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 been used as a church, mosque, and even storage for gunpowder. The Ottomans used the Parthenon for gunpowder storage in 1687 and caused an explosion that greatly damaged the ceiling (Parthenon 2008). When the Ottomans ruled Athens they had no interest in the architecture or art that surrounded them. The damage from the explosion left many pieces of art just laying on the ground surrounding the Parthenon. It wasn’t until 1801 that the majority of the pieces of art were moved. From 1801 to 1805 a man by the title Lord Elgin traveled to Athens and had a team remove large pieces of marble, statues, parts of the frieze, and other pieces of artwork. He took the art back to his home in Britain where he intended to keep it as a private collection. He had supposedly been given a permit from the Ottoman Sultan that allowed him to take whatever he pleased (McGuigan 2009). After a few years in Britain, the British government purchased the Elgin Marbles and they were placed in the British Museum (Parthenon Sculptures n.d.). Today the Greek governments are fighting for the return of the art to where they believe is their rightful home. They have even had a large $200 million museum, The Acropolis Museum, built so that they would have a place to house them (Kimmelman 2009).

There is debate about whether the Elgin marbles should remain in Britain or return to Greece. In my opinion, they should be returned to Greece now that they have the facilities to ensure their protection. Given the situation in 1801, I do not think Lord Elgin was wrong in taking the art. I also think it is nice that the British Museum has been able to house these artifacts for so long. A great number of people have been able to appreciate artwork they might never have seen otherwise. However, now that Greece is able to house the artwork and they are fighting for its return, I believe it should be given to Greece.

The British Museum has no rightful ownership in my opinion. They might have purchased them, but there is debate about the authenticity of the permit Lord Elgin possessed. Lord Elgin has been equated to a looter and theoretically stole the artwork from Greece. If you knowingly purchase a stolen car for example, it does not make the car yours. If you were taken to court the car would be taken away and given back to the rightful owner. The Greeks want to be able to reunite their artwork with their country. The art was created for the Parthenon and surrounding areas in Athens.

There is argument that more people can learn about the Greek culture and history if the pieces remain in Britain. I believe that a piece of artwork can be more appreciated in the country from which it came. If you allow yourself to be fully immersed in a culture and be exposed to the beautiful, original artwork at the same time, it will outweigh an experience you could have viewing the art in Britain. Would a person in Britain not want to learn about the Greek culture if they could not view the art in their own country? The artwork would be more respected and understood if a person could fully experience the art, culture, and land together. According to one article, The Parthenon Sculptures, “The Acropolis Museum allows the Parthenon sculptures that are in Athens (approximately half of what survive from antiquity) to be appreciated against the backdrop of ancient Greek and Athenian history.”

While the British Museum has protected and housed the Elgin Marbles since the 19th century, it is time they were returned to their rightful country. Lord Elgin traveled to Athens with the intent to learn about the ancient art and returned with pieces of a culture and history. After housing the art for a few years the British government purchased these pieces and they have since been kept in the British Museum. Until recently with the construction of the Acropolis Museum, Greece has not had a proper facility to keep the artwork protected. However, now the country has the facilities and the desire to have a piece of their history restored and it would be in the best interest of the artwork if it were returned.


– Lauren Bowles

Works Cited

Anonymous. The Parthenon’s Many Lives. 2008. PBS.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Elgin Marble Argument in a New Light.” The New York Times.      June 23, 2009.      pagewanted=all&_r=0.

McGuigan, Cathleen. “Romancing the Stones.” Newsweek. June 6, 2009.

“Parthenon Sculptures.” British Museum.           henon_sculptures.aspx.