At the beginning of the 19th century, the Parthenon (a temple atop the Acropolis in Athens that was constructed in the 5th century BCE) had fallen into a state of ruin. From 1800 until 1812, Lord Elgin, who had been England's Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed approximately half of the Parthenon's remaining marble sculptures, eventually selling them to the British Museum where they are currently housed.
Lord Elgin's actions were controversial from the beginning, and the Parthenon Marbles (also known as the Elgin Marbles) have been the subject of intense debate for two centuries. The issue largely revolves around this question: Who are the "rightful" owners of these objects? In today's episode, we discuss the history of the marbles, and the various arguments for keeping them in England and for returning them to Greece.
Check out the Slideshow below for images that we mention in the episode. Scroll down further for our Postscript (stuff that didn't make it into the episode). At the bottom of the page, you'll find News Updates on this story and Links to other sites for more information. Enjoy!
For each episode, we feature extra material on our blog. Below is a video documenting the New Acropolis Museum's process of conserving their caryatids.
The British Museum's statement regarding the Parthenon Marbles
The official position of the Greek government
Author Christopher Hitchins' argument for restitution (Vanity Fair, July 2009)
July 7, 2014: Acropolis Maidens Glow Anew: Caryatid Statues, Restored, Are Stars at Athens Museum (New York Times, July 2014)
April 1, 2015: Once More, Britain Refuses to Return the Elgin Marbles, Hyperallergic
April 3: The British Museum's "Defining Beauty" Show Argues for the Elgin Marbles to Stay in Britain, Artnet