Elgin Marbles in British Museum: from Rosetta Stone to Benin Bronzes, disputed artefacts countries want back
The so-called Elgin Marbles could soon be returned to Greece as the British Museum reportedly closes in on a landmark deal - but what other objects are disputed?
British Museum Chairman George Osborne has reportedly drawn up an agreement with Athens as part of a “cultural exchange” to return the Elgin Marbles. According to The Telegraph, the former Conservative Party chancellor is reportedly seeking to repatriate the antiquities back to Greece.
It comes after the Government rejected Tory peer Lord Vaizey of Didcot’s call for a law change to make it easier for UK museums to deal with restitution requests, as current legislation prevents treasures from being legally given away by the museum. However, the loan deal will not end the long-running dispute over the 17 sculptures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple at the Acropolis.
Lord Elgin - Thomas Bruce - after whom the marbles have been named, was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803. He petitioned the authorities to be able to draw, measure and remove the marbles.
Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for the marbles to be returned to Greece on many occasions, even offering to loan some of his country’s other treasures to the British Museum in exchange. In December 2022, the museum said in a statement it had “publicly called for a new Parthenon Partnership with Greece” and would “talk to anyone, including the Greek government about how to take that forward”. In December, Germany returned artefacts to Nigeria, in a similar agreement.
But what other antiquities are disputed? Here’s some of the items wanted back by countries:
What are the Elgin Marbles? Story of Parthenon Marbles, why British Museum has them, and why Greece wants them
What are the Benin Bronzes? Why Germany returned artefacts to Nigeria - are some still at British Museum?
Queen Elizabeth II: why South Africans want the Cullinan diamond returned plus what other jewels are claimed