Boris braces for Greek PM to demand return of the Elgin Marbles

Boris braces for Greek PM to demand return of the Elgin Marbles

November 15, 2021

Don’t Troy it on! Boris braces for Greek PM to demand return of the Elgin Marbles during talks at No10 tomorrow

  • Greek PM is due to meet Boris Johnson for talks at Downing Street tomorrow
  • Kyriakos Mitsotakis has pledged to raise the issue of Elgin Marbles at meeting
  • The UK insists that the marbles were legally obtained more than 200 years ago 

The Greek PM is preparing to renew the row over the Elgin Marbles in talks with Boris Johnson tomorrow.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis has pledged to raise the future of the famous statues, currently at the British Museum, when he meets Mr Johnson in Downing Street.  

However, Mr Mitsotakis is unlikely to be delighted by his host’s response, with the UK adamant that the marbles were legally obtained after being removed from the Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens more than 200 years ago.


Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) has pledged to raise the future of the famous statues, currently at the British Museum, when he meets Boris Johnson (right) in Downing Street

The marbles, 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument were taken by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.

The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon. 

As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.

His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.

The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.

They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.

The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.

However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.

A Greek government spokesman the issue would be raised by Mr Mitsotakis tomorrow.

The marbles, 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Acropolis monument were taken by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the early 19th century.

Britain maintains that Elgin acquired the sculptures legally when Greece was ruled by the Ottomans.

The Greek spokesman said: ‘The obligation to return the Parthenon sculptures is entirely up to the government of the United Kingdom,’ Mr Oikonomou said.

He added that the Greek request for government-to-government talks on the issue was backed by the United Nations’ cultural agency, Unesco.

Greece has said the new Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 would be used to display the sculptures if they were returned.

Mr Johnson earlier this year ruled out returning the marbles to Greece, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea: ‘I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

‘But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition.’

The Elgin Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural members that were mostly created by Phidias and his assistants.

The 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, removed the Parthenon Marble pieces from the Acropolis in Athens while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803.

In 1801, the Earl claimed to have obtained a permit from the Ottoman authorities to remove pieces from the Parthenon. 

As the Acropolis was still an Ottoman military fort, Elgin required permission to enter the site.

His agents subsequently removed half of the surviving sculptures, as well as architectural members and sculpture from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

The excavation and removal was completed in 1812 at a personal cost of around £70,000.

The sculptures were shipped to Britain, but in Greece, the Scots aristocrat was accused of looting and vandalism.

They were bought by the British Government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum. They still stand on view in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

Greece has sought their return from the British Museum through the years, to no avail.

The authenticity of Elgin’s permit to remove the sculptures from the Parthenon has been widely disputed, especially as the original document has been lost. Many claim it was not legal.

However, others argue that since the Ottomans had controlled Athens since 1460, their claims to the artefacts were legal and recognisable.

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