British Museum: No Return of Parthenon Marbles

Disputing an announcement it was ready to discuss return of some of the marble pieces and friezes stolen from the Parthenon 200 years ago by a British diplomat, officials of the British Museum said they would consider loaning them but that Greece can forget about their return.

New Acropolis Museum Director Demetrios Pantermalis said on Aug. 23 that at a UNESCO meeting in June he had suggested the return of small fragments from the famous Parthenon Marbles to Greece, and that talks would be held in Athens in the coming weeks.

“I proposed an arrangement to colleagues from the British Museum, involving pieces – hands, heads, legs – that belong to bodies from the Parthenon sculptures and can be reattached,” Pantermalis told SKAI Radio. “The proposal has been accepted in principle, we will have a discussion in the autumn,” he said.

British Museum officials denied it, saying they had agreed only to “explore” a research partnership on the detached fragments of the Parthenon sculptures in Athens, London and elsewhere. Parts of the Marbles are also located in Copenhagen, Munich, Paris, the Vatican and Vienna. “The trustees of the British Museum will consider – subject to the usual considerations of condition and fitness to travel — any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed and then returned,” it said.

Greece has long campaigned for the return of the priceless friezes, removed in 1806 by Lord Elgin when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and he later sold them to the British Museum. The British Museum has rejected successive Greek calls for their return, arguing that the sculptures are part of world heritage and are more accessible to visitors in London, although the pieces, known as the Elgin Marbles around the world but as the Parthenon Marbles in Greece, are a lucrative exhibit for the British Museum.

Inaugurated in June 2009, the new Acropolis Museum includes a section reserved for the disputed collection. When he revealed the hope of discussions, Pantermalis said the Marbles issue remained “taboo” and that the new proposal involving smaller pieces could be a way to “unravel the thread.”

Pantermalis described the return of at least some parts of the marbles as the key which could lead to the return of others. British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton in 2009 said that the museum would consider loaning the Marbles to Greece for three months on condition that Athens recognize the museum’s ownership rights to the sculptures.

(Sources: AFP;



  1. Let’s say a Greek had stolen a sword that belonged to Henry the VIII – the Brits would have gone bananas trying to get it back.  Although they have signed the agreement for repatriation of all art that has been stolen or confiscated… ie. by the Nazis, or Napoleon or…even the Italians during second world war – when it comes to the stolen Greek marbles stolen by the high-priest of all art thieves Elgin – the British do not want to know – once they said they do not return the marbles because we did not have a proper museum and the marbles will deteriorate – now that we have a museum which is 30 “light years” ahead of any British museum – they give us the run around again.  Bloody English pirates the lot of them if you ask me.

  2. Aside from the prestige the marbles bring to the museum, they also fear if they allow Greece to take back artifacts what’s to stop every other country from doing so? Every museum in the world would soon only be limited to only local artifacts. Its not an entirely invalid argument.

    That said, Greece isn’t asking for every artifact back. Its just the marbles. Whether legal or not chipping off the marbles from the Parthenon was a crime whether Elgan payed the occupying Turks for them or not.  It’s one thing to sell off some unattached statue or artifact quite another to intentionally damage a priceless artifact like the Parthenon.

    Now that the damage is done though the only argument that will ever get Greece back those stolen marbles is if there is a plan in place to reattach the marbles to the Parthenon (as opposed to just storing them in another museum next to it). To do that some sort of  enclosure would have to be built around the Acropolis to protect it from further decay. 

    Reconnecting the marbles to the Parthenon would be a  difficult argument to defeat. The museum currently housing them would any moral support from archaeologists and look very petty.  

  3. British were historically Philhellenic. Today many unfortunately seem to be decidedly anti-Hellenic. (including bizarrely calling the Slavs “ethnic Macedonians” and dishonestly pretending they don’t notice their sudden change into “descendents of ancient Macedonians” )


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