The Sevso treasure, photographed in 1990 in Sotheby's. Photograph: Pa
The Roman silver, discovered in Hungary in the 1970s, was bought from an 'unidentified London seller' for €15m
The Hungarian government has repatriated seven of the 14 pieces from the Sevso treasure, a spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver whose ownership had long been contested by several countries.
The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, announced this week that the pieces have been repatriated to Budapest in return for €15m, reportedly paid to unidentified sellers in London. The pieces include the so-called "Hunting Plate" and the "Dionysiac Ewer".
He said that "Hungary never abandoned the goal" of acquiring a treasure found in the middle of the 1970s around Polgárdi, close to Balaton.
The treasure will be exhibited free of charge in the Hungarian Parliament. From 2018, it will be kept in the new museums' quarter.
The hoard was named after a Latin inscription on one of the large plates: "Let these, O Sevso, yours for many ages be, small vessels fit to serve your offspring worthily." Such is the treasure's importance, the entire hoard had in the past been estimated at £100m.
But it has had a troubled history, with some archaeologists viewing it as archaeological loot. Reports suggest the man who originally found the treasure in the 1970s was murdered.
The Marquess of Northampton acquired the haul in the 1980s on the advice of the late Peter Wilson, a former deputy chairman of Sotheby's. He tried to sell it in 1990 through Sotheby's in New York. To ensure the collection had not been stolen or illegally excavated, the auctioneer contacted the governments of countries that had once formed part of the Roman empire. That led to the silver being impounded by a Manhattan judge, amid initial claims by Lebanon that it had been illegally excavated and smuggled out of the Bekaa Valley.
Hungary and Croatia also claimed the silver had been illegally excavated from their countries but failed to prove ownership through the US courts, which found that the marquess was the legal owner. A Lebanese export licence was later found to be a forgery.
Northampton's lawyer, Ludovic de Walden, said "the best pieces" are with the marquess and that the treasure is "very safe". He noted that other pieces have been with a third party.