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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Disputed Roman treasure on show
Part of the Sevso treasure on display at Bonhams auction house
Bonhams' chairman says the treasure is of "spectacular beauty"
One of the finest Roman treasures known has gone on show in London, despite a continuing row over its ownership.

The value of the 14 silver vessels, known as the Sevso Hoard and dated to about 400AD, has been put at 50-100m.

They have been put on limited show by Bonhams auction house, and its owner, the Marquess of Northampton, wishes to sell them, according to his lawyer.

But the Hungarian government has protested, saying the hoard was found in Hungary and exported illegally.

The hoard includes intricately carved tableware - most notably a dish 70cm (27.5in) across and weighing nearly 9kg (19lb), which carries a dedication to its presumed owner, Sevso or Seuso.

Charitable foundation

Its existence was first publicly known in 1980, when it was reportedly acquired by a consortium headed by the Marquess of Northampton.

It was put up for sale in New York in 1990, but the sale was halted when the governments of Hungary, Lebanon and the then Yugoslavia all claimed it had been illegally removed from their territory.

However, claims of ownership by these countries were rejected by a US court.

Castle Ashby
Lord Northampton's lawyer says he wishes to provide for Castle Ashby

The Marquess of Northampton's lawyer, Ludovic de Walden, says the treasure remains available for sale and the proceeds would be used to maintain the 60-year-old peer's stately home, Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire.

"He would like to ensure that before he dies the treasure is sold and that the proceeds can be endowed to a charitable foundation to pay for the upkeep of Castle Ashby, which is an expensive place to run," said Mr de Walden.

The Hungarian government believes the treasure was found near Lake Balaton in the west of Hungary by a quarry worker and smuggled out of the country.

An official of the Ministry of Culture told The Guardian newspaper: "We would like to announce to Bonhams, and to the art world, that this is Hungarian property."

One report says the Hungarian quarry worker who allegedly found the treasure was later found dead, and that the complete hoard may have included some 16 pieces not in Lord Northampton's collection.

According to Bonhams chairman Robert Brooks, "The collection is of such spectacular beauty that it absolutely cannot be right for it to be locked away in perpetuity."

Treasure hunting banned at wreck
07 Oct 06 |  Cornwall

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