Photograph by Eustache Diemert, via Wikimedia Commons.  Accessed on 18.05.17


The illicit antiquities trade is neither an unprecedented challenge for international authorities nor is it considered the largest trafficking scheme in existence. However, with a global valuation of approximately U.S. $3 billion, the potential financial rewards on offer to criminal groups mean the trade remains an area of pressing concern.

In particular, problems plaguing the Middle East highlight the role that the stolen antiquities trade plays with regards terrorist financing. In what has largely become an ungovernable region, several actors have benefited from the archaeological richness of these unprotected lands.

In fact, the Islamic State Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is believed to have trafficked some of MENA’s most prized ancient artefacts, with authorities still unable to accurately estimate the group’s overall income from trafficking activities. Compounding this, hidden Turkish middlemen have facilitated the trade thereby allowing millions of dollars to flow inward to illicit actors, having themselves takien advantage of a weakened domestic security apparatus.

As such, violence in the Levant means that the antiquities trade has largely taken on a ‘colour’ of its own in the post-2011 period. It is therefore worth exploring the scale of this trade as well as the suspected actors and transit routes involved.