Scythian Gold: Ancient History in a Modern War
Peter Mumford on how a fight over ancient artefacts has become part of the front line of Russia's war against Ukraine
A recent ruling of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands has brought an end to a nine-year legal battle between the government of Ukraine and four museums in the occupied territory of Crimea over the status of a collection of artefacts from the Scythian civilisation that inhabited Ukraine thousands of years ago.
The origins of this dispute can be found in 2014, the year Russia invaded and illegally occupied the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Shortly before this invasion, an exhibition of Scythian artefacts entitled ‘Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea’ went on display at the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam.
The artefacts, 565 of which came from Crimean museums, included ceremonial helmets, ornamental weapons, and jewellery, most made of gold. After the exhibition ended, a dispute arose about the rightful destination of the artefacts from Crimea. The Crimean museums that had loaned artefacts to the exhibition demanded their return; Ukraine argued that it had legal ownership over the artefacts and that they should not be returned to territory under Russian occupation.