It was smuggled from its home in Turkey, displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and then taken back by Turkey following a legal battle. The “cursed” treasure is now subject to yet another dispute, with the Uşak Archeology Museum, where the artifacts are on display, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in disagreement over the future site of where the artifacts should be exhibited.
According to an official who requested to remain anonymous, the Uşak Archeology Museum has had difficulty attracting visitors due to its location and the general lack of knowledge about the treasure. According to the ministry’s statistics, the number of visitors increased from 4,433 in 1995 to 10,783 in 1996, when the treasure was returned to Turkey. The steady number of visitors today is worrisome for the ministry, which wants to relocate the artifacts to a more centrally situated museum with the hope that it will receive more attention.
This disagreement between the ministry and the museum once again sparked talks of the treasure’s curse among people in Uşak, where the artifacts were found. And who has the rights to the 2,500-year-old artifacts remains a source of debate. Nevertheless, the Lydian Hoard will continue to be displayed at the museum in Uşak.
The curse of the treasure dates back to 1965, when it was discovered in the village of Güre in the western province of Uşak by five villagers who dug up the tumulus of a princess from Lydian times and stole the jewelry that had been buried with her. Villagers robbed the rest of the treasures in 1966 and took 150 artifacts consisting of gold jewelry and silver pots, followed by a final theft that took place in 1968 where the fortune seekers could not find jewelry but wall paintings.
The villagers illegally sold the Lydian artifacts to a smuggler, but instead of getting rich and living a happy life, they came across many misfortunes, leading villagers in the area to believe that the treasure was cursed.
The villagers were first captured by the police after one of them reported the theft and smuggling of the artifacts to police following a quarrel over how to divide the profit.
Later on, a detailed investigation led police to an İzmir-based smuggler named Ali Bayırlar, but by that time the artifacts had already been sold to buyers overseas.
In the 1970s, Boston Globe journalist Robert Taylor and one of the directors at a museum in Boston, Emily Vermeule, had alleged that 219 pieces of Lydian artifacts had been purchased by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1966 and 1968.
A Turkish journalist, Özgen Acar, who was aware of the situation, happened to see 55 pieces of the Lydian Hoard on display at the museum in New York while he was visiting in 1985 and went on to discover that the rest of the treasure was also being stored there. The Metropolitan Museum or Art described the artifacts as being of Greek origin, which according to Acar and officials at the Uşak Museum, was done with the intent of covering up the actual location of the discovery.
The journalist immediately notified Turkish officials, who started a legal process to take back the artifacts in 1987, just three days before New York Metropolitan Museum of Art would have become the rightful owners of the treasure.
Following a six-year legal battle, the museum agreed that they had known the artifacts had been stolen when they purchased them, and a US federal court in New York decided to return the artifacts back to Turkey.
The thieves’ misfortune
Villagers from Uşak told one reporter that one of the thieves had lost three of his sons, one of whom was gruesomely murdered with his throat slit. His two other sons died in two separate traffic accident and in different countries. The thief was later paralyzed then died.
Another went through a bitter divorce that was followed by the death of his son, who committed suicide. The last thief went mad and now tells people stories of how he hid 40 barrels of gold.
Bayırlar, who sold the artifacts overseas, was also alleged to have gone through terrible times in his life and died in pain.
‘As rich as King Croesus’
King Croesus was the ruler of the Lydian Kingdom between 547-560 B.C. and is widely known for inventing gold coins, which makes him one of the earliest entrepreneurs in history. The coins were used as a medium of exchange and expanded trade relations in the region, making Croesus one of the richest men of his time.“As rich as Croesus” is a saying used by many people around the world today, which refers to someone’s wealth.