14 Roman Treasures, on View and Debated

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LONDON, Oct. 24 — For the last week, scores of scholars, museum curators and collectors have been discreetly filing into a well-guarded gallery of the Bonhams auction house here to admire 14 richly decorated silver objects that lay buried for 1,500 years in a forgotten corner of what was once the Roman Empire.

The excitement is palpable. Only once before — for one brief morning in 1990 in New York — has the so-called Sevso Treasure been displayed in public. Now the solid silver plates, ewers, basins and caskets, thought to be worth more than $187 million, are again living up to their reputation as one of the finest collections of ancient Roman silver ever found.

Dated from A.D. 350 to 450, the treasure takes its name from a dedication on a 22-pound hunting plate, which reads in Latin: “May these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily.”

This work and others carry intricate designs and detailed reliefs of boar and bear hunting, feasting and mythological stories, as well as delicate geometric forms.

Yet all this beauty carries a blemish.

While the works are on display at Bonhams with a view to an eventual sale, they remain tainted by uncertainty over their provenance and by an outstanding claim by Hungary that they were illegally removed from its territory.

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