For decades, the Parthenon Marbles controversy has served as an ongoing case study in the debate over whether museums should send artefacts back to their countries of origin. Now a new UK-based advisory board has said it aims to formalise a deal to return the marbles taken from Greece’s Acropolis in the early 19th century.
About half of Greece’s Parthenon marbles have been in the British Museum’s possession for the past two centuries. The contested sculptures were created 2,500 years ago and represent figures in Greek mythology. In the UK, the sculptures are also called the Elgin Marbles, after Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who stripped the Parthenon of half of its original marble artwork in 1801 during Ottoman rule.
The British Museum has suggested a sharing agreement, but not full repatriation. The museum maintains that the sculptures were acquired legally and for the sake of preservation. In a statement by the trustees of the British Museum, the Parthenon sculptures are a “vital element” in the museum’s “interconnected world collection” and “part of the world’s shared heritage”.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview this month with The Sunday Times that his country will once again ask for the return of the Parthenon marbles during an official visit later this year. Shortly after his comments, then-UK Prime Minister Liz Truss said she did not support the idea of the marbles’ return to Athens.
In this episode of The Stream, we’ll discuss the latest in the long-standing controversy over the Parthenon marbles.