The bios and essays in Art+Auction’s guide to notable players in the art world will be rolled out on ARTINFO through the end of December. Here, we present an essay on the pillaging of antiquities in the Middle East. Click here for an introduction to the entire series. Click here for previously published installments. Check back daily for new articles. For decades, even the most scrupulous antiquities dealers and auction house specialists have found the markets in which they ply their trade roiled by claims of looting, and they have sought to comply with international laws meant to inhibit the practice. Yet such concerns seem almost trivial compared with the incalculable losses seen in the ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria, where cultural heritage has become a high-profile pawn in a war fueled by religious fervor. While iconoclasm has existed for as long as humans have waged war, seldom has it been carried out on the scale seen in modern times.“When the group began to expand into Syria in late 2013, it came upon a thriving, largely local antiquities trade that had emerged in the wake of the 2003 Gulf War,” says Amr Al Azm, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio, who from 2003 to 2006 headed the Centre for Archaeological Research at the University of Damascus. Initially, he explains, the terror group saw the sale of antiquities as a potential source of income if it could impose a 20 percent “war-booty tax,” or Khums—as specified in the Koran—on local looters. Within months, isis began hiring its own contractors equipped with bulldozers to accelerate the artifact recovery process in Syria and Iraq, while establishing an entrepôt on the Turkish border to expedite the movement of antiquities to a network of middlemen in Damascus, Amman, and Beirut.Much of the standing architecture at sites was spared until early 2015, when the jihadists realized the propaganda potential of destroying the “sites of infidels” to demonstrate the powerlessness of the international community to intervene. Since then, more than a dozen sites have come under attack—the hardest-hit being Nineveh and Hatra in Iraq, and Palmyra in Syria—with men using jackhammers to deface statuary and explosives to destroy buildings.“They destroy what they can neither move nor sell,” says Matthew Bogdanos, a Manhattan assistant district attorney who has been involved in the Middle East’s cultural heritage crisis since serving as a U.S. Marine colonel in Iraq in 2003. So far, the greatest toll has been exacted on Palmyra, which flourished as a Roman trading center in the 3rd century A.D. In a run-up to the destruction, ISIS publicly executed Khaled al-Asaad, the 83-year-old archaeologist who had been in charge of Palmyra for more than four decades. Since the site fell prey to isis in May, three of its most iconic structures—the Temple of Baal Shamen, the Temple of Bel, and a triumphal arch—have been reduced to rubble. The terror group has also staged executions in Palmyra’s 2nd-century A.D. amphitheater.While Bogdanos estimates that ISIS fighters have more than 4,500 sites under their control, the scope of the looting is hard to tally. Estimates of ISIS profits from the sale of antiquities have ranged from $100 million to $300 million annually. But according to Vincent Geerling, head of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, these numbers must be exaggerated, as the global trade in antiquities amounts to less than $200 million a year. More important, he says, aside from a few coins, nothing has appeared for sale in Europe or the U.S.“Never underestimate the patience of the dealers and middlemen,” cautions Bogdanos, who notes that only a few of the many artifacts known to have been plundered in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq a decade ago have ever surfaced. Moreover, he warns that it is becoming more difficult to trace and seize such artifacts as looters take advantage of new technologies to carry out their trade. “In the past they would send e-mails with attached images…which were quite easy for us to monitor,” says Bog-danos. Skype, on the other hand, leaves no trace.