The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 46, November 6, 2011, Article 13


In the Thursday November 3rd issue of CoinsWeekly, Editor Ursula Kampmann remarks on the loss of the "Treasure of Bengazi" coin collection, discussed last week in The E-Sylum. -Editor

"Responsibility means the possibility of giving account for consequences, which are caused by oneself or other influences. ... Responsibility means the obligation to ensure that the development within one's own sphere of responsibility runs in accordance to the desired way", thus far a rough translation of the German Wikipedia article "responsibility".

Well, when we think of this definition, we have to declare that the Libyan government was acting in an extremely irresponsible way by hiding a treasure from the public without cataloguing it completely. This thoughtlessness renders it impossible to restore the stolen objects of the Benghazi treasure. I am sure, some archaeological hardliners will proclaim that it's only the greed of collectors and dealers, which seduced the poor Libyans to loot the bank of Benghazi and that we have to stop collecting at all in order to prevent looting.

But let's turn the tables: The American Institute of Archaeology has been excavating in Libya in cooperation with universities from North America and Europe since 2004. They have researched some sites in the Cyrenaica. That's nice, but wouldn't it have been more useful to catalogue and analyze the old material from excavations that never have been published?

I know this is just work and by far not as glorious and sensational as excavating. Nevertheless here is my demand on all archaeologists of the world: Stop excavating until you have published the old material that never has been edited on a scholarly basis! If you don't do so, it will be your fault that cultural property can't be found again on the market!

A feature article in the same issue provides more background on the collection and its theft, with links to other published accounts. Here are some excerpts, but be sure to read the complete article and follow the links. -Editor

Interpol was alerted about the theft only in July. Information is ambiguous whether the accident occurred in May or in March. The robbers drilled through a concrete ceiling in the National Commercial Bank of Benghazi. In the vault they smashed metal storage cupboards and opened the sealed trunks that contained the "Treasure of Benghazi".

This treasure was composed of ca 7,700 coins, and of juwels and medallions, bracelets and necklaces, earrings and rings. Around 50 smaller objects among which statuettes, are to be added, some of bronze, others of glass or ivory and a small number of precious stones. The better part of these objects is said to date from Alexander the Great's epoch. Thus the first articles reported.

But now we hear that the treasure – kept in safe custody in two wooden military chests from the Second World War – was transferred from the bank to another bank building without authorisation. Only one of the two chests arrived, after the container in which they were transported, had been forced open.

Apparently the robbers proceeded very systematically. Hafed Walada, a Libyan archaeologist teaching at King's College, London, stated: "I have the feeling this must have been an inside job. The treasure was there for many years, not many people knew about it."

During the Second World War these artefacts had been exposed in the Colonial Museum of the Ministry of Italian Africa in Rome. It was only in 1961 that eventually the objects returned to Libya, where they were locked in the bank.

Now Interpol and UNESCO are at pains to find the treasure of Benghazi. But valuable time has been lost. There are rumors that the Transitional Council kept quiet about the event trying to avoid negative headlines. There is no hot lead, and archaeologists believe it improbable to find the objects once they have been brought out of the country.

Although the coins never have been photographed, bronze coins at the Libyan black market arose suspect of originating from the treasure. When the police detected a peasant in Egypt smuggling over 500 gold coins and a gold statuette, everyone hoped to have regained part of the treasure. Libyans who live in Egypt immediately collected money to buy the statuette back for their home country. But all these attributions are highly speculative. And after fifty years in the strongbox and as far as it appears without any decent publication, it seems quite difficult to identify which coins were part of this mysterious treasure and which not.

To read the complete article, see: Treasure Stolen in Benghazi or Hollywood the Libyan Way? (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: LIBYA'S TREASURE OF BENGHAZI COIN COLLECTION STOLEN (


DAVID SKLOW - FINE NUMISMATIC BOOKS offers Mail Bid Sale No. 15 on February 11, 2012, including: Dr. Josef Brettauer, Mediciciana in Nummis 1937 catalog PH: (719) 302-5686, FAX: (719) 302-4933. EMAIL: USPS: Box 6321, Colorado Springs, CO. 80934. Contact me for your numismatic literature needs!

Wayne Homren, Editor

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