Elgin Marbles

The Elgin Marbles Debate

Perhaps the most famous debate about the rights of ownership and patrimony surround a series of carved marbles from the Parthenon at Athens, held since the nineteenth century in the British Museum in London.  Over the past decades, the Greek government has made a series of requests for the return of these objects.  These repatriation demands include arguments about the legality (or alleged illegality) of the original sale of the works to Lord Elgin during a period of  Ottoman control over Greece.  British refusals to return the marbles to Greece have included their own range of justifications, from a firm assertion that the original sale was legal to expressed concerns about the ability of the Greek government to provide a stable environment for and proper conservation of these marbles.  The latter claim is cited as one central reason for the construction of the Acropolis museum in Athens.  The case, although loudly and repeatedly argued in the court of international opinion, has not as yet been argued in toto in any court of law.  A team of students tackled the issues at the center of this passionate debate, attempting to sift through the moral, legal, historical, and cultural complexities of the issue by asking, among other questions:

  • Can a modern court make a ruling on this issue? Should they? Why or why not?
  • Who has the greater claim to the Marbles – the British Museum or the Greek government? Why?
  • Is there a difference between a moral right to ownership vs. a legal right to ownership? If so, which is more pressing, and how could a court decide which should take precedence?
  • Do modern courts have an obligation to overturn what may have been a past legal action if it does not align with modern sensibilities? Why or why not? What issues may arise from courts doing so?


Sculpture of a centaur fighting a man in high relief.

The Elgin Marbles debate

Those Marbles Should Stay at The British Museum Although many people in the world hold the opinion that those marbles ...

The Elgin Marbles

Connor Carraway Morris 2 April, 2015 ARH 351 Lord Elgin’s decision to take historic antiquities from the Parthenon back to ...

The Grecian Claim

In 1801, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, began his controversial removal of half the sculptures in the Parthenon ...
Painting of men in a room filled with parthenon marble sculptures that had been removed from the original structure.

Elgin Marbles: A Debate of Ownership

When the Parthenon was constructed in the 5th century BCE, Athens was thriving as a democracy under the rule of ...

The Elgin Marbles debate

Nearly 2,500 years ago, the Parthenon was built. It served as a temple to the goddess Athena and had since ...