The Parthenon frieze at the Acropolis Museum, Greece

Should the Parthenon Marbles be returned?

Rebecca Atkinson, 31.05.2012
Have your say
The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles is holding an international symposium on 19 June at the London Hellenic Centre to discuss the return of the marbles to Greece.

Ahead of the event, Museums Journal wants to know whether you think the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece.

Vote in the poll and leave your comments on the issue below.

Poll results

Should the Parthenon Marbles be returned to Greece?
  • Yes
  • 73%
  • No
  • 27%


Comments

Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
12.06.2012, 13:00
Indeed Peter - offers have been made in the past, you can read of some here http://www.parthenonuk.com/index.php/the-case-for-the-return
The British Museum is an exceptional museum and Greece would wish to see other antiquities exhibited here. The statistics prove healthy increase in tourism traffic when exhibitions are shown elsewhere e.g the Tutenkhamoun exhibition in London in 2007 and the surge in travellers going from UK to Egypt.
Creative cultural partnerships are key for all nations.
12.06.2012, 11:32
It would be wonderful to put all the Parthenon marbles back together in Athens and the British Committee has a sensible aim. Would an interesting proposal perhaps begin with the suggestion that the Greek authorities might offer a treasure house of Greek antiquities for permanent display in London? There must be so many items which don't have to be sitting in museums or storerooms in Greece but which could show off Greek culture superbly in London and could really enhance the British Museum. I am sure there is plenty of good material to go around. It is simply that the marbles from the Parthenon would best be exhibited in Athens.

Take Egypt as a comparison. Cairo has a wonderful museum, with King Tut and so on. But there is so much stuff that there is plenty to go around in the rest of the world, showing off Egyptian culture to the pride of the Egyptian people.

So let us have lots of fresh good Greek artefacts to display in the BM but give the Athenians back their marbles.
12.06.2012, 10:46
Richard, it’s a real pity that you have made some of the comments below as they are incredibly misinformed. I would urge you with the utmost respect to read a little into the history of how the marbles were ‘acquired’ as it is a very bold statement to write that they were acquired legitimately and properly. It is clear however that you have made your mind up and I doubt any attempt at persuasion from me will alter your view that they should be retained. What I would say is that many of the comments below call for diplomatic and cultural respect for Greece. Something that sadly your post below is lacking.
12.06.2012, 00:44
The Marbles were acquired legitimately and properly and have been conserved, preserved and cared for by the Museum, whereas the Greeks never cared for them allowing them to descend into decay and pieces, and to be sold by Greeks to travellers. It was ever thus.

If the Marbles were to be returned, how can they pay for their upkeep, they are financially broke, and the country is a living ruin? And, if they are returned, we should say to the Greeks that their illegal claim to Cyprus is to be overturned by the International community as Cyprus was never Greek but a Turkish territory with an immigrant Greek population.

This whole farce is a danger to every other great Museums in the world, and their collections will not be safely preservesd for posterity and future generations. Anuyway, most future Greek generations have left or are leaving Greece to emigrate elsewhere.
Anonymous
09.06.2012, 06:54
Dennis, I wish you were the Prime Minister..... the country, and the world, would be a better place!
09.06.2012, 01:00
What an entertaining discussion.
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry with the fact that after 210 years there are still arguments to the effect of “keeping the marbles safe from the bad Greeks that can’t preserve them”.
This was Elgin’s spin and excuse for:
- tearing down the Parthenon from structural elements so he can have access to petopes, pediments and the frieze
- Saw the outer part of the marble block and break them in pieces for easier transportation.
Textbook art preservation right?

This debate won’t be resolved by courts or the conventional means of dispute. It will be an act of courage and political will based on ethical grounds. The ball is at the British Museum and British Government’s court.

Today Greece as a nation is facing its darkest hours after WWII. A time when the country sacrificed resources and lives of soldiers and innocent civilians in the name of Freedom and as allies to the British people.
- Return the Marbles to Greece as an act of respect for its history.
- Return the Marbles to Greece as an act of solidarity to a friend.
- Return the Marbles to Greece because it is the right thing to do.

I don’t have much to say except quoting a great artist, politician, humanitarian and former Minister of Culture

“You must understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to us. They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democraticphilosophy. They are our aspirations and our name . They are the essence of Greekness.
We are ready to say that we rule the entire Elgin enterprise as irrelevant to the present. We say to the British government: you have kept those sculptures for almost two centuries. You have cared for them as well as you could, for which we thank you. But now in the name of fairness and morality, please give them back. I sincerely believe that such a gesture from Great Britain would forever honour your name.”

Melina Mercouri, Oxford Union Debating Society, June 1986

08.06.2012, 14:50
To Anonymous

The Aboriginal remains you refer to were never on display "and the holding museums realised that they never could be. Their 'value' was to science in their potential for furnishing evidence for research into human origins and diversity. Such remains had sat in stores for more than a century, forgotten, disregarded and unused for any kind of research: so the 'value to science' argument was a bit thin."

The answer to the question you pose in relation to the Parthenon Marbles is mostly to do with the Law. It was only after the legislation was changed to allow the return of human remains (The Human Tissue Act 2004) from national museums that repatriation could be considered.

Until Parliament passes a specific law to enable the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, they will continue to be displayed in Bloomsbury. That is the difference as far as human remains are concerned.
Anonymous
MA Member, MP Subscriber
07.06.2012, 22:40
Everyone who has written in support of returning the marbles to Greece has to ask the question - how have the aboriginal communities of Australia and elsewhere been so successful in winning the argument and convincing the museum sector in Britain to return their cultural heritage and yet the Greek political and cultural establishment has not.

Anonymous
MA Member
10.07.2014, 02:49
Interesting question... Australia is member of the Commonwealth so maybe this does play a role. Also, you may ask yourselfvhow many tourists are interested in the Greek marbles when they visit the BM..So, why would the museum want to lose one of its well-known exhibits?!
07.06.2012, 21:56
Here is a lovely poem written by Greek poet Cavafy in 1911 that sums up the Parthenon Marbles situation, and critical need to return them.

That we've broken their statues,
that we've driven them out of their temples,
doesn't mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they're still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

Constantine P. Cavafy
07.06.2012, 21:44
Before the internet and ease of copying sculpture there may have been an argument in favor of taking are from another country, but now, with easy copies made for museums, the emotional and cultural importance of critical works, such as the Parthenon Marbles, must be returned to their COUNTRY OF OWNERSHIP! That is where they belong, where they can be cherished, and not just observed. Please consult your soul!
Anonymous
MA Member
07.06.2012, 12:07
Two years ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Parthenon and the Acropolis museum. I have also seen the marbles in the British Museum and they would have meant much more represented in context at the Acropolis museum. It made me feel ashamed to see all the replicas at the Acropolis Museum with a BM next to them showing the originals were in the British Museum. The comments that the building of the Acropolis Museum show Greece's mishandling of their finances forget that one of the key previous arguments for not returning the marbles was the lack of a suitable place to display them.
Maria
MA Member
07.06.2012, 09:13
I was just recently in the British Museum where my children and I have to go to visit part of our heritage, the Elgin marbles. Whoever thinks that spending cuts affect only Greek museums hasn't been reading their Museums Journal (or indeed any media in the UK for the past couple of years!). The stunning rooms where the marbles are kept were completely devoid of warders and my children could freely touch and stroke the Karyad with their grubby little hands! (I was quick to prohibit it of course!). The anonymous member who 'cannot see the relevance of mentioning the Olympics (!!!) but can happily make the link between the Acropolis Museum and Greece's economic crisis (to which I could answer: bankers in London played 'a far greater role in the birth of the crisis than all the politicians in Greece ever did') needs to realise that colonialism and its ugly legacy is a thing of the past and the case for London 'as an international hub' is laughable even before the word 'terrorism' is mentioned. I hope next time my visit to see the Marbles will be in Athens.
07.06.2012, 00:13
Just return our artifacts!
Anonymous
06.06.2012, 19:56
What thief or country would contemplate steeling these larger than life sculptures that weigh tons? An operation like this would need hoists, cranes, trucks and Chriss Angel to pull it off not to mention storage…where would they hide them? Are these people for real..."security and safety" more ignorant remarks, I can’t believe I am responding to thoughtless comments.
Anonymous
MA Member, MP Subscriber
06.06.2012, 19:31
I can't see the relevance of mentioning the Olympics unless you mean that ancient Greece is part of the heritage of all European nations and in many ways part of world heritage. (One individual from Much Wenlock played a far greater role in the rebirth of the Olympics than all the politicians in Greece ever didi.) Consequently, you could easily make the case that the British Museum as an international museum, which is free to enter and accessible to more people because of its location in a global hub, is a far better location for the marbles than Athens. At least in the British Museum, the marbles can be interpreted in their international cultural context.

However, personally i hope the British Museum and its counterparts in Greece can come to a sensible arrangement without interference from the nationalistic drum beaters, who bang on about ownership as if anyone can really 'own' the past.

As for Greece, the building of a museum to display objects they don't actually possess is just one more exemplar of how that country lost touch with economic reality during the boom years following the easy credit that came with the launch of the euro.
06.06.2012, 18:55
For me, the answer is simple - give them back. The debate about Greece's capability to receive them due to the eurozone problems is nonsense and also a little insulting. The Parthenon Marbles represent not only a significant part of Greece's cultural heritage but also a strong national symbol which all Greeks will see is protected. I have been to the new Acropolis museum and I can confidently say that they are ready and able to display them in proper context to still be enjoyed by the whole world. This may seem a very childish point to make however, we seem as a nation very happy to host the Olympics and benefit from yet another cultural link to Greece yet we are still refusing to hand back a piece of Greece's history. What more can Greece do, any loan suggested in the past has always come with the condition that ownership is not disputed. To accept, the Greek government would have to give up claim to their own property.
The museum is built, open, ready and magnificent. Can we really keep coming up with excuses?
06.06.2012, 18:42
Clearly there are many complex issues surrounding the marbles all of which seem to have good solid points for either side of any argument that arises. In short, I feel that the marbles should be returned, but not until the Greek authorities are ready to receive them. It should be a gradual process of repatriation allowing for safe delivery and subsequent display. This could be in one year, or ten...but ideally when the Greeks are ready.
I wonder how many people go to the British Museum to see the 'Elgin Marbles' as opposed to going to see some remnants that happen to be from the Parthenon?
I appreciate that there are issues over ownership and care etc etc, but I believe that now as we move on firmly into the 21st century that we, as a species, ought to be at least seen to be attempting to get our houses in order no matter what the level of angst that this may result in. The feelings of uncomfortableness won't last for ever as they would be replaced by a sense of doing something right that would be seen by the eyes of the world.
06.06.2012, 18:03
For someone to fully comprehend one of the most significant and complex cultural controversies of our lifetime, one needs to hit the history books, take time to research, and get the facts. There is a plethora of moral, legal, and political perspectives, which tend to be overlooked. However, until citizens of the world (all ages) become educated on this longstanding debate, and begin questioning the “why's" - there will be continued looming skepticism and debate. The “opening of the flood gates” certainly does not apply in this case of cultural heritage property… The Parthenon Sculptures were forcibly removed or broken off from the ancient site of The Parthenon – a majestic ancient site, which still stands on the Acropolis today. History tells us that 60% of the Sculptures were EXTORTED and SHIPPED to Britain by then Ambassador Lord Elgin, during the Colonial years. The remaining Sculptures still remain in their homeland of Greece. Was the removal of the Parthenon Sculptures legal? Are there documents to prove it? How does the British Museum and the British Government claim ownership? This is not about “nationalistic pride” – it is about making right a historical wrong and setting the record straight for future generations. Invariably, it is about the repatriation of Greece's cultural heritage, which belong in Greece. The Parthenon, after all, was never meant for it to be “moveable property”...
Anonymous
06.06.2012, 17:40
Museum professionals strive to care for and interpret cultural property. If we respect the objects, then surely we must respect the culture that made/owned them? Because Britain wasn't ransacked, but did the ransacking, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding here as to what it's like to have culturally significant objects removed from their homelands. Give the Parthenon Marbles back, and if it opens a floodgate of repatriations, it's because people want culturally significant objects returned. Surely that's what we should understand and want, as caring museum professionals?
06.06.2012, 17:07
For someone to fully comprehend one of the most significant and complex cultural controversies of our lifetime, one needs to hit the history books, take time to research, and get the facts. There is a plethora of moral, legal, and political perspectives, which tend to be overlooked. However, until citizens of the world (all ages) become educated on this longstanding debate, and begin questioning the “why's" - there will be continued looming skepticism and debate. The “opening of the flood gates” certainly does not apply in this case of cultural heritage property… The Parthenon Sculptures were forcibly removed or broken off from the ancient site of The Parthenon – a majestic ancient site, which still stands on the Acropolis today. History tells us that 60% of the Sculptures were EXTORTED and SHIPPED to Britain by then Ambassador Lord Elgin, during the Colonial years. The remaining Sculptures still remain in their homeland of Greece. Was the removal of the Parthenon Sculptures legal? Are there documents to prove it? How does the British Museum and the British Government claim ownership? This is not about “nationalistic pride” – it is about making right a historical wrong and setting the record straight for future generations. Invariably, it is about the repatriation of Greece's cultural heritage, which belong in Greece. The Parthenon, after all, was never meant for it to be “moveable property”...
06.06.2012, 16:11
The "floodgates" argument is specious and does not apply to the Parthenon sculptures, which formed integral components of a monument - a Unesco World Heritage Site, hacked off and displayed in another country. In this they are arguably unique. Thus to reunite them in Athens need set no precedent. Indeed the onus of justification is for not doing so.
Please note that on 5th June 2000 to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sports Committee, an offer was made by Greece inviting their colleagues at the British Museum to join them with the aim of reuniting the surviving sculptures in one place: in the new Acropolis Museum, built in order to house all the Parthenon sculptures.
At the same time it was pledged that when the Parthenon sculptures are returned - Greece would make sure that the Parthenon Gallery in Bloomsbury would always host Greek antiquities on loan for exhibitions. Greece would be willing to send rare and even newly discovered antiquities, which have never been seen outside Greece.
Anonymous
06.06.2012, 15:40
Greece's museums and museum staff are suffering from budget cuts and non-payment of salaries. Lack of security staff has led to thefts. The Olympia museum almost burnt down a couple of years ago - budget cuts are affecting museums and how they care for objects!Now is not a good time for the return of the marbles, it was never safe for them to be packed and to travel, it opens the floodgates to the emptying of museums for repatriation - do the public want a virtual museum? Or real objects well-cared for and well-displayed? Let them be and stop this nationalistic claptrap.
Anonymous
MA Member
06.06.2012, 14:39
Should every contentious object in every museum in the world be returned to its place of origin? Is it not the point of museums to display objects that we could not otherwise see in that context? I know this seems a simplistic view, but if the Marbles were returned to Greece, it would signify the opening of the floodgates. It should also be remembered that the British Museum has offered to work with the Acropolis Museum many times and to consider loans of various pieces, but these offers have generally been rebuffed.
01.06.2012, 17:39
The concern about the safety of these artefacts is more than understandable, but by returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece they won't disappear or being destroyed. I agree with Eleni's comment, the Parthenon Marbles were never meant to be separated and moved to another country. The argument of the Euro crisis and the economic situation of Greece seems to me a weak excuse that portrait the Greeks as incapable of looking after their own cultural heritage. Believe it or not, there is not nuclear war in Greece (yet!), and the Greeks are more than capable of protecting and taking care of their cultural heritage.
Rebecca, Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
MA Member, MJ Subscriber, MP Subscriber
01.06.2012, 09:55
Should Greece’s economic situation be a factor in whether the marbles are returned?
Hayley
MA Member
01.06.2012, 09:51
I agree that they should never have been taken in the first place. But the care of the object has to come first, and given that the Eurozone is about to collapse, now hardly seems like the best time to be sending these precious artefacts home to the country which is one of the worst affected financially. How can the Greek government guarantee the safety and security of the marbles in the current situation?
31.05.2012, 23:21
For some, there will never be a right time to fight for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles. For some, there is mindless debate. And for the rest of us, there is an obligation to right a historical wrong for the history of mankind. Our Greek ancestors never intended for the Parthenon to be "moveable property". The Marbles must be reunified in Athens where they will stand tall under the Greek light that has inspired the world for millennia. Each one of us must do his/her part to join the cause, a contingent of international campaigners. The time has come to put an end to this long debate. The Parthenon Marbles were never meant to be fragmented and separated; they belong in Athens. By refusing to return the Parthenon Marbles, the British Museum is doing a grave injustice to the world.
31.05.2012, 18:52
In calling for the sculptures to be reunited in Athens, where they originated and where they still belong, we can put right a two hundred year old wrong. This magnanimous act on behalf of the British Museum would reinforce the importance of cultural diplomacy, the understanding that this peerless work of art is unnecessarily fragmented - mainly between two great museums, the British Museum in London and the Acropolis Museum in Athens.