Pressure grows on UK to hand back ‘Elgin’ Marbles after Scottish decision


It is one of the biggest cultural arguments in recent history, but thanks to a Scottish decision, speculation is growing that the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum could finally be going home to Greece.

Pressure grows on UK to hand back 'Elgin' Marbles after Scottish decision
In July 1816, the British Government bought the Marbles from their ‘owner’, the Earl of Elgin
[Credit: The National]

More than 200 years since the Earl of Elgin “appropriated” the Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens, the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) has reversed its policy of not repatriating items from its 12-million-strong collections.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson decreed in March that the Parthenon Marbles would not be going back to Greece, despite that country’s government and many experts saying they should go back to Athens. Now he is under pressure to reverse that policy following the NMS’s break with a four nations approach.

The National can reveal that the NMS decision was taken only after extensive consultation about the idea of sending back items to those countries which wanted them – we can also reveal that initial soundings suggested that many countries may not want them back due to the costs of transporting and storing them.

NMS has had its reversal of policy cleared by trustees.

It stated: “NMS’s collections reflect its diverse history and multidisciplinary nature, spanning the arts, humanities, natural and social sciences. Each of the five collections departments contains some objects that originate from outside of the United Kingdom. In exceptional circumstances, NMS will consider a request made by claimants located outside the UK to transfer a specific object or group of objects where the request meets certain criteria.”

As long as the UK remained within the EU, there was little chance of international pressure forcing the repatriation of any items originating in EU countries. Post-Brexit that’s no longer the case.

In July 1816, the British Government bought the Marbles from its “owner”, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin. He was paid £35,000 – about £3.5 million today, adjusted for inflation – for his collection of antiquities that came from all over Greece.

Elgin lost money on the deal. He had paid more than £70,000 to bring the Marbles to Britain and after he was cleared of any wrongdoing, a grateful government got the lot for half the price at £35,000, and they became the cornerstones of the antiquities section at the British Museum.

Author: Hamish MacPherson | Source: The National [June 28, 2021]

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