Scythian Artifacts from ancient Taurida (Crimea) finally returned to Ukraine from Netherlands

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AMSTERDAM, June 9, 2023 – Ancient Crimean gold artifacts that were on show abroad should be returned to Ukraine, and not to Crimea which Russia annexed in 2014, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled on Friday, ending a long and bitter tussle over the treasures. More than a thousand ancient objects, including a solid gold Scythian helmet and a golden neck ornament from Crimea were on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson museum when Moscow seized the peninsula from Ukraine. When the exhibition ended, both Ukraine and the museums in the now Russian-controlled territory said they had rights to the artifacts and claimed them. Unsure what to do, the Dutch museum kept the works in storage pending a final legal decision. “This decision ends this dispute. The Allard Pierson museum must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea,” Friday’s ruling said, upholding the decision of a lower court in 2021. The museums that lent the works had argued that the terms of their loan had been violated and that archaeological artifacts recovered from Crimean soil belong there, regardless of politics. Ukraine, which views Crimea as its territory, argued the works are part of its heritage and must be kept safe during its conflict with Russia, which exploded into an all-out war after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February last year. The U.N., the European Union, and the Netherlands all recognize the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine in its pre-2014 borders. Lower courts in the Netherlands found in 2016 and 2021 that the pieces should be returned to Ukraine. The appeals court decision in 2021 noted that by order of the Ukrainian culture ministry, the artifacts will be held at the National Historical Museum in Kyiv “until the situation in Crimea has stabilized”. The 2021 decision “struck a fair balance between infringing on the rights of the museums and the interests of the State of Ukraine in protecting its cultural heritage,” the Dutch Supreme Court said. (Reuters)

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On November 27, 2023, the much-contested Scythian treasures arrived at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra from the Netherlands. The truck carrying 2,694 kg of cultural artifacts completed its way at the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.

It should be noted that the name ‘Crimea‘ is a relatively recent name dating to the 13th century AD. The historic name of the semi-island is ‘Taurida‘ and dates to at least the second millennium BC. It is the area described in the ancient Greek classic “Iphigenia Among the Taurians“. As a reminder, Iphigenia was the daughter of King Agamemnon, one of the main characters of the Trojan War that took place in the 13th century BC.

Curiously, one of the most reliable Byzantine historians, Leo the Deacon, referred to Kyiv ruler Sviatoslav the Brave as a Taurian. If he is correct, Ukraine has much stronger historical ties to the semi-island than previously thought. And the artifacts that returned to Kyiv this week may have belonged to the ancestors of Kyiv rulers.

For more insights into the topic, check the “Gardariki, Ukraine” e-book.

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