Pillaging Italy's precious history
The moment Pietro Casasanta came face to face with ancient Rome's most powerful gods, his breath cut short and his knees buckled.
"I almost had a heart attack," says Casasanta, one of Italy's most successful tombaroli, or tomb robbers. "I knew I had discovered something very beautiful and very valuable."
Casasanta, his son and an associate working a small Caterpillar power shovel were digging in broad daylight at an archeological site east of Rome called l'Inviolata. He discovered the temple site in 1970, when he pulled 63 statues, illegally, from the earth. But none compared to his find 22 years later.
The first to emerge from the dirt was the goddess Minerva, followed by Juno and then Jupiter. The most powerful gods of the Roman pantheon sat together in a six-tonne marble sculpture — the only example ever found in which the gods of the Triad, a symbol of state power in ancient Rome, are intact.
Casasanta whisked what is now known as the Capitoline Triad to his antiquities shop in Rome. He cleaned it, crated it, and sold it to a Geneva collector for $3 million (U.S.).
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