Orban is the favorite to win a general election on April 6 and recovering the Seuso silver, while primarily an issue of national heritage, could burnish his reputation as a defender of Hungarian national interests dear to many voters.

The treasure was named after a high-ranking Roman officer, Seuso, who probably buried his silver vessels before a military attack at the end of the 4th or beginning of the 5th century.   Continued...

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) and Jozsef Palinkas (R), president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, unveil a piece of the Sevso treasure at the Hungarian parliament in Budapest March 26, 2014. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo