This paper will analyse the key role played by the State in the preservation, management and valorisation of archaeological heritage in Italy. First, it will reconstruct the main points of the debate raging in Parliament and academia after the unification of Italy over how to control the loss of archaeological objects. It will show how the Italian State wished to exercise control over excavation, circulation and exportation of archaeological objects and to create catalogues of public and private objects of supreme historical value while, at the same time, limiting the alienability of private property and declaring that any property found underground belong to the State. Second, it will analyse a series of case studies in which archaeological objects’ life and ‘afterlife’ challenge the Italian State’s control over and valorisation of these objects. The paper explores how events surrounding archaeological objects after their discovery, including their reuse, collecting, importation, looting, and return, at successive stages in their history affect the very identity of these archaeological objects and, by extension, the identity of the Italian State. For example, how does the 19th-20th century importation and current display of Egyptian archaeological objects in the Museo Egizio in Torino inform the Italian identity? Does the looting and later repatriation of the Euphronios Krater compromise the Italian narrative surrounding this archaeological object? The paper will ask whether archaeological relics which are understood as State property are indeed ‘national(istic)’ vestiges, legacies of one national past, and if they can coincide with a ‘democratic’ preservation, management and valorisation of ‘pluralistic’ identities in the era of the globalisation of culture.