Elgin Marbles

Elgin Marbles

Elgin Marbles
Parthenon Marbles
Artist Phidias
Year c. 447–438 BC
Type Marble
Dimensions 75 m (247 ft)
Location London
Owner British Museum

The Elgin Marbles ( ),[1] also known as the Parthenon Marbles, are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures (made mostly by Greek sculptor Phidias and his assistants), inscriptions and architectural pieces that were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.[2][3] Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin claimed to obtain in 1801 a controversial permit[4] from the Sublime Porte, which then ruled Greece.

From 1801 to 1812, Elgin's agents removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.[5] The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some,[6] while others likened Elgin's actions to vandalism[7] or looting.[8][9][10][11][12]

Following a public debate in Parliament[13] and the subsequent exoneration of Elgin, the marbles were purchased from Elgin by the British government in 1816 and were passed to the British Museum,[14] where they stand now on display in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

After gaining its independence from the Ottoman Empire, Greece began major projects for the restoration of the country's monuments, and has expressed its disapproval of Elgin's removal of the Marbles from the Acropolis and the Parthenon,[15] which is regarded as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments.[16] Greece disputes the subsequent purchase of the Marbles by the British Government and urges the return of the marbles to Greece for their unification.

In 2014, UNESCO offered to mediate between Greece and the United Kingdom in resolving the dispute of the Elgin Marbles, although this was later turned down by the UK.[17][18][19] In 2015, the Greek Culture Minister has not ruled out legal action to try and force the return of the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum in London but says diplomacy seems to be the most effective option. [20]


  • Acquisition 1
  • Description 2
  • Legality of the removal from Athens 3
  • Contemporary reaction 4
  • Damage 5
    • Morosini 5.1
    • War of Independence 5.2
    • Elgin 5.3
    • British Museum 5.4
    • Athens 5.5
  • Relocation debate 6
    • Rationale for returning to Athens 6.1
    • Rationale for retaining in London 6.2
  • Public perception of the issue 7
    • Popular support for restitution 7.1
    • Opinion polls 7.2
  • Other displaced Parthenon art 8
  • British Museum loan 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13
    • Pros and cons of restitution 13.1


Parthenon Selene Horse
Metope from the Elgin marbles depicting a Centaur and a Lapith fighting
Statuary from the east pediment
Frise West, II, 2

In November of 1798 the Earl of Elgin was appointed as "Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty to the Sublime Porte of Selim III, Sultan of Turkey" (Greece was then part of the Ottoman realm). Before his departure to take up the post he had approached officials of the British government to inquire if they would be interested in employing artists to take casts and drawings of the sculptured portions of the Parthenon. According to Lord Elgin, "the answer of the Government ... was entirely negative."[6]

Lord Elgin decided to carry out the work and employed artists to take casts and drawings under the supervision of the Neapolitan court painter Giovani Lusieri.[6] According to a Turkish local, marble sculptures that fell were burned to obtain lime for building.[6] Although the original intention was only to document the sculptures, in 1801 Lord Elgin began to remove material from the Parthenon and its surrounding structures[21] under the supervision of Lusieri.

The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.[22] Elgin intended the marbles for display in the British Museum, selling them to the British government for less than the cost of bringing them to Britain and declining higher offers from other potential buyers, including Napoleon.[21]


The Parthenon Marbles acquired by Elgin include some 21 figures from the statuary from the east and west pediments, 15 (of an original 92) of the metope panels depicting battles between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, as well as 247 feet (or 75 m of an original 524 ft or 160 m) of the Parthenon Frieze which decorated the horizontal course set above the interior architrave of the temple. As such, they represent more than half of what now remains of the surviving sculptural decoration of the Parthenon. Elgin's acquisitions also included objects from other buildings on the Athenian Acropolis: a Caryatid from Erechtheum; four slabs from the parapet frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike; and a number of other architectural fragments of the Parthenon, Propylaia, Erechtheum, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the Treasury of Atreus.

Legality of the removal from Athens

As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required special permission to enter the site, including the Parthenon and the surrounding buildings. He allegedly obtained from the Sultan a firman to allow his artists access to the site. The original document is now lost; however, a translated Italian copy made at the time still survives.[23] Vassilis Demetriades, Professor of Turkish Studies at the University of Crete, has argued that "any expert in Ottoman diplomatic language can easily ascertain that the original of the document which has survived was not a firman".[24] The document was recorded in an appendix of an 1816 parliamentary committee report. 'The committee permission' had convened to examine a request by Elgin asking the British government to purchase the marbles. The report claimed that the document[25] in the appendix was an accurate translation in English of an Ottoman firman dated July 1801. In Elgin's view it amounted to an Ottoman authorization to remove the marbles. The committee was told that the original document was given to Ottoman officials in Athens in 1801, but researchers have so far failed to locate any traces of it despite the fact that the Ottoman archives still hold an outstanding number of similar documents dating from the same period.[26] Moreover, the parliamentary record shows that the Italian copy of the alleged firman was not presented to the committee by Elgin himself but by one of his associates, the clergyman Rev. Philip Hunt. Hunt, who at the time resided in Bedford, was the last witness to appear before the committee and claimed that he had in his possession an Italian translation of the Ottoman original. He went on to explain that he had not brought the document, because, upon leaving Bedford, he was not aware that he was to testify as a witness. The English document in the parliamentary report was filed by Hunt, but the committee was not presented with the Italian translation purportedly in his possession. William St. Clair, a contemporary biographer of Lord Elgin, claimed to possess Hunt's Italian document and "vouches for the accuracy of the English translation". In addition, the committee report states on page 69 "(Signed with a signet.) Seged Abdullah Kaimacan". But the document presented to the committee was "an English translation of this purported translation into Italian of the original firman",[27] and had neither signet nor signature on it, a fact corroborated by St. Clair.[28] The document allowed Elgin and his team to fix scaffolding so as to make drawings and moldings in chalk or gypsum, as well as to measure the remains of the ruined buildings and excavate the foundations which may have become covered in the [ghiaja (meaning gravel, debris)]; and "...that when they wish to take away [qualche (meaning 'some' or 'a few')] pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon, that no opposition be made thereto". The interpretation of these lines has been questioned even by non-restitutionalists,[29][30] particularly the word qualche, which in modern language should be translated as a few but can also mean any. According to non-restitutionalists, further evidence that the removal of the sculptures by Elgin was approved by the Ottoman authorities is shown by a second firman which was required for the shipping of the marbles from the Piraeus.[31]

Despite the controversial firman, many have questioned the legality of Elgin's actions. A study by Professor David Rudenstine of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law concluded that the premise that Elgin obtained legal title to the marbles, which he then transferred to the British government, "is certainly not established and may well be false".[32] Rudenstine's argumentation is partly based on a translation discrepancy he noticed between the surviving Italian document and the English text submitted by Hunt to the parliamentary committee. The text from the committee report reads "We therefore have written this Letter to you, and expedited it by Mr. Philip Hunt, an English Gentleman, Secretary of the aforesaid Ambassador" but according to the St. Clair Italian document the actual wording is "We therefore have written this letter to you and expedited it by N.N.". In Rudenstine's view, this substitution of "Mr. Philip Hunt" with the initials "N.N." can hardly be a simple mistake. He further argues that the document was presented after the committee's insistence that some form of Ottoman written authorization for the removal of the marbles be provided, a fact known to Hunt by the time he testified. Thus, according to Rudenstine, "Hunt put himself in a position in which he could simultaneously vouch for the authenticity of the document and explain why he alone had a copy of it fifteen years after he surrendered the original to Ottoman officials in Athens". On two earlier occasions, Elgin stated that the Ottomans gave him written permissions more than once, but that he had "retained none of them." Hunt testified on March 13, and one of the questions asked was "Did you ever see any of the written permissions which were granted to [Lord Elgin] for removing the Marbles from the Temple of Minerva?" to which Hunt answered "yes", adding that he possessed an Italian translation of the original firman. Nonetheless, he did not explain why he had retained the translation for 15 years, whereas Elgin, who had testified two weeks earlier, knew nothing about the existence of any such document.[28] English travel writer Edward Daniel Clarke, an eyewitness, records that the Disdar, the Ottoman official on the scene, attempted to stop the removal of the metopes but was bribed to allow it to continue.[33] In contrast, Professor John Merryman, Sweitzer Professor of Law and also Professor of Art at Stanford University, putting aside the discrepancy presented by Rudenstine, argues that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognizable. The Ottoman sultan was grateful to the British for repelling Napoleonic expansion, and the Parthenon marbles had no sentimental value to him.[21] Further, that written permission exists in the form of the firman, which is the most formal kind of permission available from that government, and that Elgin had further permission to export the marbles, legalizes his (and therefore the British Museum's) claim to the Marbles.[31] He does note, though, that the clause concerning the extent of Ottoman authorization to remove the marbles "is at best ambiguous", adding that the document "provides slender authority for the massive removals from the Parthenon ... The reference to 'taking away any pieces of stone' seems incidental, intended to apply to objects found while excavating. That was certainly the interpretation privately placed on the firman by several of the Elgin party, including Lady Elgin. Publicly, however, a different attitude was taken, and the work of dismantling the sculptures on the Parthenon and packing them for shipment to England began in earnest. In the process, Elgin's party damaged the structure, leaving the Parthenon not only denuded of its sculptures but further ruined by the process of removal. It is certainly arguable that Elgin exceeded the authority granted in the firman in both respects".[34]

The issue of firmans of this nature, along with universally required bribes, was not unusual at this time: In 1801 for example,

  • The Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
  • Acropolis of Athens – One monument, one heritage
  • British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles' site
  • Marbles Reunited: Friends of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
  • The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures
  • The International Organising Committee - Australia - For The Restitution Of The Parthenon Marbles
  • Elginism – Collection of news articles relating to the Elgin Marbles
  • A guide to the case for the restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
  • Eight Reasons: Why the Parthenon Sculptures must be returned to Greece
  • Gillen Wood, "The strange case of Lord Elgin's nose": the cultural context of the early 19th century debate over the marbles, the politics & the aesthetics, imperialism and hellenism
  • Information about arguments for the marbles to be returned to Greece
  • Marbles with an Attitude – a different approach to the cause of reuniting the Parthenon Marbles
  • An argument for keeping the marbles at the British Museum
  • Two memorandums submitted to the UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in 2000.
  • Should the Elgin Marbles be Returned to Athens? by Sean Gabb
  • Virtual Representation of The Parthenon Frieze

Pros and cons of restitution

  • Parthenon at DMOZ
  • Acropolis Museum
  • The Parthenon Frieze
  • The British Museum Parthenon pages
  • An interpretation of the meaning of the Marbles
  • Location of the parts of the Parthenon around the world
  • Greek pupils demand return of Elgin Marbles BBC

External links

  • Mary Beard, The Parthenon (Profile Books, 2004) ISBN 978-1-86197-301-6
  • Marc Fehlmann, "Casts and Connoisseurs. The Early Reception of the Elgin Marbles" (Apollo, June 2007, pp. 44–51)
  • Jeanette Greenfield 'The Return of Cultural Treasures'(Cambridge University Press 2007)
  • Christopher Hitchens, Imperial Spoils: The Curious Case of the Elgin Marbles (with essays by Robert Browning and Graham Binns) (Verso, March 1998)
  • Ian Jenkins, The Parthenon Frieze (British Museum Press, 2002)
  • Dorothy King, The Elgin Marbles (Hutchinson, January 2006)
  • François Queyrel, Le Parthénon, Un monument dans l'Histoire (Bartillat, 2008) ISBN 978-2-84100-435-5.
  • William St Clair, Lord Elgin and the Marbles (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Further reading

  1. ^ "'"How to pronounce 'Elgin. 
  2. ^ "What are the 'Elgin Marbles'?". britishmuseum.org. Retrieved 2009-05-12. 
  3. ^ "Elgin Marbles – Greek sculpture".  
  4. ^ Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Select Committee on the Earl of Elgin's Collection of Sculptured Marbles. (1816). Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Earl of Elgin's collection of sculptured marbles. London: Printed for J. Murray, by W. Bulmer and Co. 
  5. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica, Elgin Marbles, 2008, O.Ed.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Casey, Christopher (October 30, 2008). Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time": Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism""". Foundations. Volume III, Number 1. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  7. ^ a b c Encyclopædia Britannica, The Acropolis, p.6/20, 2008, O.Ed.
  8. ^ Linda Theodorou; Facaros, Dana (2003). Greece (Cadogan Country Guides). Cadogan Guides. p. 55.  
  9. ^ Dyson, Stephen L. (2004). Eugenie Sellers Strong: portrait of an archaeologist.  
  10. ^ Mark Ellingham, Tim Salmon, Marc Dubin, Natania Jansz, John Fisher, Greece: The Rough Guide,Rough Guides, 1992,ISBN 1-85828-020-6, p.39
  11. ^ Chester Charlton McCown, The Ladder of Progress in Palestine: A Story of Archaeological Adventure,Harper & Bros., 1943, p.2
  12. ^ Graham Huggan, Stephan Klasen, Perspectives on Endangerment, Georg Olms Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-487-13022-X, p.159
  13. ^ "Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Select Committee on the Earl of Elgin's Collection of Sculptured Marbles, Printed for J. Murray, by W. Bulmer and Co., 1816". Google ebook. 
  14. ^ "The Parthenon Sculptures: The position of the Trustees of the British Museum". British Museum. 
  15. ^ "The Background of the Removal". Greek Ministry of Culture. 
  16. ^ "Acropolis, Athens". UNESCO. 
  17. ^ "UNESCO Letter to British Government for the return of Parthenon’s Marbles". UNESCO. 
  18. ^ "UK has not written back to UNESCO Letter" (PDF). UNESCO. 
  19. ^ "Elgin Marbles: UK declines mediation over Parthenon sculptures". BBC News. Retrieved 9 April 2015. 
  20. ^ "Greek Culture Minister says Litigation over Marbles has not been ruled out". ekathimerini.com. Retrieved 15 May 2015. 
  21. ^ a b c d e f King, Dorothy (2004-07-21). "Elgin Marbles: fact or fiction?". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  22. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online"Elgin Marbles". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  23. ^ St Clair, William: Lord Elgin and the Marbles. Oxford University Press, USA, 3 edition (July 17, 1998)
  24. ^ Professor Vassilis Demetriades. "WAS THE REMOVAL OF THE MARBLES ILLEGAL?". newmentor.net. 
  25. ^ "firman". newmentor.net. 
  26. ^ David Rudenstein (29 May 2000). "Did Elgin Cheat at Marbles?". Nation 270 (21): 30. Yet no researcher has ever located this Ottoman document and when l was in Instanbul I searched in vain for it or any copy of it, or any reference to it in other sorts of documents or a description of its substantive terms in any related official papers. Although a document of some sort may have existed, it seems to have vanished into thin air, despite the fact the Ottoman archives contain an enormous number of similar documents from the period. 
  27. ^ Gibbon, Kate Fitz (2005). Who Owns the Past?: Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law. Rutgers University Press. p. 115. 
  28. ^ a b Rudenstine, David. "Did Elgin cheat the Marbles?".  
  29. ^ Merryman, John Henry (1985). "Thinking about the Elgin Marbles".  
  30. ^ English translation of the firman http://www.greece.org/parthenon/marbles/firman.htm
  31. ^ a b Merryman, John Henry (2006). "Whither the Elgin Marbles?". Imperialism, Art And Restitution. New York: Cambridge University Press. 
  32. ^ Rudenstine, David (1999). "The Legality of Elgin's Taking: A Review Essay of Four Books on the Parthenon Marbles". International Journal of Cultural Property 8 (1): 356–376. 
  33. ^ a b Edward Daniel Clarke (1818). Travels in various Countries of Europe, Asia and Africa Part the Second Greece Egypt and the Holy LandSection the Second Fourth Edition Volume the Sixth. London: T. Cadell. p. 223ff. 
  34. ^ James A. R. Nafziger; Robert Kirkwood Paterson; Alison Dundes Renteln (1 November 2010). Cultural Law: International, Comparative, and Indigenous. Cambridge University Press. p. 397.  
  35. ^ Brian Fagan (20 July 2006). From Stonehenge to Samarkand: An Anthology of Archaeological Travel Writing. Oxford University Press. p. 54.  
  36. ^ a b c d   
  37. ^ Nigel Spivey (31 January 2013). Greek Sculpture. Cambridge University Press. p. 92.  
  38. ^ a b c d e John Cuthbert Lawson (12 January 2012). Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion: A Study in Survivals. Cambridge University Press. pp. 79–80.  
  39. ^ Patrick Leigh Fermor (1984). Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. Penguin Books. p. 180.  
  40. ^ "Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822)". The Fitzwilliam Museum. 
  41. ^ Adolf Theodor F. Michaelis (1882). Ancient marbles in Great Britain, tr. by C.A.M. Fennell. p. 244. Clarke who in company with J. M. Cripps (also of Jesus College, Cambridge), was lucky enough (AD 1801) to get possession of this colossus in spite of the objections of the people of Eleusis, and to ship it with great trouble. 
  42. ^ James A.W. Heffernan (2004). Museum of Words. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 125.  
  43. ^ "The story of the Elgin Marbles". International Herald Tribune. 2004-07-14. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  44. ^ a b c d "Romancing the Stones". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  45. ^ William Wordsworth (1884). The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. W. Paterson. p. 22. 
  46. ^ "Stanford Archaeopedia". 
  47. ^ "The Parthenon". cambridge.org. 
  48. ^ "History". 
  49. ^ Hitchens Christopher, The Elgin Marbles: Should They Be Returned to Greece?, 1998,p.viii, ISBN 1-85984-220-8
  50. ^ "Greek Government's Memorandum" (PDF). Greek Ministry of Culture. 
  51. ^ Where Gods Yearn for Long-Lost Treasures, New York Times
  52. ^ "The Wreck of the Mentor on the Coast of the Island of Kythera and the Operation to Retrieve, Salvage, and Transport the Parthenon Sculptures to London (1802-1805)". Arts Books, Athens. 
  53. ^ a b "The Parthenon Sculptures". British Museum. 
  54. ^ Oddy, Andrew, Andrew Oddy The Conservation of Marble Sculptures in the British Museum before 1975, 47(3).
  55. ^ Andrew Oddy, "The Conservation of Marble Sculptures in the British Museum before 1975", in Studies in Conservation, vol. 47, no.3, (2002), p.145–146, Quote: However, for a short time in the late 1930s copper scrapers were used to remove areas of discoloration from the surface of the Elgin Marbles. New information is presented about this lamentable episode.
  56. ^ Andrew Oddy, "The Conservation of Marble Sculptures in the British Museum before 1975", in Studies in Conservation, vol. 47, no.3, (2002), p.146
  57. ^ Jenkins, I., '"Sir, they are scrubbing the Elgin Marbles!" – some controversial cleanings of the Parthenon Sculptures', Minerva 10(6) (1999) 43-45.
  58. ^ Andrew Oddy, "The Conservation of Marble Sculptures in the British Museum before 1975", in Studies in Conservation, vol. 47, no.3, (2002), p.148
  59. ^ Gardner, Ernest Arthur: A Handbook of Greek Sculpture. Published 1896 Macmillan; [3]
  60. ^ a b c Andrew Oddy, "The Conservation of Marble Sculptures in the British Museum before 1975", in Studies in Conservation, vol. 47, no.3, (2002), p. 149
  61. ^ a b "Museum admits 'scandal' of Elgin Marbles".  
  62. ^ Paterakis AB. [Untitled]. Studies in Conservation 46(1): 79-80, 2001 [4]
  63. ^ mistakes were made at that time, The Guardian.
  64. ^ a b Kennedy, Maev (1999-12-01). "Mutual attacks mar Elgin Marbles debate".  
  65. ^ a b J. M. Cook and John Boardman, "Archaeology in Greece, 1953", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 74, (1954), pp. 147
  66. ^ a b Hastings, Chris. Revealed: how rowdy schoolboys knocked a leg off one of the Elgin Marbles, The Daily Telegraph, May 15, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  67. ^ a b c "The Parthenon Marbles – Past And Future, Contemporary Review". Contemporary Review. 2001. 
  68. ^ National Documentation Centre – Ministry of Culture, see History of the Frieze
  69. ^ "Springer Proceedings in Physics".  
  70. ^ "Preserving And Protecting Monuments". Springer Berlin Heidelberg. 2007-08-14. Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2009-06-25. 
  71. ^ Meryle Secrest (1 November 2005). Duveen: A Life in Art. University of Chicago Press. p. 376.  
  72. ^ "The Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) Restoration to Athens, Greece – Elgin Marbles Dispute Takes New Twist". Parthenonuk.com. 2004-12-03. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  73. ^ "Outdoor transfer of artefacts from the old to the new acropolis museum". Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  74. ^ "News". New Acropolis Museum. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  75. ^ "The Parthenon at Athens". www.goddess-athena.org. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  76. ^ a b c Smith, Helena. Repair of Acropolis started in 1975 - now it needs 20 more years and £47m, The Guardian, June 10, 2005. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  77. ^ "Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Special Issues". 
  78. ^ a b Nicoletta Divari-Valakou, (Director of the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Athens), "Revisiting the Parthenon: National Heritage in the Age of Globalism" in Mille Gabriel & Jens Dahl, (eds.) Utimut : past heritage – future partnerships, discussions on repatriation in the 21st Century, Copenhagen : International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and Greenland National Museum & Archives, (2008)
  79. ^ "European Parliament Resolution for the return of the Elgin Marbles". Greek Ministry of Culture. 
  80. ^ "Debate of the Elgin Marbles" (PDF). University of Sydney. 
  81. ^ Brabant, Malcolm (2006-11-10). "Swede gives back Acropolis marble".  
  82. ^ a b "Greece reclaims Parthenon sculpture from Germany". CBC News. 2006-09-05. Archived from the original on May 27, 2007. 
  83. ^ "TA NEA On-line". Tanea.gr. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  84. ^ "Parthenon Fragments Won’t Go Back Home". Elginism. 2007-04-01. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  85. ^ Nicoletta Divari-Valakou, (Director of the Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Athens), "Revisiting the Parthenon: National Heritage in the Age of Globalism" in Mille Gabriel & Jens Dahl, (eds.) Utimut : past heritage – future partnerships, discussions on repatriation in the 21st Century, Copenhagen : International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and Greenland National Museum & Archives, (2008) passim; (see also Conference summary)
  86. ^ "Bernard Tschumi Architects". arcspace.com. 
  87. ^ a b c "Public and MPs would return the Elgin Marbles!". ipsos-mori.com. Archived from the original on 9 April 2014. 
  88. ^ Ruling tightens grip on Parthenon marbles, The Guardian, May 27, 2005. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  89. ^ Her Majesty's Attorney General v The Trustees of the British Museum, [2005] EWHC (Ch) 1089
  90. ^ "Article on the relevance of the Feldmann paintings judgment to the Elgin Marbles.". 
  91. ^ CBC Arts (2006-03-26). "British Museum returns aboriginal ashes to Tasmania". Cbc.ca. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  92. ^ "Bring Them Back". Retrieved 2010-04-17. 
  93. ^ "A Modest Proposal". Retrieved 2014-11-27. 
  94. ^ "Return Of The Parthenon Marbles". Ipsos MORI. Retrieved 18 June 2012. 
  95. ^ "Opinion poll: Majority of Britons favor return of Parthenon Marbles". Greekembassy.org. Retrieved 2009-01-20. 
  96. ^ "Sculpture from the Parthenon's East Pediment".  
  97. ^ "Figure of a river-god from the west pediment of the Parthenon". britishmuseum.org. Retrieved 2014-12-08. 
  98. ^ "Loan to the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg". britishmuseum.org. Retrieved 2014-12-08. 
  99. ^ "Greek Statue Travels Again, but Not to Greece". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-12-08. 


See also

The British Museum loaned the figure of a river-god, possibly the river Ilissos, to the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg to celebrate its 250th anniversary.[98] It was on display there from Saturday 6 December 2014 until Sunday 18 January 2015. This was the first time the British Museum had lent part of its Elgin Marbles collection and it caused considerable controversy.[99]

British Museum loan

  • Parthenon: 247 ft (75 m) of the original 524 ft (160 m) frieze
    • 15 of the 92 metopes
    • 17 pedimental figures, including a figure of a river-god, possibly the river Ilissos;[97]
    • various pieces of architecture
  • Erechtheion: a Caryatid, a column and other architectural members
  • Propylaia: Architectural members
  • Temple of Athena Nike: 4 slabs of the frieze and architectural members

The collection held in the British Museum includes the following material from the Acropolis:

The remainder of the surviving sculptures that are not in museums or storerooms in Athens are held in museums in various locations across Europe. The British Museum also holds additional fragments from the Parthenon sculptures acquired from various collections that have no connection with Lord Elgin.

External video
Sculpture from the Parthenon's East Pediment, Smarthistory[96]

Other displaced Parthenon art

Both MORI poll results have been characterised by proponents of the return of the Marbles to Greece as representing a groundswell of public opinion supporting return, since the proportion explicitly supporting return to Greece significantly exceeds the number who are explicitly in favour of keeping the Marbles at the British Museum.[87][95]

A more recent opinion poll in 2002 (again carried out by MORI) showed similar results, with 40% of the British public in favour of returning the marbles to Greece, 16% in favour of keeping them within Britain and the remainder either having no opinion or would not vote.[94] When asked how they would vote if a number of conditions were met (including, but not limited to, a long-term loan whereby the British maintained ownership and joint control over maintenance) the number responding in favour of return increased to 56% and those in favour of keeping them dropped to 7%.

  • 40% in favour of returning the marbles to Greece
  • 15% in favour of keeping them at the British Museum
  • 18% would not vote
  • 27% had no opinion

Ipsos MORI carried out a scientific poll asking "If there were a referendum on whether or not the Elgin Marbles should be returned to Greece, how would you vote?" returned these values from the British general adult population:[87]

Opinion polls

In BBC TV Series QI (S12E07XL), host Stephen Fry provided his support for the return of the Elgin Marbles while recounting the story of the Greeks giving lead shot to their Ottoman Empire enemies, as the Ottomans were running out of ammunition, in order to prevent damage to the Acropolis. Fry had previously written a blog post along much the same lines in December 2011 entitled "A Modest Proposal", signing off with "It's time we lost our marbles"[93]

An internet campaign site,[92] in part sponsored by Metaxa, aims to consolidate support for the return of the Elgin Marbles to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Hollywood actor George Clooney voiced his support on the return from the United Kingdom and reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, during his promotional campaign for his 2014 film The Monuments Men which retells the story of Allied efforts to save important masterpieces of art and other culturally important items before their destruction by Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. His remarks regarding the Marbles reignited the debate in the United Kingdom about their return to their home country. Public polls were also carried out by newspapers in response to Clooney's stance on this matter.

International organizations such as Matt Damon, as well as Human Rights activists, lawyers, and the people of the arts, voiced their strong support for the return of the Elgin Marbles back to Greece.

Popular support for restitution

Public perception of the issue

Another argument for keeping the Elgin Marbles within the UK has been made by J. H. Merryman, Sweitzer Professor of Law at Stanford University and co-operating professor in the Stanford Art Department. He has argued that if the Parthenon were actually being restored, there would be a moral argument for returning the Marbles to the temple whence they came, and thus restoring its integrity. The Guardian has written that many repatrionists imply that the marbles would be displayed in their original position on the Parthenon.[21] However, the Greek plan is to transfer them from a museum in London to one in Athens. The sculptures which Elgin did not remove have been taken down and put into the New Acropolis Museum. "Is it more spiritually satisfying to see the Marbles in an Athenian museum gallery than one in London?"[67]

The last was tested in the English High Court in May 2005 in relation to Nazi-looted Old Master artworks held at the British Museum which its Trustees wished to return to the family of the original owner; the Court found that due to the British Museum Act 1963 these works could not be returned without further legislation. The judge, Mr Justice Morritt, found that the Act, which protects the collections for posterity, could not be overridden by a "moral obligation" to return works, even if known to have been plundered.[88][89] It has been argued, however, that the case was not directly relevant to the Elgin Marbles, as it was about a transfer of ownership, and not the loan of artefacts for public exhibition overseas, which is provided for in the 1963 Act.[90] In 2005 a new Act concerning the repatriation of ancestral remains allowed for the return of Aboriginal human remains to Tasmania after a twenty-year battle with Australia.[91]

  • the assertion that fulfilling all restitution claims would empty most of the world's great museums – this has also caused concerns among other European and American museums, with one potential target being the famous bust of Nefertiti in Berlin's Neues Museum; in addition, portions of Parthenon marbles are kept by many other European museums, so the Greeks would then establish a precedent to claim these other artworks;[21]
  • agreement that Greece could mount no court case, because Elgin was granted permission by what was then Greece's ruling government and a legal principle of limitation would apply, i.e. the ability to pursue claims expires after a period of time prescribed by law;[44]

A range of different arguments has been presented by scholars,[44] political leaders and British Museum spokespersons over the years in defence of retention of the Elgin Marbles within the British Museum. The main points include:

Rationale for retaining in London

  • The main stated aim of the Greek campaign is to reunite the Parthenon sculptures around the world in order to restore "organic elements" which "at present remain without cohesion, homogeneity and historicity of the monument to which they belong" and allow visitors to better appreciate them as a whole;[77][78][79]
  • Presenting all the extant Parthenon Marbles in their original historical and cultural environment would permit their "fuller understanding and interpretation";[78][80]
  • Precedents have been set with the return of fragments of the monument by Sweden,[81] the University of Heidelberg, Germany,[82] the Getty Museum in Los Angeles[82] and the Vatican;[83]
  • That the marbles may have been obtained illegally and hence should be returned to their rightful owner;[84]
  • Returning the Parthenon sculptures (it should be noted that Greece is requesting only the return of sculptures from this particular building) would not set a precedent for other restitution claims because of the distinctively "universal value" of the Parthenon;[85]
  • Safekeeping of the marbles would be ensured at the New Acropolis Museum, situated to the south of the Acropolis hill. It was built to hold the Parthenon sculpture in natural sunlight that characterises the Athenian climate, arranged in the same way as they would have been on the Parthenon. The museum's facilities have been equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the protection and preservation of exhibits;[86]
  • Casts of the marbles would be just as able to demonstrate the cultural influences which Greek sculptures have had upon European art as would the original marbles, whereas the context with which the marbles belong cannot be replicated within the British museum.
  • The British public are in favour of returning the marbles to Greece, according to opinion polls.[87]

Defenders of the request for the Marbles' return claim that the marbles should be returned to Athens on moral and artistic grounds. The arguments include:

Rationale for returning to Athens

Relocation debate

Since 1975, Greece has been restoring the Acropolis. This restoration has included replacing the thousands of rusting iron clamps and supports that had previously been used, with non-corrosive titanium rods;[76] removing surviving artwork from the building into storage and subsequently into a new museum built specifically for the display of the Parthenon art; and replacing the artwork with high-quality replicas. This process has come under fire from some groups as some buildings have been completely dismantled, including the dismantling of the Temple of Athena Nike and for the unsightly nature of the site due to the necessary cranes and scaffolding.[76] But the hope is to restore the site to some of its former glory, which may take another 20 years and 70 million euros, though the prospect of the Acropolis being "able to withstand the most extreme weather conditions – earthquakes" is "little consolation to the tourists visiting the Acropolis" according to The Guardian.[76] Directors of the British Museum have not ruled out temporarily loaning the marbles to the new museum, but state that it would be under the condition of Greece acknowledging British ownership.[44]

Until cleaning of the remaining marbles was completed in 2005,[69] black crusts and coatings were present on the marble surface.[70] The laser technique applied on the 14 slabs that Elgin did not remove revealed a surprising array of original details, such as the original chisel marks and the veins on the horses' bellies. Similar features in the British Museum collection have been scraped and scrubbed with chisels to make the marbles look white.[71][72] Between January 20 and the end of March 2008, 4200 items (sculptures, inscriptions small terracotta objects), including some 80 artefacts dismantled from the monuments in recent years, were removed from the old museum on the Acropolis to the new Parthenon Museum.[73][74] Natural disasters have also affected the Parthenon. In 1981, an earthquake caused damage to the east façade.[75]

Air pollution and acid rain have caused damage to marble and stonework at the Parthenon.[67] The last remaining slabs from the western section of the Parthenon frieze were removed from the monument in 1993 for fear of further damage.[68] They have now been transported to the New Acropolis Museum.[67]


Section of a frieze from the Elgin Marbles

According to documents released by the British Museum under the Freedom of Information Act, a series of minor accidents, thefts and acts of vandalism by visitors have inflicted further damage to the sculptures.[66] This includes an incident in 1961 when two schoolboys knocked off a part of a centaur's leg. In June 1981, a west pediment figure was slightly chipped by a falling glass skylight, and in 1966 four shallow lines were scratched on the back of one of the figures by vandals. During a similar mishap in 1970, letters were scratched on to the upper right thigh of another figure. Four years later, the dowel hole in a centaur's hoof was damaged by thieves trying to extract pieces of lead.[66]

Dorothy King, in a newspaper article, claimed that techniques similar to the ones used in 1937–1938 were applied by Greeks as well in more recent decades than the British, and maintained that Italians still find them acceptable.[21] Attention has been drawn by the British Museum to a purportedly similar cleaning of the temple of Hephaistos in the Athenian Agora carried out by the conservation team of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens[65] with steel chisels and brass wire in 1953.[53] According to the Greek ministry of Culture, the cleaning was carefully limited to surface salt crusts.[64] The 1953 American report concluded that the techniques applied were aimed at removing the black deposit formed by rain-water and "brought out the high technical quality of the carving" revealing at the same time "a few surviving particles of colour".[65]

The British Museum has responded to these allegations with the statement that "mistakes were made at that time."[63] On another occasion it was said that "the damage had been exaggerated for political reasons" and that "the Greeks were guilty of excessive cleaning of the marbles before they were brought to Britain."[61] During the international symposium on the cleaning of the marbles, organised by the British Museum, Dr Ian Jenkins, deputy keeper of Greek and Roman antiquities, remarked that "The British Museum is not infallible, it is not the Pope. Its history has been a series of good intentions marred by the occasional cock-up, and the 1930s cleaning was such a cock-up". Nonetheless, he pointed out that the prime cause for the damage inflicted upon the marbles was the 2000-year-long weathering on the Acropolis[64]

Yet another effort to clean the marbles occurred in 1937–38. This time the incentive was provided by the construction of a new Gallery to house the collection. The Pentelic marble, from which the sculptures are made, naturally acquires a tan colour similar to honey when exposed to air; this colouring is often known as the marble's "patina"[59] but Lord Duveen, who financed the whole undertaking, acting under the misconception that the marbles were originally white[60] probably arranged for the team of masons working in the project to remove discoloration from some of the sculptures. The tools used were seven scrapers, one chisel and a piece of carborundum stone. They are now deposited in the British Museum's Department of Preservation.[60][61] The cleaning process scraped away some of the detailed tone of many carvings.[62] According to Harold Plenderleith, the surface removed in some places may have been as much as one-tenth of an inch (2.5 mm).[60]

I think it my duty to say that some of the works are much damaged by ignorant or careless moulding – with oil and lard – and by restorations in wax, and wax and resin. These mistakes have caused discolouration. I shall endeavour to remedy this without, however, having recourse to any composition that can injure the surface of the marble.

A further effort to clean the marbles ensued in 1858. Richard Westmacott, who was appointed superintendent of the "moving and cleaning the sculptures" in 1857, in a letter approved by the British Museum Standing Committee on 13 March 1858 concluded[58]

The marbles generally were very dirty ... from a deposit of dust and soot. ... I found the body of the marble beneath the surface white. ... The application of water, applied by a sponge or soft cloth, removed the coarsest dirt. ... The use of fine, gritty powder, with the water and rubbing, though it more quickly removed the upper dirt, left much imbedded in the cellular surface of the marble. I then applied alkalis, both carbonated and caustic; these quickened the loosening of the surface dirt ... but they fell far short of restoring the marble surface to its proper hue and state of cleanliness. I finally used dilute nitric acid, and even this failed. ... The examination has made me despair of the possibility of presenting the marbles in the British Museum in that state of purity and whiteness which they originally possessed.

As early as 1838, scientist Michael Faraday was asked to provide a solution to the problem of the deteriorating surface of the marbles. The outcome is described in the following excerpt from the letter he sent to Henry Milman, a commissioner for the National Gallery.[56][57]

The artefacts held in London suffered from 19th-century pollution which persisted until the mid-20th century and have suffered irreparable damage by previous cleaning methods employed by British Museum staff. [55]

Tools used for the cleaning of the Elgin marbles.[54]

British Museum

To facilitate transport by Elgin, the column capital of the Parthenon and many metopes and slabs were either hacked off the main structure or sawn and sliced into smaller sections causing irreparable damage to the Parthenon itself to which these Marbles were connected.[50][51] One shipload of marbles on board the British brig Mentor [52] was caught in a storm off Cape Matapan and sank near Kythera, but was salvaged at the Earl's personal expense;[53] it took two years to bring them to the surface.

Elgin consulted with sculptor Antonio Canova in 1803 about how best to restore the marbles. Canova was considered by some to be the world's best sculptural restorer of the time; Elgin wrote that Canova declined to work on the marbles for fear of damaging them further.[6]


The Acropolis was besieged twice during the Greek War of Independence, once by the Greeks and once by the Ottoman forces. During the first siege the Greeks chose to offer the besieged Ottoman forces, who were attempting to melt the lead in the columns to cast bullets, bullets of their own if they would leave the Parthenon undamaged.[49]

The Erechtheum was used as a munitions store by the Ottomans during the Greek War of Independence[48] (1821–1833) which ended the 350-year Ottoman rule of Athens.

War of Independence

An example of prior damage is that sustained during wars. It is during these periods that the Parthenon and its artwork have sustained by far the most extensive damage. In particular, an explosion ignited by Venetian gun and cannon fire bombardment in 1687, whilst the Parthenon was used as a munitions store during the Ottoman rule, destroyed or damaged many pieces of Parthenon art including some of those later taken by Lord Elgin.[46] In particular this explosion sent the marble roof, most of the cella walls, 14 columns from the north and south peristyles and carved metopes and frieze blocks flying and crashing to the ground and thus destroyed much of the artwork. Further damage was made to the art of the Parthenon by the Venetian general Francesco Morosini when he subsequently looted the site of its larger sculptures. His tackle was faulty and snapped, dropping an over life-sized Poseidon and the horses of Athena's chariot from the west pediment to the rock of the Acropolis 40 feet (12 m) below.[47]

East Pediment



A public debate in Parliament followed Elgin's publication, and Elgin's actions were again exonerated. Parliament purchased the marbles for the nation in 1816 by a vote of 82-30 for £35,000.[7] They were deposited in the British Museum, where they were displayed in the Elgin Saloon (constructed in 1832), until the Duveen Gallery was completed in 1939. Crowds packed the British Museum to view the sculptures, setting attendance records for the museum.[6] William Wordsworth viewed the marbles at the museum and commented favourably on their aesthetics.[45]

A parliamentary committee investigating the situation concluded that the monuments were best given "asylum" under a "free government" such as the British one.[6] In 1810, Elgin published a defence of his actions which silenced most of his detractors,[5] although the subject remained controversial. John Keats was one of those who saw them privately exhibited in London, hence his two sonnets about the marbles. Notable supporters of Elgin included the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon.[6]

And English travel writer Edward Daniel Clarke, who witnessed the removal of the metopes, called the action a "spoliation" and lamented that "thus the form of the temple has sustained a greater injury than it had already experienced from the Venetian artillery," recording also that "neither was there a workman employed in the undertaking ... who did not express his concern that such havoc should be deemed necessary, after moulds and casts had been already made of all the sculpture which it was designed to remove."[33]

"The Honourable Lord has taken advantage of the most unjustifiable means and has committed the most flagrant pillages. It was, it seems, fatal that a representative of our country loot those objects that the Turks and other barbarians had considered sacred," said Sir John Newport.[44]

Byron was not the only one to protest against the removal at the time:

Dull is the eye that will not weep to see
Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed
By British hands, which it had best behoved
To guard those relics ne'er to be restored.
Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,
And once again thy hapless bosom gored,
And snatch'd thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

Lord Byron did not care for the sculptures, calling them "misshapen monuments".[42] He strongly objected to their removal from Greece, denouncing Elgin as a vandal.[7] His point of view about the removal of the Marbles from Athens is also reflected in his poem "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage":[43]

When the marbles were shipped to England, they were "an instant success among many"[6] who admired the sculptures and supported their arrival, but both the sculptures and Elgin also received criticism from detractors. Lord Elgin began negotiations for the sale of the collection to the British Museum in 1811, but negotiations failed despite the support of British artists[6] after the government showed little interest. Many Britons opposed the statues because they were in bad condition and therefore did not display the "ideal beauty" found in other sculpture collections.[6] The following years marked an increased interest in classical Greece, and in June 1816, after parliamentary hearings, the House of Commons offered £35,000 in exchange for the sculptures. Even at the time the acquisition inspired much debate, although it was supported by "many persuasive calls" for the purchase.[6]

A portrait depicting the Elgin Marbles in a temporary Elgin Room at the British Museum surrounded by English staff, a trustee and visitors, 1819

Contemporary reaction

[36] where it formed one of the two main collections of the institution.Fitzwilliam Museum, amongst others. Clarke donated these to the University of Cambridge and subsequently in 1803 the statue of Demeter was displayed at the library. The collection was later moved to the stelæ Clarke also removed other marbles from Greece such as a statue of Pan, a figure of Eros, a comic mask, various reliefs and funerary [41][40][38][36] and believed that the goddess was able to bring fertility to their fields and that the removal of the statue would cause that benefit to disappear.[38] The people would adorn the statue with garlands,[38] Saint Demetra. (Αγία Δήμητρα),uncanonised Church, worshiped the statue as the iconoclastic of the local population who unofficially, and against the traditions of the [39][38] despite the objections and a riot,[36] of Athens and obtaining a firman,waiwode after bribing the [38] but Clarke had been the one to remove the statue by force,[37][36]