Greek police have recovered a 2,500-year-old marble statue of Hygeia, the ancient Goddess of health, after arresting three antiquity smugglers in southern Greece.

The three men are all Greek but have not been named. The authorities said that they were employed as car mechanics in the Peloponnese city of Sparta, about 230km south of Athens. They were arrested trying to sell the ancient marble statue to prospective antiquities dealers for about €500,000.

All three have been charged with antiquities theft, which is a criminal offence in Greece. Police were investigating whether other members were involved in the suspected trafficking ring.

In a statement, the culture ministry said that the rare, headless statue, which was only 55cm long, depicted the goddess in a flowing gown with a snake slithering down her torso. It dates back to the 1st-3rd century BC.

Greek police as well as public order ministry and culture ministry officials stressed that the recovery of the antiquities is a great success in Greece’s battle against antiquities smuggling rings.