The Sevso or Seuso Treasure (Hungarian: Seuso-kincsek) is a hoard of silver objects from the late Roman Empire. The first pieces appeared on the market in London in 1980, and the treasure was acquired by a consortium headed by Spencer Compton, 7th Marquess of Northampton. Documentation was provided in which it was stated that the treasure had been found in the Tyre and Sidon regions of Lebanon. The treasure was put up for sale in New York in 1990 by Sotheby's, but was halted when the documentation was found to be false, and the governments of Hungary, Yugoslavia and Lebanon made claims of ownership. The claims of ownership by these countries were rejected by a US court, and the treasure remained in the possession of the Marquess of Northampton. Scotland Yard still has an open case on the matter.
On 26 March 2014 Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán announced that half of the Sevso Treasure (seven items) had been bought by Hungary. The Prime Minister described the treasure as "Hungary's family silverware".
The origin and provenance of the treasure are likely known, but not publicly acknowledged. There is much scientific evidence to indicate that the hoard was first acquired in the 1970s after the murder of a Hungarian soldier, who discovered the treasure during illicit digging at an established archaeological site in Hungary.
The treasure trove consists of 14 large decorated silver vessels and the copper cauldron which contained them, and has been dated to the late fourth or early fifth century AD. Most notable is a large dish, 70 cm in diameter and weighing nearly 9 kg, which bears the inscription:
- Hec Sevso tibi durent per saecula multa
- Posteris ut prosint vascula digna tuis
- May these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be
- Small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily.
Discovery and attempted sale
The hoard first came to attention in 1980, when a single piece in the possession of two antiquities' dealers from Vienna was offered for sale in London. Further pieces reached the market, and what is believed to be the complete hoard was acquired by a consortium headed by Spencer Compton, 7th Marquess of Northampton.
Documentation from the Lebanese Embassy in Switzerland stated that the treasure had been found in the Tyre and Sidon regions of Lebanon, and on that basis the consortium negotiated to sell the collection to the Getty Museum for $10 million. When that deal fell through, the treasure was put up for sale in New York in 1990 by Sotheby's, described as being from "what was once the province of Phoenicia in the Eastern Roman Empire".
The sale was halted when documentation was thought to be false, and the governments of Hungary, Yugoslavia and Lebanon made claims of ownership. Hungarian authorities claim that the treasure was discovered by a young soldier, József Sümegh, in around 1975-1976 near Polgárdi. Sümegh's dead body was found in a nearby cellar in 1980. The official investigation at the time determined that he committed suicide but later the police came to the conclusion that he had been killed. As of 2012 the criminal investigation is still ongoing.
In November 1993, the New York Court of Appeals in the United States rejected the claims and found no case for removing the treasure from the possession of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement (a Trust established by the Marquess of Northampton). The silver was locked away in a bank vault while further legal proceedings followed. The Marquess sued his solicitors Allen & Overy for damages in relation to advice given during the purchase of the silver, and that case was settled out of court in 1999 for a reported £15 million.
The Hungarian claim of possession of the Sevso-treasures is likely justified by the fact that on one of the main plates, the "Hunting Plate", an inscription is to be seen. It reads "Pelso", the Roman name for today's Lake Balaton in Hungary; the lake is near to the possible place of discovery.
Also near to the lake, in 1873 a Roman tripod (later restored, upon which it was discovered that it is a quadripod) was discovered; this object has similar decoration as the Sevso-treasure, according to scholars, and is very likely a creation of the same hands as the treasure itself. It is housed in the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest.
21st century developments
In September 2006, London auctioneer Bonhams announced that it would exhibit the treasure privately, in a move seen as a prelude to a sale by private treaty or by auction at a future date. A spokesman for the Ministry of Education and Culture in Hungary, which still claims the treasure, said it had informed the UK authorities that the treasure must not be sold. On 12 October 2006, further written answers were given in the House of Lords to questions by Colin Renfrew, Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, particularly relating to Hungary's possible revised claim to the treasure since its admission to the EU. Bonhams went ahead with its private exhibition of the Sevso Treasure on 17 October 2006.
In March 2007, The Art Newspaper reported that a further "187 silvergilt spoons, 37 silvergilt drinking cups, and 5 silver bowls", previously unknown, but part of the original hoard, were reputed to exist.
Research presented in February 2008 by the Hungarian archeologist Zsolt Visy has strengthened the view that the origin of the treasure may be the Lake Balaton region of Hungary.
The Channel 4 archaeology program Time Team aired a special on the treasure in December 2008. The programme presented Hungary's evidence for the likely origin of the hoard being near the town of Polgárdi. The Marquess of Northampton withdrew from planned participation in the programme and Channel 4 was not given permission to film the treasure, held in a vault at Bonhams auctioneers in London.
- Antiques Trade Gazette, 30 September 2006
- Ruth E. Leader-Newby — Silver and Society in Late Antiquity: Functions and Meanings of Silver Plate in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries
- Marlia Mundell Mango and Anna Bennett — "The Sevso Treasure" in Journal of Roman Archaeology Suppl. 12:1, 1994.
- Leo V. Gagion, Harvey Kurzweil and Ludovic de Walden — "The Trial of the Sevso Treasure: What a Nation Will Do in the Name of Its Heritage" in Kate FitzGibbon, ed. — Who Owns the Past? Cultural Policy, Cultural Property and the Law. (Rutgers University Press, 2005) ISBN 0-8135-3687-1
- "Orbán: Magyarország visszaszerezte a Seuso-kincset". hvg.hu. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- "Hungary buys back 7 Roman-era silver trays, jugs". idahostatesman.com. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-26.
- "Sevso Treasure, “Hungary's family silverware,” returned". Budapest Business Journal. 26 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-30.
- Time Team
- Antiques Trade Gazette, 30 September 2006.
- Republic of Croatia, et al. v. Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement, 203 A.D.2d 167, 610 N.Y.S.2d 263 (1994); Republic of Croatia, et al. v. Trustee of the Marquess of Northampton 1987 Settlement, 232 A.D.2d 616, 648 N.Y.S.2d 25 (1st Dep't 1996).)
- The Times, 8 May 1999.
- Hansard, 25 June 1999.
- "Sevso Treasure Up For Sale" at culture.hu – Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture.
- Hansard 12 October 2006
- Art Newspaper, Times and Guardian
- The Art Newspaper: "The silver missing from the Sevso hoard?"
- Current Archaeology
- Channel 4 Team