But why are the Elgin Marbles different?

This is the bit I’ve never really understood:

As if Brexit tensions were not bad enough, Brussels has opened a new row with the UK by backing Greece’s long standing claim over the Elgin marbles.

When the UK and Greece were both European Union members, the bloc tried to remain above the fray and adopted a position of studious neutrality in the dispute.

However, a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Elgin marbles were not being returned to Greece the Greek EU commissioner announced it backed Greece’s claim.

Margaritis Schinas, European Commission’s vice president for Promoting the European Way of Life, said: “The marbles belong in the Parthenon. In these difficult times, universal cultural heritage should uplift humanity, not divide it.”

Sure, there’s joy to unpack there. The Greek commissioner would say that, the club will rally around the member, not the outsider. But why is it that the marbles do belong to Greece?

For a start, Greece didn’t in fact exist at the time. There never actually had been an entity, a political unit, called Greece either. So quite why what is now called that should own something removed before its existence is unknown. You know, the Spain and Ceuta argument, we can have it because we’ve have since before Morocco existed?

But very much more importantly, peeps have been stealing art from other people all the time. Should those lions in Venice go back to Istanbul? There’s likely to be some statue or three in Rome that turned up from Greek settled areas a couple of thousand years back. The Louvre is going to look pretty naked without what Napoleon brought back from Italy.

Even if we agree that it was looting, illegal looting at that, what makes the marbles different? What construction insists that the marbles go to Athens but Schliemann’s Gold stays in Moscow, instead of returning to Berlin where it was looted from? Or, even, of course, Troy?

25 thoughts on “But why are the Elgin Marbles different?”

  1. Also, of course, the Elgin marbles were not stolen, they were legally purchased at great expense ($20k if memory serves) from the then legally recognised owners, the Ottoman Empire and the local government of Athens at the time.

  2. I have to agree with Squawkbox. The Elgin marbles were purchased from the government of the day. I understand the locals were using them to produce cement.

    Since I remember seeing the patches on the old buildings around Athens where the locals had dug out the lead used to hold the iron clamps that held them together, I can believe that poverty could also have driven them to burn up the marbles.

  3. Strong argument that Lord Elgin did us all an immense favour by saving parts of the Parthenon from further damage by kegally buying them.
    They would have been wrecked beyond salvage by either the Turks continuing to use the Parthenon as an armoury or wrecked during the fighting in WW2 or wrecked when removed to Berlin by the Nazis to be further destroyed during Soviet bombardment.
    Either way we should put up a statue to him for saving them for posterity.

  4. I’ve seen the Greek horses in Venice but lions? The lion relates to St Mark whose corpse lies in the crypt of … St Mark’s. Said corpse was nicked from Alexandria. And isn’t there a church near Milan that claims to have the remains of the 3 wise men? Is the EU proposing to return them to Iran?

  5. Maybe we could offer to sell them back? $20K brought up to today’s value, plus interest, plus of course something like 50% of that for each year they’ve been in “storage”…

    Cash on the nail, in US Dollars… No “tick” or Euros thank you very much.

  6. Just a minute – I’m fairly sure that slaves were involved in manufacturing those Venetian horses. Someone had to mine the copper after all, and that Aesop wouldn’t have soiled his hands with manual labour. They should be crushed or thrown into the lagoon or repatriated to Africa (where all the slavery happened, or was that the West Indies) or erected on George Floyd’s grave or …

  7. If the Greeks thanked Elgin for preserving them , and offered some recognition for having done so, I might suggest we take a 3d image of them to display and send them back. However they have chosen a different path.

  8. Wasn’t one of the reasons that they got bought by Elgin was because the Royal Navy was using the Acropolis for target practice? Several of the friezes have had bits blown off of them? Shows how much the locals cared about the building.

  9. Weren’t the Turks using the Acropolis to store gunpowder and it kept on going off ?

    I thought this all went away when Melina Mercouri pegged it. Has anyone asked the opinion of that other great Anglo Greek, the bird with all the hair from Star Trek – Marina Stingray ?

  10. Come to think of it, it would be a much better idea to deconstruct the rest of the Acropolis and move it to the British museum where it would be safer and more appreciated. Let us stop pretending that the weird hairy goatish creatures occupying Greece after 2 millenia of invasions have anything whatever to do with Leonidas, Pericles and Socrates.

  11. I think I remember that DNA suggests that yer modern Greek is indeed largely descended from yer Classical Greek.

    I do clearly remember that yer Modern Lebanese is predominantly descended from yer Bronze Age Lebanese, which is rather surprising, perhaps. So it’s pretty likely that the Modern Palestinians are mainly descended from the Jews of Judea and Galilee in Jesus’s time. Not that I expect a brave soul to come along and test that conjecture.

  12. @dearieme
    I suspect that applies most places. And makes the “heads on coins” version of history beloved by historians largely bollocks.
    The folk living in any place are the one’s with the agricultural toolkit for getting the best out of it. The “heads on coins” people tend to be a bunch of oafs on horses with the intellect to wave a big sword about & dominate the first. Mostly they get subsumed into the residents in a few generations & cease to exist. However the residents now call themselves them.

  13. Bis – “The folk living in any place are the one’s with the agricultural toolkit for getting the best out of it”. Yeah but as an addendum if someone brings a new tool kit its different. e..g I read in spain the indo european horse people came at some point in pre-history and they’ve now worked out everyone’s descended from horse people and non horse people females.

  14. I had always thought that the Greeks-of-the-islands were genetic matches to Ancient Greeks, but the mainland Hellenes were Balkanese Slavs, results of years of invasions and Ottoman rule.

  15. Sounds likely, HB.
    But a bunch of camel jockey, goat fucking sand niggers didn’t come out of Arabia in the C9th & populate Iberia*. Then magically disappear in the 15th. The majestic classical civilisation of Islam was just a continuation of the eastern & southern part of the Roman Empire under different names & a different religion.

    *You can see how likely that is by looking at the current mob running Saudia Arabia.

  16. Bis I have long wondered what exactly happened to the Ummayads in Syria. Kicked out of Syria in approx 750, they next crop up in Córdoba around 800 or so and construct a replica of the big mosque in Damascus. Just how did they transport their whole lifestyle right across the Med at that time? And, of course, they did it without leaving any mark on the historical record. It’s a shed load of camel or horse or galley miles to carry the stuff without leaving any record

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