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British Museum Still Refuses to Return Greece’s Parthenon Marbles

Sculptures from the Parthenon temple on display at the British Museum. Photo source: British Museum

The British Museum is again refusing to return the Parthenon Marbles to their country of origin, claiming it has “no intention of removing controversial objects from public display”, according to UK media reports.

In a leaked letter, UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that government-funded museums and galleries risk losing taxpayer support if they remove artefacts.

The British Museum goes on to state that “instead, it will seek where appropriate to contextualise or reinterpret them in a way that enables the public to learn about them in their entirety”.

The Parthenon Marbles, a major money-making display at the British Museum, have been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Greece and the UK. The 2,500-year-old sculptures were illegally torn off the Parthenon in the 1800s, taken to England, and sold to the museum in 1816, by Lord Elgin.

In the letter sent to a number of UK cultural institutions and museums, Dowden goes on to note that “as publicly funded bodies, you should not be taking actions motivated by activism or politics. The significant support that you receive from the taxpayer is an acknowledgement of the important cultural role you play for the entire country.”

Dowden said it was “especially important” for institutions to “continue to act impartially”.

The response appears to come on the back of a letter sent to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by 18 US congressmen calling on London to open talks “in earnest” over the sculptures in the British Museum.

The Parthenon temple on the Acropolis in Athens.

As part of the Greek government’s actions to raise international awareness on the issue, Culture Minister Lina Mendoni had reached out for the support of the congressmen.

“Today we write to you as members of the congressional caucus on Hellenic Issues to urge your government to negotiate with the Greek government in earnest on the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece,” they said in the letter.

“We remain appreciative of your efforts and good will in support of the historic special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States, and look forward to strengthening that relationship through the accomplishment of matters such as this.”

Mendoni said the action taken by US congress was of great political importance particularly at this given time ahead of the bicentennial celebrations commemorating the 1821 Greek War of Independence set for 2021. Greece has officially requested the temporary return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, for the bicentennial events.

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  1. Beverly nelso Nelson Reply

    Museums all over the world are being required to return antiquities to their countries of origin. 27 pieces have been seized from the Met just now. What is needed to require the British Museum to return the Parthenon/Elgin Marbles to Greece. There is a gorgeous museum at the base of the Acropolis for housing them . Greece can display them for the world to see. How does the British Museum continue to refuse to return them? Where does the authority lie for determination of where the marbles belong?

  2. john aley Reply

    The Marbles should be returned lord elgin stole the marbles there is evidence the he only had permission to mould plaster and draw the sculptures nothing to rip the main walls of the monument also to take stones from the lose stone on the ground.

  3. penelope Reply

    Marbles should be returned to Greece they were illegally ripped from the
    walls of the Parthenon by Lord Elgin. He was only permitted to draw mould and plaster the sculptures and only excavate on the foundations of the Acropolis among the rubble.So the British director of the museum should do a creative act on support their return.

  4. Daniel Zollinger Reply

    Da gibt es eine einfache Lösung. Solange die Briten die Marmore zurückhalten, solange werden einfach keine Britische Touristen mehr nach Griechenland reingelassen. Mal schauen wie lange es gehen wird, bis die Britische Regierung einschlägt!

  5. Susan Richey Reply

    I have a prediction to make. You won’t have them back by March 25. 2021, the bicentennial celebration of Greek Independence. But you will have them back by April 19, 2024, in honor of George Gordon, Lord Byron’s death by fever in Missolonghi while supporting Greece’s struggle for independence. This date is more sacred to Greeks and Brits alike because it unites these two great countries in their common bond of love for democracy and all things Panhellenic.

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