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Video: Tiara Saitaferna: how Russian Jews pulled off a major scam
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
This unique piece of gold jewelry caused a scandal in France. At the same time, it shocked the entire scientific and museum community in Europe. Russia was also dragged into the unexpectedly outbreak of showdowns, since it was here that one of the loudest scams at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries was conceived and brilliantly cranked up. And it is natural that it happened in the south of the Russian Empire.
The 19th century is the time of romantics and adventurers, brilliant young generals and successful entrepreneurs, outstanding scientists and the first fanatical revolutionaries. At the same time, it has become a century of heritage robbers and adventurers associated with them. This happened for two reasons.
Age of treasure hunters and adventures
The officers who returned to Russia after the Napoleonic wars brought with them a fashionable European interest in classical antiquities. In the south of the empire, where many ancient cities and settlements have survived, excavations began and the country's first scientific societies and archaeological museums appeared. It became fashionable among the aristocracy to collect classical antiquities and to have private collections. And demand always gives rise to supply.
At the first stage, the collections were brought from Europe. But the discovery of barrow gold caused an unprecedented boom that rolled like a heavy wheel across the country.
Spontaneous treasure hunting became so widespread that the government was forced to issue a number of special decrees, for violation of which various liability was provided, up to the death penalty.
The overwhelming majority of the treasures found in the 19th century were plundered by random discoverers - mainly peasants and excavating workers. The finds were offered to wealthy collectors and even museums. This illegal market flourished and could not fail to attract the attention of adventurers.
In a relatively short period of time, many dealers appeared in the south of Russia, manufacturing and selling counterfeit antiquities. One of them was the brothers Shepsel and Leiba Gokhman, whose shops were located in Odessa and Ochakov, a city near which excavations of ancient Olbia were carried out.
These third guild merchants began their illegal activities by forging marble slabs, but then switched to more lucrative precious metal products. It is assumed that they managed to sell a series of silver vessels to the Moscow museum, and the archaeological museum in Odessa acquired their deity mask. But this is not what they became famous for.
The birth of a legend
It was the brothers Gokhmans who came up with the idea of creating the tiara of Saytafarn (Saytaferna) - a Scythian king to whom the Greek colony city of Olbia paid tribute several times in the 3rd century BC.
The matter was approached thoroughly. On the basis of Olbian decrees, a legend was invented: supposedly this tiara was made by Greek jewelers, and it was presented along with other gifts to a warlike neighbor. And it was allegedly found during the excavation of the mound of the king and his wife. For reliability, the tiara was dented, as if from a blow with a sword.
As a matter of fact, they did not come up with a tiara-diadem, but rather a domed helmet 17.5 cm high, 18 cm in diameter and weighing 486 grams.
It was entirely minted from a thin gold strip and divided into several horizontal belts. All of them, except for the central one, are ornamental. The central frieze depicts four scenes from the Homeric epic, while others depict the hunting of the Scythian king for a winged beast, figurines of equestrian Scythians, bulls, horses and sheep.
The tiara was decorated with a pommel in the form of a snake curled up in a ball and raised its head. For reliability, between the second and third belts in the ancient Greek language, an inscription was made: “King of the great and invincible Saitofernes. Council and people of the Olviopolites. The tiara was amazingly delicately executed and, at first glance, corresponded to all the traditions of ancient art.
But it appeared only thanks to the plan of the Gokhmans. It was they who found a craftsman-jeweler from the small Belarusian town of Mozyr, and in 1895 ordered him to make a rarity. The name of the master was Israel Rukhomovsky. This unknown nugget never studied painting or studied the history of ancient art.
But eight months and several monographs and albums on ancient Greek culture were enough for him to fulfill the order. It should be noted that Rukhomovsky was not a swindler, and he was used blindly - as if he was preparing a present for one well-known Kharkov professor. For his work, he received 1,800 rubles.
Apparently, it was no coincidence that in 1895 a short note appeared in one of the Viennese newspapers that the Crimean peasants had made an extraordinary discovery, but were fleeing, fearing that the government would confiscate their find.
And already at the beginning of 1896, the Hohmans exported the finished tiara to Europe. At first it was offered to the London Museum, but the British, knowing about the customs prevailing in the south of Russia, did not even begin to meet with the sellers. Then they tried to sell the find to the Vienna Imperial Museum, whose experts confirmed its authenticity.
However, the museum did not find the necessary amount, since the Gohmans, inspired by the conclusion of the scientific luminaries, asked too much for the tiara.
The more confirmation of the tiara's authenticity received by merchants, the higher they raised the price. As a result, in 1896 the Parisian Louvre bought it for 200 thousand francs (about 50 thousand rubles) - a fabulous sum for those times! It is significant that patrons helped to collect it, since the allocation of public funds required a special permission from the French parliament. The tiara was exhibited with pomp in the hall of ancient art. However, the voices of skeptics soon sounded.
Exposure and scandal
Russian archaeologists were the first to express their doubts, but they were ignored in France. But when the famous German archaeologist and historian of ancient art Adolf Furtwängler became interested in the find, they listened to his opinion.
The venerable scientist carefully studied the tiara and came to an unambiguous conclusion: its creator was unable to accurately convey the antique plastic and made a big mistake, engraving the wind gods (Boreas, Nota, Zephyr and Evra) with children, while they were always portrayed as adult athletes. He also found where the motifs were copied from: it turned out to be vases from southern Italy, products from Kerch, a necklace from Taman and even some finds from the Louvre.
However, scientific publications for a long time remained the lot of only a narrow scientific community.
But seven years later, a sculptor from Montmartre, a certain Rodolphe Elina, announced that it was he who made the tiara. At that moment, he was already under investigation for forgery of paintings, but denied all charges. However, for some reason he attributed to himself the creation of the "Scythian tiara", calling it "the crown of Semiramis." The newspapers happily fanned the scandal, and the Louvre could no longer ignore the origin of such an expensive acquisition. After Elina's statement, the museum was visited by more than 30 thousand Parisians in just three days.
In response, the newspaper Le Matin published a letter from an emigrant from Odessa, Livshits, who claimed that the tiara had been made by his friend Rukhomovsky. The Louvre did not believe Livshits, however, under pressure from the public, the tiara was removed from the exhibition, and the government created a special commission to investigate the case.
In turn, the newspaper Le Figaro made a request to Odessa and received an unequivocal statement from Rukhomovsky that he was the author of the tiara and to prove this he was ready to come to Paris.
As a result, the French paid their way, and soon the jeweler appeared in Paris. He brought with him drawings, photographs and tiara forms of his own work. In addition, he named the composition of the alloy and agreed to repeat any fragment of the product from memory, which he did in the presence of witnesses in 1903.
An end was put to the question of the authenticity of the find! "Tiara Saitafarna" migrated from antique to the Louvre's contemporary art hall, and the director of the French national museums was forced to leave his post due to the scandal.
It is significant that Rukhomovsky himself was not brought to justice, since he made the tiara as a gift and did not sell it to the Louvre. Moreover, he was awarded the gold medal of the Salon of Decorative Arts for his unique work. His further fate turned out quite well.
In 1909, Rukhomovsky and his family emigrated to France, where he created many unique pieces of jewelry for Baron Rothschild. But they decided to preserve his memory in Odessa and Ochakov, where memorial plaques were installed on the houses in which he worked.
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