Scythian Gold Returns to Ukraine Over Russian Objections

The Crimean gold and other objects are temporarily being held in the treasury of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.

Nearly a decade ago, more than 500 culturally significant artifacts, including pieces of Scythian gold from several Crimean museums, were on loan to Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities as part of the “Crimea: Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” traveling exhibition when Russian troops annexed the peninsula. The artifacts ended up in legal limbo when the show ended and both Ukraine and four institutions in the newly Russian Federation-controlled territory claimed ownership of the gold, along with sculpture, pottery, Sarmatian jewelry and Han Dynasty lacquer boxes dating from between the 7th and 3rd Centuries BC.

Ukraine Returned The "Scythian Gold' Collection Of Artifacts
Acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, Rostyslav Karandieiev (center r.) and First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Emine Dzhaparova (center l.) attend the unpacking of the ‘Scythian Gold’ collection. Global Images Ukraine via Getty

Officials at the Allard Pierson weren’t sure how to proceed after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. It returned nineteen of the Scythian gold pieces to the Museum of National History in Kyiv but held onto 413 other artifacts loaned by the Crimean institutions, which subsequently argued that archaeologically significant artifacts discovered in Crimea belong in Crimea, Russian control of the region notwithstanding.

Ukraine Returned The "Scythian Gold' Collection Of Artifacts
A replica of the Golden Scythian Pectoral from Tovsta Mohyla displayed at the Treasury of the National Museum of History of Ukraine on November 28. Photo by Dmytro Larin /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The dispute went through several rounds of high-profile litigation. “This was a special case, in which cultural heritage became a victim of geopolitical developments,” Els van der Plas, director of the Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities, said in a statement. The judge in the first case ruled in favor of Ukraine while the judge in a second case ruled in favor of the Crimean museums. In 2021, another judge ruled in Ukraine’s favor, prompting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to tweet, “After the ‘Scythian gold’, we’ll return Crimea.” Russia appealed on the grounds that shipping the artifacts to Ukraine would violate the terms of the original museum loan.

The lengthy legal dispute was finally resolved in June of this year in a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague. “The Allard Pierson Museum must return these artistic treasures to the State of Ukraine and not to the museums in Crimea,” said the ruling, which prompted Zelenskyy to point to the Dutch as exemplars of “leadership in the protection of international law.”

'Scythian Gold' Collection Returned To Ukraine
Scythian gold displayed during the unpacking. Photo by Vitalii Nosach /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

The Scythian gold and other returned objects are currently being held in the treasury of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine but, according to Ukrainian Acting Minister of Culture and Information Policy Rostyslav Karandieiev, could be returned to the Crimean museums when the occupation ends. “After we resume the work of Crimean museums under the Ukrainian flag, these items will be transferred to the exact place from where they once started their European journey,” he said at a presentation of the returned artifacts.

“We are pleased that clarity has emerged and that [the artifacts] have now been returned,” Els van der Plas additionally said in the statement. The Russian Federation hasn’t accepted the verdict. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the TASS state news agency as saying that the Scythian gold and other objects “belong to Crimea and should be there.”

Ukraine Returned The "Scythian Gold' Collection Of Artifacts
One of the items in the ‘Scythian Gold’ collection. Photo by Dmytro Larin /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Scythian Gold Returns to Ukraine Over Russian Objections