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- Updated: February 17, 2017
On February 17, 2002, daredevil robbers broke into an archaeological museum in Olympia, Greece, gagged the single terrified guard before rifling through display cabinets and fleeing with their priceless loot.
The theft was largely made possible due to a nationwide shortage of guards as the Greek government then in the throes of severe financial difficulties savagely slashed funding and staff at museums nationwide.
The robbers were made up of two armed men who had the effrontery to raid the Museum of the History of the Olympic games, which is near the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. The act took place in the early hours of the day. Olympia is the birthplace of the modern Olympic games and a very popular tourist destination.
The two robbers had little difficulty in assaulting and tying up the single female guard assigned to take care of such a large and vital storehouse of Olympic history and artifacts.
They then took the time to leisurely collect scores of clay and brass statues as well as a gold ring. Apparently self-satisfied, they left.
In response, Dimitra Koutsoumba, president of the Greek Archaeologists’ Association at the time, laid the blame for the daylight robbery on personnel cuts that had adversely affected the effectiveness of those charged with taking care of the country’s archaeological treasures.
“It is the first time that we have an armed robbery at a museum during operating hours. It shows that the cuts the Culture Ministry has made since the crisis hit in 2009 make it easier for such incidents to take place,” she said.
“The minister himself had told us that the cuts were ranging between 30% and 35%, and they include cuts in personnel.”
“Such incidents are an issue of national security,” she said. “The artifacts that were taken were mainly figurines related to the Olympics, so many were depicting athletes.”
Thankfully, all the stolen items were later successfully recovered in 2012.