How would we feel if part of one of our monuments was removed abroad for safe keeping?

The British arguments against returning the Marbles are:

  1. They were bought legitimately from the Turks on the basis of a legal document -- the Sultan's firman .

  2. The object in taking them was to save them from total destruction.

  3. The Greeks were indifferent to the fate of their ancient treasures at the time.

  4. Air pollution levels in Athens would quickly damage the Marbles.

  5. If the Parthenon Marbles are returned then the museums of Europe will be emptied as other countries demand the return of their treasures.

Let us answer these points one by one.

Frieze detail

They were bought legitimately.
This argument is invalid because any purchase from the conqueror in a conquered land is like buying stolen articles from a thief or robber. Anyway, there is no evidence that the Marbles were purchased legitimately. The various local Turkish officials were bribed by the British with luxurious presents. The validity of the firman is questioned in a major article on this website by Professor Vassilis Demetriades of the university of Crete entitled "Was the removal of the Marbles illegal?"

They were taken to save them from destruction.
Elgin did terrible damage to the Parthenon and the Erechtheum when he removed their sculptures, For example, in order to remove the Metopes, which had been slotted into place, he had to destroy the stonework above each one. in his effort to take as much as he could, he also sawed some of the sculptures in half to reduce their weight and make transporting them easier. Whether the Parthenon and the Parthenon Marbles would have suffered more damage if left in place is not a question that can be answered by either side in the argument and is in any case irrelevant to the current Greek demand for the Parthenon Marbles to be returned to Greece on a permanent loan.

The Greeks were indifferent.
There is little doubt that any Greek protests would have been quickly and brutally suppressed by the Turks. When the French consul in Athens protested at the removal of the Marbles he was imprisoned by the Turks.

Of course there were indications that the Greeks grieved for their looted treasures, including the myth that the Caryatids could be heard wailing at night for their missing sister, and the claims by porters carrying the statues who thought they could hear cries coming from the figures in the crates.

Edward Dodwell, writing in 1812, also mentions in his book that at the time of his travels in Greece the Athenians were lamenting the ruining of their antiquities and reviling the Turks for giving permission to foreigners to remove them.

statue Also in 1812, a group of distinguished Athenians, two of whom were members of the secret Philike Etairia (Friendly Society), founded the Philomusical Society (Society of the Friends of Music), whose members included Lord Guildford. One of the Society's aims was the protection of ancient monuments.

Finally Lusieri himself admitted to Elgin in a letter that "If I cannot remove the entire Pandrossium (the colonnade of the Caryatids) I do not despair about one of the Caryatids. But the Greeks are devoted to it." (i.e. the Pandrossium).

Air pollution would destroy the Marbles
This argument is completely unacceptable because the Marbles suffered far more damage from their lengthy stay in the heavily polluted atmosphere of London than they would have done if they had stayed in Athens where pollution is only a very recent phenomenon. For most of their time in the British Museum the Parthenon Marbles were not protected from the London atmosphere.

Lord Elgin admitted to the House of Commons that London's dampness had caused decay to the sensitive Pentelic marble. This was in 1816.

But the fact remains that when an ancient work of art is removed from its original setting it loses most of its value and becomes merely an item of archaeological interest.

The British Museum, to this day, tries to present Elgin as a lover of antiquity who dedicated himself to rescuing Pheidias' sculptures from ultimate destruction. But the facts of the case present a very different picture. With the Sultan's firman in his hand, Elgin seemed to think he had been given the right to take away anything he could lay his hands on. His actions didn't pass unnoticed. A lot of Members of Parliament protested against Elgin's action in the House of Commons but over the course of time his actions were forgotten.

There were also a lot of English writers, among them Lord Byron, who wrote that Elgin was a marble stealer and robber and his only interest was fame and glory from showing the Marbles.

The Museums of Europe will be emptied
It is claimed that the museums of Europe will be emptied if the Parthenon Marbles are returned to Greece. This is clearly not true. First of all the Greek government has declared that it has no claim on any of the thousands of other artefacts from Ancient Greece held in museums abroad. The British Museum claims that Greek politicians continue to demand the return of pieces like the Venus de Milo and the Nike of Samothrace. But they are not telling the whole truth. The politicians making these demands are local politicians who believe that if these pieces are returned to the islands where they were found it will boost tourism to their islands. The Greek government does not support these demands.

The Egyptian government has also announced that it has no claim on anything from Ancient Egypt in the British Museum. It is clear that this argument is being used as an excuse to avoid the issue that the Parthenon Marbles were an integral part of the Parthenon and should be displayed together with the other Parthenon Marbles currently in Athens.The New Acropolis Museum has been open since 2009. It displays the whole of the Parthenon Frieze, using plaster casts of those parts still held in London, in a glass gallery bathed in natural light and with the Parthenon itself visible 280 metres away. Now is the time for the plaster casts to be replaced by the sculptures from the British Museum.

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