The Artifacts Of The Past

2785 Words12 Pages
To understand the past, we have to understand the artefacts of the past. Artefacts show us another kind of history, and another way of approaching the past. Not only do they frame the way we interact with the world, they also influence the way we think about it as a whole. So when one questions the ownership of these artefacts, they also question the history behind it. Because the history of art is, for the most part, a history of theft; questions over its ownership are bound to ensue. So, how do we decide who owns art, and subsequently, history? Prevailing postcolonial ideologies, might characterise museums as imperial despoilers in which their possession of artefacts showcase the dispossession of cultural identity from the colonised,…show more content…
Polybius was one of the first historians to criticise the Romans and their actions, and since only fragments of his ninth book have been preserved, the full extent of Polybius’ criticism is unattainable. However his strong disapproval of the seizure of the Syracusan art is clearly evident. Polybius stated, “a city is not adorned by external splendours, but by the virtue of its inhabitants” (Polybius, c.200 - c.118 BC). He presented two rhetorical arguments against the removal of Syracusan art. Firstly, he claimed that art contributed nothing to the power and expansion of the city. Additionally, he also questioned whether the victors could become great while living simply. If they could, why should they imitate the weaker people they defeated? (Miles, 2008). Polybius stated that victors “should not strip the cities under the idea that the misfortunes of another are an ornament to their own country” (Polybius, c.200 - c.118 BC). However, historian Erich S. Gruen argues that Polybius’ criticism of Roman extraction of art from Syracuse was a “tactical error rather than a moral failure”, as Polybius himself was bound by the envy and fear of what the art would incite in regards to Greco-Roman relations (Gruen, 1992). Art looting became a standard practice after Napoleon took over the French army. Looting was undertaken to raise funds to support the war effort, and to elevate morale in Paris. Under Napoleon, the Louvre museum became an
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