January 6, 2011

Greece offers to set aside ownership claims on Parthenon Marbles

Posted at 1:57 pm in Elgin Marbles

Further coverage of the reports in The Times that Greece has agreed to set aside claims of ownership, in it’s attempts to secure the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens.

Bloomberg News

Greece Offers to Forgo Claim to Ownership of Elgin Marbles, Times Reports
By Chris Peterson – Dec 6, 2010 8:08 AM GMT

Greece offered to end the long- running dispute with Britain over the Elgin Marbles by saying it would forgo its claim in return for a long-term loan of the artefacts, once a frieze on the Parthenon, the London-based Times reported, citing Greek Culture Minister Pavlos Yeroulanos.

The frieze was removed in 1801 by British diplomat Lord Elgin with the permission of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece, and shipped to London after parliament agreed to buy them. Greece regards them as having been looted, the newspaper said.

The marbles have remained in London’s British Museum ever since and the museum’s curators said in a statement that no new approach had been made, and there was no reason to suppose the Trustees would change their view that the sculptures must stay in the museum, the Times said.

The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, was completed in 438 BC.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Peterson in London at cpeterson@bloomberg.net

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  1. Dr.Kwame Opoku said,

    01.06.11 at 5:29 pm

    The Greeks have made a great concession. What will the venerable British Museum now make in turn?

  2. Matthew said,

    01.06.11 at 10:46 pm

    Unfortunately, I expect that they’ll continue to ignore the issue as they have done for the last 200 or so years…

  3. wordbender said,

    01.07.11 at 5:51 pm

    Any argument used so far is irrelevant with the exception of the intended use of the heritage. That should come first in any case of prospective repatriation. An object should be repatriated in case its value (expressed by its use) is higher for the original owner then for the retainer e.g.repatriated human remains or land to aboriginal communities. Aboriginals claimed their ancestor’s remains in order to rebury them and their land to be used in traditional manner so they got it. Greeks intend to treat the marbles in accordance with their “outstanding universal value” in UNESCO terms, which means putting them in a museum as any other museum collection. If the value is universal then the location is irrelevant i.e.the marbles should stay where they are, in London. Their value is not local and Greeks admit it by putting them into museum, not restoring them onto the Parthenon so they can be fully appreciated.
    disclaimer: I am neither British nor a heritage worker.

  4. Selby Whittingham said,

    01.08.11 at 12:44 pm

    It would be rash of the Greeks to abandon their claim to ownership for anything less than the permanent transfer of the marbles to Athens. Of course location, rather than ownership, is likely to be the sticking point.

  5. wordbender said,

    01.08.11 at 2:20 pm

    It’s only reasonable from them to drop the ownership. They never owned the marbles the first place and it was ridiculous for Greeks to claim their ownership on moral grounds which they hopefully finally understood.

  6. wordbender said,

    01.08.11 at 2:59 pm

    Besides the whole movement to reunite the marbles is also ridiculous. They are not family members disconnected by communist regime on different sides of Atlantic. They might argue about the controversy of Elgin’s ownership, but how precisely would they like to support their claim in case of those sculptures housed in British Museum which were acquired from other sources?

  7. Matthew said,

    01.08.11 at 3:52 pm

    @ Wordbender

    You might see the reunification as ridiculous, but in many cases, we are talking about the re-joining of adjacent panels that form a story.
    If a book had half the pages missing in a different location, would anyone argue that keeping the pages separate made more sense? (See Codex Sinaiticus)

    MacGregor himself whilst at the National Gallery united pieces of a painting that had been cut apart & separated. Even though much of the painting is still missing, nobody seeing it would be able to argue that the story is not better told by seeing the surviving pieces together rather than separate.

    As far as I’m aware, Greece is not making any claims on sculptures in the British Museum other than those that were acquired from Lord Elgin.

    I’m unclear about how they never owned the Marbles in the first place. If they didn’t, then who did? This is the same as arguing that Britain doesn’t own Stone Henge.

  8. Matthew said,

    01.08.11 at 4:20 pm


    Abandoning ownership would I fear by like any other obstacles put in the way of serious discussions on the subject by the BM. They use these arguments to avoid tackling the actual issue, but once its gone, they will rapidly find other similar arguments to replace it with – potentially leaving Greece with a weakened position while at the same time gaining them nothing.

    I could of course be completely wrong, but I don’t see how the BM can move from its current position without a change of director to avoid being seen to be backtracking.

  9. wordbender said,

    01.08.11 at 5:10 pm

    Ottoman empire was the last owner of marbles before Elgin. No Greece existed back then hence Greece could never own them. Codex Sinaiticus is similar case in this respect.
    Since you mentioned it should also be aware of Codex Gigas including additional cultural material which was stolen by Swedish army some 360 years ago from Prague castle and remains in Sweden until today. No Czech Republic existed then it was just Bohemia, part of Roman empire. According to the Greek logic applied in case of Elgin Marbles is today Czech Republic more then eligible to get its cultural artifacts back since they were indisputably stolen yet they never asked for them since they know of their successor status and they realize that any such claim would be ridiculous.

  10. wordbender said,

    01.09.11 at 10:41 am

    Greeks say they will not ask for any other artworks yet in the past the Greek Government has sought the return of artefacts other than the Parthenon sculptures. In 1965, for example, the Greek Minister of Culture demanded the return of all Greek antiquities. Hitler also used to say that Sudetenland will be enough and that he will claim no more. English, French and Italians have given it to him and what followed? Strengthening of national identity which the return of marbles sought by Greece truly is should be avoided at all costs.

  11. wordbender said,

    01.09.11 at 10:59 am

    Greeks never owned the artefacts since Elgin bought them from Turks. Greece didn’t exist then so it’s only sensible to drop the ownership claim. Since you mentioned the Codex Sinaiticus you should be also aware of Codex Gigas which was stolen together with other Bohemian treasure by Swedish army some 360 years ago from the Prague castle. According to Greek logic of ownership is today Czech Republic eligible to claim those artifacts back yet many feel it would be just ridiculous and desperate so there was no official request ever from Czech Republic.
    Greeks say they will never ask for more antiquities yet in the past the Greek Government has sought the return of artefacts other than the Parthenon sculptures. In 1965, for example, the Greek Minister of Culture demanded the return of all Greek antiquities. Hitler also used to say that he only wants the Sudetenland in 1938 and so UK and France given it to him and what followed. The history tells us that strengthening of national identity which would prospective return of Parthenon marbles surely facilitate should be avoided at all cost.

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