Hungary is now seeking an out-of-court settlement of the Sevso dispute, following the display of the Roman silver hoard at Bonhams in London last October (The Art Newspaper, November 2006, p5). The former Hungarian government ministerial commissioner responsible for the Sevso treasure, Eva Hajdú, revealed to us that the minister for education and culture, Dr István Hiller, is “very much against a legal battle, unless that is absolutely necessary”, and he would prefer to talk at a negotiating table with Lord Northampton, the hoard’s owner. She added: “That approach accords with modern governmental policy of encouraging out-of-court disputes wherever possible.” Ms Hajdú resigned from her post last July.
The Hungarian government has long argued that the Sevso hoard came from the Lake Balaton area, and was illegally exported within the past few decades. However, Hungary has not filed a new claim against Lord Northampton, who purchased the silver in the 1980s, since its original claim was dismissed by a New York court in 1993.
Last October the Hungarian embassy in London was silent over the Bonhams exhibition, although a low-key letter was sent by the Ministry of Education and Culture to the auction house, maintaining that the treasure is “the property of the Hungarian state”.
At the time there was considerable surprise that the controversial Roman treasure was being shown and that Bonhams was soliciting offers for a possible sale. The decision not to file a formal claim has effectively weakened the Hungarian position and Bonhams will now be in a stronger position to interest a potential buyer.
Ms Hajdú argues that the copper alloy cauldron in which the Sevso hoard was discovered “could only be found in the Lake Balaton region in the fourth century”. She also says that soil samples taken from the Sevso cauldron match those from the site of a Roman villa near Polgárdi. Ms Hajdú promises that a seminar will be organised in London in May “to share the knowledge of Hungarian experts”.
In a statement to The Art Newspaper, Ludovic De Walden of the London law firm Lane & Partners which represents Lord Northampton said: “I am pleased that the Hungarian Minister of Culture is against legal battles—an obvious change of heart since the 1990s. I am not however clear what the Minister thinks there is to negotiate given that Hungary fought and lost the case and paid damages to my client.”
“As to Ms Hajdú’s arguments to support her thesis that the Sevso treasure came from Hungary, the points listed are all old and discredited chestnuts which were advanced by Hungary and rejected in the New York court rooms between 12 and 16 years ago.”