Theft at Olympia

As most readers of rogueclassicism are probably aware, yesterday the press, academic discussion lists, and social media were ablaze with news of a theft at one of the the museums at Olympia. What follows is an attempt to synthesize the various reports in a useful way …

The basic story seems to be thus: at 7:30 a.m. local time, two masked men armed with Kalashnikovs (maybe … reports vary on their level of armament) entered the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games during a shift change and demanded of the only (48-year-old, female) guard on duty at the time that she hand over assorted objects which apparently weren’t even in that particular museum. When she refused, they tied her up and proceeded to do some smashing and grabbing in a display case of bronze and terracotta votive objects associated with the Temple of Zeus. The numbers of objects taken is still unknown, but estimates range between sixty and seventy objects, most of which date from the ninth to fourth centuries B.C., except for  a gold Mycenean ring. Outside of the Mycenean ring, which Dr Vassiliki Pliatsika on AegeaNet identified (citing Greek press reports) as one having the catalog number CMS VS1B 135 (not sure which one that is), it has not yet been specified which objects had been taken. In the words of a cultural ministry official:

“They took small objects made of bronze and pottery — figurines, vases and lamps — and the ring,” the official said. “The artifacts were behind reinforced glass panels which fracture like a car windscreen, and the thieves grabbed whatever small objects they could reach through the holes they opened.” (AP)

Another interesting detail:

Officials said the robbers seemed to have poor information on the museum, asking the guard where they could get golden wreaths and a valuable stamp collection — which are not part of the display. (AP)

The various reports are all pretty unanimous in connecting this sad event to cuts Greece made three years ago to various cultural agencies, which also involved cuts to security at museums. Some quotes from the folks involved:

“The cutbacks imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have hurt our cultural heritage, which is also the world’s heritage” said Yiannis Mavrikopoulos, head of the culture ministry museum and site guards’ union.

“There are no funds for new guard hirings,” he said. “There are 2,000 of us, and there should be 4,000, while many have been forced to take early retirement ahead of the new program of layoffs. We face terrible staff shortages. As a result, our monuments and sites don’t have optimum protection — even though guards are doing their very best to protect our heritage. (AP)

“Clearly the museum’s security was insufficient … to guard a global treasure,” Olympia mayor Kotzias later told state television. (AFP)

“The level of security is indeed lacking,” Kotzas told state-run NET television. “These are treasures. A piece of world heritage has been lost thanks to these thieves … I think (authorities) should have been more mindful and the security should have been more serious.” (MSNBC)

“All museums have suffered cuts, both in guards and archaeologists, the staff are no longer enough to operate at full shifts,” said Ioanna Frangou, general secretary of the union of short-term culture ministry staff. (AFP)

Dimitra Koutsoumba, president of the Greek Archaeologists’ Association, said the latest attack was a sad and worrying incident.

“It is the first time that we have an armed robbery at a museum during operating hours. It shows that the cuts the Culture Ministry has made since the crisis hit in 2009 make it easier for such incidents to take place,” she said. “The minister himself had told us that the cuts were ranging between 30% and 35%, and they include cuts in personnel.” (CNN)

Art and archaeological treasures were always poorly guarded here,” said one archaeologist, who did not want to be named, “but now the guards are so badly paid that they do not make much of an effort to protect anything.” (Independent)

In the wake of the theft, Greece’s culture minister Pavlos Geroulanos is said to have resigned, but reports vary as to the accuracy of this (and/or whether the resignation was accepted).

We compile the actual news reports below … for those of you who are more audio-video oriented, Al Jazeera has a very nice video report:

Video reports can also be found in Channel 4 and BBC coverage … the Daily Mail coverage includes a feature on the museum itself …

Dan Diffendale has a flickr photoset from the museum if you need an idea of the sorts of things that were there (I suspect some of the things on the second page are the ones which were taken). Another flickr photoset (I think from the museum itself) is also available.

The coverage (in no particular order):