Tourist returns stolen marble from the Roman Forum

A tourist repents after 4 years and returns stolen marble from the Roman Forum.

It was delivered in the morning—a voluminous package, rather heavy, packed with care.  The recipient was the National Roman Museum and delivered by museum staff directly to the Baths of Diocletian offices. 

The package was opened with care and curiosity, and voilà the most unexpected contents—a large fragment of marble. On one side appeared the flashy inscription, “To Sam, Love Jess, Rome.” 

Accompanying the ancient artifact was a handwritten letter in English, in which the author repents for having stolen that stone.  The letter was signed by a young American tourist who wanted to return the marble she stole during her Rome vacation.

The message

Please forgive me for being such an American asshole and taking something that was not mine to take. I feel terrible for not only taking this item from its rightful place but placing writing on it as well. That was extremely wrong of me, and I now realize how inconsiderate and disrespectful that was in my later adult life. I have attempted many hours of scrubbing and cleaning to remove, but to no success”.

“The package arrived from the city of Atlanta,” says the director of the National Museum, Romano Stéphane Verger. “From the tone of the letter, we can predict that she is a young woman: in 2017, she must have come to Rome as a tourist and took this fragment of marble to give it to her boyfriend.  Is it perhaps the fact that she is a girl that she realized she was wrong?  It is a spontaneous gesture, but the result of a conscious reflection”. 

There are similarities between this story of Jess and that of Nicole, the 36-year-old Canadian girl who last October wanted to return an item stolen from Pompeii years earlier, during a trip, admitting that it brought her bad luck (between family problems and illness).  Could it be that Jess, the author of the recent letter, made a similar choice?

The bad luck curse

“Who knows, maybe she also had news of the lady of Pompeii,” says Stéphane Verger, “maybe this year 2020, cut down by the covid epidemic, has made her think, stirring her conscience. The fact that after three years after the theft, she returned it, is a significant symbolic gesture”. 

The object itself has a limited value: “It is a marble originating from Asia minor, a so-called pre-connected marble, very widespread in the Roman Empire,” explains Verger, “It was probably stolen from an archaeological park, perhaps the Roman Forum.”  She chose to return it to the National Roman Museum as a symbolic recipient.  Jess carefully prepared the package, protecting the object for its journey.  “The letter that accompanied it was almost touching,” says the director. 

In the meantime, the Museum is preparing to reopen, waiting for the new DPCM regulations on 3 December. “Of course, we have to reopen in complete safety, that’s why I can’t help thinking about the mourning for covid in our Ministry of Cultural Heritage with the death of Filippo Maria Gambari, director of the Museum of Civilizations at EUR, a great scholar.”