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British Museum claims Sculptures were “in the rubble” around Parthenon

Many of the Parthenon Sculptures removed by Lord Elgin’s agents were found “in the rubble” around the monument, they were not removed violently,” claimed Dr Jonathan Williams, deputy director of the British Museum during the annual meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO.

“Much of the frieze was in fact removed from the rubble around the Parthenon… These objects were not all hacked from the building as it has been suggested,” Williams was quoted as saying during the meeting.

Parthenon Sculptures: “We did not remove them violently, they were thrown in the rubble” say the British
“There will never be a magical moment of reunion, as half the sculptures of the Parthenon have been lost forever. “They were destroyed before Elgin came to Athens.”

In an effort to change the narrative the British Museum, that still opposed the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, argues that what Elgion did was practically to clean the   ruins from big and small pieces of marbles and pave the way for future visitors of the Parthenon, right?

Williams reportedly told the panel, among others, that Greece’s desire to see the Parthenon completed is impossible to fulfill, as much of it had been destroyed long before Elgin arrived in Greece.

“There will never be a magical moment of reunion, as half the sculptures of the Parthenon have been lost forever. They had been destroyed since the end of the 17th century before Elgin came to Athens “, he said, pointing out that now the Sculptures are very well preserved.

The new claim comes just days after the UNESCO announced that Greece and UK had agreed to hold formal talks on the return of the Parthenon Sculptures

In a statement published in the Guardian on Sunday, the Greek Culture Minister, Lina Mendoni, rebuffed the claim and  accused Lord Elgin, then British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, of committing serial theft.

“Over the years, Greek authorities and the international scientific community have demonstrated with unshakeable arguments the true events surrounding the removal of the Parthenon sculptures,” Mendoni said.

“Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so, in a blatant act of serial theft,” the minister stressed.

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13 comments

  1. So, Lord Elgin found some of the Parthenon marbles ‘in the rubble’. Over many years I have read various accounts of the removal, including the dubious legality of the firman accorded to Elgin by the official responsible, an Ottoman Turk. The Turks had no legal claim on the antiquities other than by right of conquest and, as we know from WWII and the theft of art treasures by Nazi Germany, this is not acceptable.
    The British Museum has claimed that Elgin rescued them from certain oblivion and/or destruction through
    atmospheric pollution (in more recent times).
    Well, I think the Greeks are now well up to speed on the preservation of historic artifacts.
    Any other excuses for not returning what does not belong in the UK?

    • It does not matter, at all, where in Athens they was found! The Marbles belong in Athens, its a piece of Greek history! The removal of the Marbles to the UK was a theft. To argue about this is just silly, let the Marbles come home to Athens!!! Where they belong……

      • They are a piece of Athenian history, Greek history started in 1828 , modern Greeks think they are all related to Plato, they are not, ancient Greeks were great inventors, great mathematical and philosophical scholar’s, modern Greeks let the rest of the world work hard whilst they plot there next way to evade tax , and exploit there fellow Greeks.

  2. At the time the marbles were taken with permission from the Ottomans, they were not of any cultural significance to the Greeks who had lived there at the time. The Parthenon later became a symbolic heritage site only later after Greece became independent. Artifacts were often acquired by travelers in the lands of empires, before nation building and national history were created. Eventually Greece made a law stating that foreign countries could not buy or export antiquities, but this was not until after the tombs of Vergina were found.

    It’s a tricky topic. They weren’t stolen, they were preserved, which is good. Returning them would be the right thing to do, but it’s obvious that they don’t trust Greece to take care of their own cultural heritage ( this is the typical argument).

  3. To compare the removal of the Parthenon sculptures with nazi looting in ww2 is ridiculous, the ottoman empire occupied a place now know as Greece since the mid 15th century,
    To return the marbles to modern Greece would require an act of parliament,which would be illegal both in British and international law, the best international lawyers have many times stated it is an unwinnable cause.
    So let’s use a different approach, bully the British museum trustee’s, good luck with that.

  4. I take it, Tarquers, that you are saying there was no such place as Greece before its occupation by the Ottoman Turks in the mid-15th century? Certainly it was not a unified nation state, as now, but a nation of Greek speaking city states, much as Britain was ruled by local kings until the Romans appeared and then, in the 11th.century, the Normans. The longevity of an occupation does not confer a legal right to possession or a right to dispossess the indigenous population at any point in time.
    Ergo, my comparison with the Nazi occupation still stands as one example of the consequences of war.
    I do not doubt you are correct in your assertion that to pursue a legal case would prove fruitless and the best we can hope for is a change of heart by the British Museum. I am not holding my breath on that one.

    • Well, Dave, are you saying that the Norman occupiers of Britain still do not have a legal right to their possession?

  5. What is Greek government going to do with marbles? Put them on pantheon as neo nationalist symbol? It will be exposed to horrible pollution.

    Greeks poured concrete over 90% of ancient Athens in 1960ties without any regards for preservation. And more recently on Acropolis with “walking paths”. Cultural nationalist barbarism!

  6. What I am saying, Bazza, is that an occupying nation has no right to sell/steal the cultural heritage of an occupied nation. This is not a legal argument but a moral one. The British Empire was founded on conquest
    and did what most conquerors have done throughout history: help themselves to the riches of the vanquished. It is a fact of life but that in itself does make it morally acceptable. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist.

  7. Sorry. Error in my last post> “….does NOT make it morally acceptable”. It’s my age.

  8. At the time that the marbles were removed, whether legally or not, the British Museum was undoubtedly the best place to ensure their preservation. They may well not exist in the same condition, or exist at all, had they not been removed.

    However, times change. Greece today is better able to care for the marbles than the British Museum (I note the recent rainwater leaks there for example). In a world where travel is easier and where anyone can visit Athens, whether in person or virtually, there is no good reason for the British Museum to hold on to them.

    I strongly suspect that the museum sees the return of the marbles as the opening of the floodgates, and that within a few years the only objects on display there will be those found in the UK. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

    The marbles should be returned. Not because they were stolen. Not because they were found in the rubble. And certainly not because they can be better cared for in Britain. They should be returned simply because Athens is where they belong.

    I won’t hold my breath though.

  9. Be good, children! Just give them back!

  10. The ones in the Louvre were taken years before Elgin arrived, so as far as caving in to demands to hand them over Britain will be very polite and let the French go first.