The incident near Rome raised fears of increased pillaging and theft during the 2000 jubilee, when 20 million pilgrims are expected for festivities to mark the start of Christianity's third millennium. Although the marble column has no great monetary value, it was another case of someone - whether a tourist or a professional thief - stealing a relic to keep as a souvenir.
The more tourists flock to Rome, the more artefacts will be pillaged, General Roberto Conforti, commander of the carabinieri art theft squad, warned. Already, 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of art are stolen each year. Investigators suspect that over the weekend thieves climbed over a wire fence protecting Hadrian's villa, dislodged the marble column and loaded it on to a waiting truck.
Hadrian's villa, about 9 miles (15km) north of Rome, was the largest and richest in the Roman Empire. Hadrian began building it in 117AD, the year he became emperor, and finished it 10 years later.
The villa is kept under surveillance by several guards but the alarm system does not cover its entire 300-acre perimeter and there are no surveillance cameras.