Talks over Elgin Marbles return to Greece at ‘advanced stage’

Big news: the British Museum is in advanced talks with Greece to return the Elgin Marbles to Athens, with the move potentially coming early next year. 

Part of the Elgin Marbles Parthenon Marbles

If it does go ahead, the marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, will be displayed at the Acropolis Museum in Athens

The marbles have been housed at the British Museum for over 200 years, more recently becoming one of the longest running and most discussed cases of cultural restitution in the world, since their return was first formally requested in 1983.

Workmen unload a portion of the Parthenon frieze before affixing it to the wall in the new Elgin Marbles room of the British Museum, London.

21st December 1961: Workmen unload a portion of the Parthenon frieze before affixing it to the wall in the new Elgin Marbles room of the British Museum, London. (Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

George Osborne, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now chair of the British Museum, met with the Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in London last week. It is believed the marbles were the only item on their agenda.

The pair of Osborne and Mitsotakis then gave an address at the London School of Economics, where Osborne said: “A win-win solution can be found that will result in the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures in Greece, while at the same time taking into account concerns that the British Museum may have.” He said the marbles returning to Greece on a permanent basis was “possible”.

Last week’s negotiations were the latest in a series of secret discussions between Osborne and ministers serving in Mitsotakis’ government administration.

The Greek newspaper Ta Nea first reported that the negotiations have developed to “at an advanced stage”, adding that if the deal was finalised, the marbles are expected to be returned to Greece in early 2023. They would go on display alongside other artefacts from the Parthenon at Athens’ Acropolis Museum.

The marbles were taken from the Parthenon in Athens in 1801 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. Elgin was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, who controlled Athens at the time. It remains debated whether the Ottomans did approve of their removal. The marbles were sold to the trustees of the British Museum in 1816.

Elgin-Marbles-British-Museum-Western frieze

Western frieze, II, 2

The Greek government argued that the Ottomans were foreign invaders and the marbles were removed without approval from the Greek people.

In March 2021, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the Marbles “were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time”.

Just two months ago, then Prime Minister Liz Truss said she would not support an exchange deal with Greece over the marbles.

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