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Parthenon Marble leaves Britain for …Russia and angers Greek PM Samaras

I honestly cannot decide whether it’s a matter of British impudence or arrogance to lend to a third party something you do not owe or better say “it’s a product of theft!”. The British Museum decided to lend one of the stolen Parthenon sculptures to Russian Museum Hermitage in St. Petersburg celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding. It is the first time that the British Museum dares to “lend” something that it does not owe but it has been stolen from Greece in the beginning of 19th century by Lord Ergin.

The British Lord illegally acquired the Parthenon Marbles striking a deal with the Turkish Sultans as Greece was under Ottoman Empire during that time.

The sculpture to be displayed in Hermitage is a 156cm-long marble figure belonging to river-god Illissos. The sculpture shows the body of a young, athletic man with a piece of drapery over his left arm.,

The sculpture of river-god Ilissos will be exhibited in Hermitage  as of today and will last until January 18th 2015.


river-god Ilissos


In a blog post of the official site of the British Museum, director Neil MacGregor praises the “loan” as “a marble ambassador of a European ideal,” and claiming that the BM could not resist to the request.

“So, when our colleagues at the Hermitage asked if we might also make an important loan to celebrate their 250th anniversary, the Trustees immediately answered yes. And no loan could more fittingly mark the long friendship of our two houses, or the period of their founding, than a sculpture from the Parthenon,” writes MacGregor.

In a rather absurd journey to the past with allegedly secret blessing from great men of the Greek Ancient World, the British Museum director indulges himself  in a cloud of limitless fantasy and self-approval.


“Two and a half thousand years later, I hope that Pericles would applaud the journey of Ilissos to Russia, where ‘far away in foreign lands’, this stone ambassador of the Greek golden age and European ideals will write ancient Athens’s achievements – aesthetic, moral and political – in ‘the minds of every man’. It is a message that Russia, and the whole world, need to hear and I am delighted that the British Museum has been able to lend such a remarkable object.” (Neil MacGregor’s blog post here)
Angry Greek Reaction
The British Museum trustees may have been thrilled about the lending but not the Greeks. An angry comment came in zero time by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
“The decision of  the British Museum to lend one of the sculptures for an exhibition in St Petersburg provokes the Greek people,” says the PM’s statement stressing that this action “brings to fall the last British dogma, that the Parthenon Marbles could not be moved. Also their other ‘argument’ that there was not appropriate space for the Marbles has been collapsed with the establishment of the New Acropolis Museum. The Parthenon and its sculptures have been target of plunder. The value of the sculptures is priceless.
We, Greeks, identify ourselves through our history and our culture that cannot be cut into pieces, be borrowed or bestowed.” (statement here)
However MacGregor was apparently aware of the angry reactions and he secretly pushed the scuplture to Russia before announcing the lending. According to website
“The statue of Ilissos, the river god, was transported in secret to Russia, after being removed from display in London 15 days earlier under the guise of it being prepared for an exhibit.”
Greece has been claiming the Return of the Parthenon Marbles since 1983. Last October, Athens assigned a UK law firm to explore the legal ways for the return of the priceless sculptures.
PS it’s arrogance, it’s lack of common sense and judgement, after all! Neil Mac Gregor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “The Greek government, I hope, will be delighted.”

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  1. Wouldn’t it be great if the Russians returned the sculpture to Greece!!!! I won’t hold my breath, however.

  2. As a Bitish citizen living in Greece and who fully suppports the return of the Marbles to Greece, I am deeply ashamed.