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Stolen Roman Marble Fragment Returned by Regretful Thief

Stolen Roman Marble Fragment Returned by Regretful Thief


Tourists from all over the world visit the Italian capital to see its remarkable Roman remains, such as the Colosseum. However, one tourist was so impressed with the ruins that she stole an ancient artifact from a Roman historical site. She has now returned the piece of Roman marble and apologized. Apparently, it was a gift for her boyfriend.

Employees at the National Roman Museum in Rome recently received a large package. It was posted from Atlanta, Georgia. Inside the package, among packing paper they found a fragment of Roman marble. The Mail Online reports that someone had written on the object: “To Sam, (heart) Jess, Rome 2017.” The relic was accompanied by a letter written in English.

The stolen Roman marble fragment. (Museo Nazionale Romano)

The stolen Roman marble fragment. (Museo Nazionale Romano)

Seeking Forgiveness for Stealing a Piece of Roman Marble

The Guardian reports that it was from a woman called Jess, who was seeking forgiveness “for being such an American asshole.” It appears that she had stolen the relic and had written her message of love on it. According to The Guardian, in the letter the woman wrote “I feel terrible for not only stealing this item from its rightful place but placing writing on it.”

It appears that the woman was quite young when she stole the piece of Roman marble and that she has now realized that what she did was terribly wrong. Jess wrote in the letter that “It was a big mistake on my part and only now, as an adult, do I realise just how thoughtless and despicable it was.”

Stéphane Verger, the director of the National Roman Museum, is quoted by the Mail Online as saying, “In 2017 she must have come to Rome and took this fragment of marble in order to gift it to her boyfriend.” Apparently, she saw the theft of the Roman marble fragment as a romantic gesture, which she now regrets.

Tourists at the Colosseum. (Calin Stan /Adobe Stock)

Tourists at the Colosseum. (Calin Stan /Adobe Stock)

She may have decided to return the stolen piece of Roman marble because of the current difficult times being faced by the world in the COVID-19 pandemic. Verger told The Guardian that “The fact is that three years after the theft, she returned it – it’s a very important symbolic gesture.”

Stolen Artifacts from Pompeii Too

This is the second case of stolen artifacts being returned to the Italian authorities recently. A Canadian woman also returned artifacts that she had stolen from Pompeii, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The woman called Nicole sent back fragments of an amphorae and mosaics taken from the ancient city of Pompeii 15 years ago. At Ancient Origins we reported that she believed that they were ‘cursed’ and blamed them for her recent double mastectomy.

Thefts have become a real problem for Pompeii. The Mail Online reports that ‘So many stolen relics have been returned to the site along with letters expressing guilt that officials at Pompeii set up a museum to display them.’

A Mystery Behind the Stolen Stone

The National Roman Museum’s Director is quoted by the BBC as saying “that the stone had little value.” It appears that the message written by Jess to Sam cannot be removed. Because it was written in black marker it has proven impossible to erase. The Mail Online reports ‘Jess wrote that she tried to wash off the message, which she inscribed using a black marker pen. But she was unable to erase the writing.’

The BBC reports that the relic was ‘likely stolen from a site like the Roman Forum, once the centre of ancient Rome and now home to the ruins of several important buildings.’ The Roman Forum was central to the life of the city and the Republic since at least 500 BC. This is where some of the most important speeches and decisions were made in the Republican era.

Part of the Roman Forum. (dragomirescu /Adobe Stock) The piece of marble may have been taken from this site.

Part of the Roman Forum. (dragomirescu /Adobe Stock) The piece of marble may have been taken from this site.

It is possible that we may never know for sure where the stolen piece of Roman marble came from. The return of the stone raises some important issues about security at the site, as it appears that no one knew that the relic had been stolen or what monument or site was damaged.

Top image: The Roman Forum. (Ivan Kurmyshov /Adobe Stock) Insert: The piece of stolen Roman marble returned to Italy. (Museo Nazionale Romano)

By Ed Whelan



The item was sent from the US, but there is an important clue that her reference to herself as an “American asshole” was intended to help conceal her identity and location.  The decisive clue is that she is also quoted as saying in her written note:  “...I realise….”  That verb is always spelled “realize” in the US, and most often also in Canada.  The British English spelling “realise” is used in the UK and everywhere outside North America.  Jess may be living now in the US, but her spelling indicates that she learned English in a country other than in the US, and she probably hasn’t lived in the US for long enough to adopt American English spellings. It’s not a spelling an American would ever use. Consequently, If she’s in the US, she probably moved there after she stole the object in 2017.

It’s also plausible that she sent it to a friend or family member in the US to re-post it to Italy for her, in order to help conceal her identity and location.

The quotes come from a Guardian story, but journalists don’t change the spelling of quoted written material – they retain the original spelling or they don’t use quotation marks.  She’s not American, or at least wasn’t when she stole the item.

This is a tiny fragment of marble, worth nothing.

A lot of the spectacular old villas around Rome built by the Popes and Cardinals were built using marble stripped from the Roman ruins. That’s why there’s so little of them left. Limestone building materials they used to burn to make mortar. This has been done everywhere on every Ancient site. Why cut new blocks, columns, and other elements when they can just be taken and used? The pyramids in Egypt lost most of their casing stones, used in construction in Cairo for hundreds of years.

Read Rodolfo Lanciani, The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome. He was in charge of archaeological excavations in the 19th Century. The destruction/re-use of the remains of Rome was staggering.

Well said 

AmyVenus's picture

I conquer. She should have her butt whipped and fined for stealing ultimately but also destroying a piece of our History. Not all Americans are thieves and into desecration and I truly resent her remark about being an American Asshole. She should speak just for herself( I am an asshole for other reasons)and leave the other assholes to speak for themselves.


Again, well said.

I think it's safe to assume that Jess really is an asshole.


Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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