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Roman bust found at Austin Goodwill currently on display at San Antonio museum

The portrait bust, purchased at an Austin Goodwill in 2018 for $35, is nearly 2,000 years old.

AUSTIN, Texas — It's not every day you find out that your Goodwill purchase is actually a Roman artifact stolen from Germany by Allies during World War II. But that's exactly what happened to local antiques dealer Laura Young.

Young told KUT that she bought the marble head at a Goodwill on Far West Boulevard in Austin in 2018. She paid $35 for it.

Young wanted to figure out what the sculpture was, so she did some research and eventually confirmed that the head was a portrait bust of a man named Drusus Germanicus. It was nearly 2,000 years old. 

The bust was cataloged at a museum called Pompejanum in the German city of Aschaffenburg in the 1920s and 1930s. According to KUT, Ludwig the First had a fascination with Pompeii, so he built the museum in the 1840s as a replica of a villa in Pompeii. In it, he housed Roman art ⁠– including the bust of Germanicus.

KUT reports that almost 100 years later, in the spring of 1945, Aschaffenburg was the site of a battle between the Nazis and the U.S. Army. During the battle, the museum was hit by bombs and heavily damaged.

Historians believe that a U.S. soldier may have looted the bust of Germanicus or may have purchased it from someone else who stole it. Then it made its way to the U.S.

When Young realized she was in possession of a looted piece of ancient art ⁠— an artifact she couldn't keep or sell ⁠— she sought legal assistance to figure out how to get Germanicus' bust to a more appropriate place.

KUT reports that after a long and complicated process, Young and her lawyer finally got a deal. The bust will go back to Germany, though the exact terms of the deal are confidential. 

In the meantime, the head is currently on loan at the San Antonio Museum of Art until May 21. The exhibit is called "A Roman Portrait from Germany in Texas" and you can buy a ticket to see it here.

"It was bitter sweet. Like I've said before, he's probably the coolest thing I'll ever find as an antique dealer. It was a big deal. It was super exciting,” said Young. 

Read KUT's full report.

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