The Parthenon Marbles: A bit of background

Removal of Sculptures from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin’s Men, after 1801, Edward Dodwell and/or Simone Pomardi; watercolor.

Removal of Sculptures from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin’s Men, after 1801, Edward Dodwell and/or Simone Pomardi; watercolor. The Packard Humanities Institute.

The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures made under the supervision of the architect and sculptor Phidias and his assistants. They were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.

In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin and British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (commonly referred to as Elgin), took sculptures from the Acropolis of Athens by obscure means and shipped them to Britain. The sculptures, also known as the «Elgin Marbles» (but correctly referred to as the Acropolis or Parthenon Sculptures, as far as the subset that was removed from the Parthenon is concerned) included a number of artistic and architectural pieces, all of which are part of the surviving ancient buildings on the Acropolis in Athens.

The Greek State has repeatedly requested from the British government and British Museum to return the sculptures to Athens to restore the physical, archaeological and conceptual integrity of the sculptural set as a single masterpiece. However, Britain refuses to return them, arguing that they were taken by Elgin with permission from the Ottoman authorities.

While the argument of ownership diminishes itself in comparison to the scientific and ethical reasons behind the request for the reunification, strikingly, the original Ottoman permit invoked in the British argumentation is missing.

Since the late 20th century, when Melina Mercouri brought publicity to the long-standing claim for the return of the sculptures to Athens, this dispute has remained pending. This issue continues to affect the cultural bond between London and Athens, creating the exact opposite effect than the message of unity that the sculptures themselves were designed to convey.


Today the Acropolis Museum displays a proportion of the complete frieze, aligned in orientation and within sight of the Parthenon, with the position of the missing elements clearly marked and space left should they be returned to Athens.

Some interesting links for more information:

Petition for the return of the Acropolis Sculptures to Athens

Send Them Back: The Parthenon Marbles Should Be Returned to Athens We should return the Marbles as a gesture of solidarity with Greece in its financial distress, argues Stephen Fry.

Fresh Refutations to Old Objections

18 members of the U.S. Congress urge Britain to return the Parthenon sculptures to Greece

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