Legal Ownership of the Parthenon Marbles Essay

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Legal Ownership of the Parthenon Marbles

The controversy began almost one hundred years ago. Between 1801 and 1812, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed several sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens and shipped them to England, where he sold them to the British Museum in 1816. 167 years later, Melina Mercouri, Greek Minister of Culture, requested that the “Elgin” Marbles be returned. This request sparked one of the greatest debates the art world has ever known. For the past two decades, people have argued over who has the rights to these Marbles. The Greek position is certainly understandable from a cultural and emotional point of view. However, from the standpoint of
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That was also the interpretation privately held by several members of Elgin’s party. However, a different attitude was taken publicly, and the party set to work removing and packing pieces of the Parthenon. In all, they took 247 feet of the frieze (FIG. 1), 15 metopes (FIG. 2), and 17 pedimental figures (FIG. 3), damaging a substantial portion of the adjoining masonry in the process. This would seem to create a good argument for the Marbles’ return to Greece, as Elgin had exceeded his authority, and damaged the structure of the Parthenon, all without officially obtaining the property rights. However, there is evidence that the Ottoman Government twice ratified what Elgin had done.

Documents have been recovered indicating that Lord Elgin convinced the Sultan to issue several additional firmans in which he generally sanctioned what had been done. The Ottomans further demonstrated support of the removal when a large shipment of sculpture was held up in Piraeus (the port of Athens) because the Voivode refused to give his permission for their embarkation. Eventually, the Ottoman government gave written orders to the Athenian authorities to permit the shipment. Together, these two events offer a strong indication that the Ottoman
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