Image: Ancient artifact
AP
A photo provided by Italian police shows an ancient artifact allegedly stolen several years ago from one of Emperor Trajan's villas and used to decorate a wealthy Roman's weekend residence.
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updated 3/19/2008 7:28:24 PM ET 2008-03-19T23:28:24

Police seized some 1,000 ancient artifacts from a wealthy Italian man's country house outside Rome that were stolen from one of Emperor Trajan's villas, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Authorities contend the artifacts, which were being used to decorate the man's weekend residence, were ripped off the walls of what is believed to be Trajan's hunting retreat in Arcinazzo Romano, a town in the countryside outside Rome.

Some were stolen from boxes of fragments that archaeologists had excavated from the villa but had left at the site of the ongoing dig, prosecutors told a news conference.

The prosecutors declined to identify the man since they were still probing the theft, but said he was an affluent engineer who used the stolen artifacts to adorn his country home. The suspect was not in police custody as the probe continues.

Pieces of ancient Roman mosaics were inserted into the man's basement floor and his fireplace and bathroom were decorated with other pieces, authorities said.

Many of the artifacts were damaged by glue that he apparently used to stick them to transparent display supports, said Marina Sapelli Ragni, Lazio's superintendent for archaeology. Restorers would try to repair the damage, she said.

Authorities did not give an exact date for the raid, but indicated it happened more than a year ago. The artifacts had been under study for about a year before experts decided they came from Trajan's 1st century villa.

Among the loot are pieces of marble that once covered the sprawling villa in the upper Aniene River valley in Lazio. The villa has only been partially excavated.

The theft from the excavation site dates to 2002. Archaeologists said they realized the artifacts must have come from an Imperial villa because of the exceptionally fine quality of the decoration. Gilding was usually reserved for the most palatial villas of the ancient Romans.

"The richness and beauty of this villa was no less than that of the villa of Hadrian, his successor," near Tivoli, Sapelli Ragni said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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