There and back again. A Marbles’ controversy

Detail of the Erechtheion (acropolis of Athens)
Detail of the Erechtheion (acropolis of Athens)

Some Brits ask: “How can you own something that was made back in the 5th century BC?”

Some Greeks say: “Greek people want them back!”

Is it that hard to comprehend that they’re all missing the point? It is not the Greek State that owns them. It’s the Parthenon and the city of Athens that ‘want them back’. Both sides have to see this in a cultured, classy and sophisticated way.

The Director of the British Museum Neil MacGregor has stated that it is the British Museum’s duty to “preserve the universality of the marbles, and to protect them from being appropriated as a nationalistic political symbol”

Neil MacGregor
Neil MacGregor
Dimitrios Pandermalis
Dimitrios Pandermalis

He is right! The British museum should speak directly with the director of the New Acropolis Museum; maybe the mayor of the city of Athens too.


Most of the ‘Elgin marbles’ are pieces of a larger structure. The Parthenon! It’s that simple.

Claiming that all antiquities from all museums should be returned to Greece, Italy (plus a whole list of other countries) is, for anyone that uses common sense, laughable.

  • The vast majority of statues and other artefacts stand and are being displayed as units. They are not part of something else.
  • Greek statues were exported & sold outside their place of creation.
  • They’re way too many. What’s the number of exhibits that are going to be returned? A few? A lot? Why not all of them? Where do we stop?
  • But really: the main and most important reason is that they are ambassadors, tangible examples (and not abstract ideas) of the Graeco-Roman world & civilization. The one that shaped the Western World as we know it today.
Parts of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum
Parts of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum
Copy of part of the Parthenon frieze on the Parthenon. ON the Parthenon
Copy of part of the Parthenon frieze on the Parthenon. ON the Parthenon…

The main problematic issue is this: both sides see a different frame of the dispute.

Many British officials claim that “legally the matter is on the side of the British Museum. So, the matter is of morality and function”.

I agree 100%! Morality and function. Reuniting the pieces of the Parthenon that are in London is a moral act; and this act serves a function too!


I know! let’s blame ‘Zee Germans’… There’s no point in going into the details of who and when did what damage on the Parthenon and its sculptured decoration. Unfortunately, the truth is that contemporary nations (modern Greeks, Venetians, British etc.) and not barbarians or the all-conquering Time, inflicted the most serious damage on the Acropolis.

Today things have changed considerably. I’m certain we can all agree that there are knowledgeable specialists both in Britain and in Greece that can take good care of pieces of art and ancient artefacts.

Acropolis Museum
New Acropolis Museum
British Museum
British Museum


There’s a sad fact: many Greeks that are actively involved in the campaign are clearly involved for reasons of private interest. It is a well-known fact that some people have and are being engaged in this controversy (pity that there is one) for irrelevant reasons. Money, fame, personal gains. From the level of legal advisors all the way up to ministers of tourism, they’re more interested (or only interested some of them) in promoting themselves than the cause itself. It is imperative that the directors of the two museums leave corrupt politicians and soldiers of fortune out of the ‘game’.

On the other hand we should keep in mind that Elgin’s act is causing controversy in Britain since the 19th century. Lord Byron himself wrote his poem “The Curse of Minerva” cursing lord Elgin for what he did. Today, many famous Britons (academics, actors etc.) have repeatedly stated that are in favour of the Reunification.

Stephen Fry
Stephen Fry

Paul Cartledge, Anthony Snodgrass, Sean Connery, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench just to name a few. Stephen Fry believes that now is the time for the reunification. What is more, using legal pressure is not the gentleman’s way. It’s not the civilized way to proceed. Call him romantic but he’s right!

“Britain, should say: yes for 200 years we kept them safe. Perfidious Albion was an untrustworthy country with colonial ambitions. Let’s not be like this anymore. Let’s be a classy country.”

By George Kokkos

Born in Athens, I've studied Ancient History and Archaeology in Britain and in Greece. I've worked in excavations, as a translator, as a private tutor, and since 2010 I'm working with schools and universities from the US and Europe as an Educational Tourism Expert.
An aspiring science popularizer and indefatigable lecturer in academic or tourism settings, my mastery is to make accessible complex and profound subject matter that can then be appreciated by an extremely broad audience.

I'm passionate about history, philosophy, and education for all. My main focus is the history of the ancient Athenian Democracy and her impact on modern-day republics. I've lectured extensively in schools, universities, and the European Commission Learning Center.

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