The marble friezes that once adorned the Parthenon and are on display at the British Museum make up approximately 60% of the total remaining sculptural material. Photo: Dave Makichuk

Was it theft, or simply a legitimate transaction?

In the early 19th century, while Greece was still under Ottoman Empire rule, half of the sculptures of the Parthenon temple, which was constructed 2,500 years ago on the Acropolis hill, were removed by Lord Elgin, a UK diplomat at the time, and ended up at the British Museum in London.

Now Greece wants them back.

“The Parthenon sculptures exhibited in the British Museum are the product of theft,” Greek Culture and Sports Minister Lina Mendoni told the Xinhua News Agency in a recent interview.

Their repatriation of the so-called “Elgin Marbles” from the British Museum is a national priority, she said.

Greece is stepping up efforts for the permanent return of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens prior to the year 2021’s 200th anniversary of 1821 Greek War of Independence, the report said.

The Greek sculptures have been the subject of dispute between Athens and London for decades.

“The Parthenon was dismembered, broken into pieces and then looted,” president of the Acropolis Museum, Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis told Xinhua.

The marble friezes that once adorned the Parthenon and are on display at the British Museum make up approximately 60% of the total remaining sculptural material, he explained.

The need for their reunification with the other 40% in Athens, is a cultural imperative, the professor stressed.

“It is important the sculptures that lie separated in Athens and in London to be assembled again. A new interpretation will come up from this unity and will be treated as such. They will not be just pieces, but complete forms,” he argued.

Pandermalis is among the members of a new advisory committee that has been set up in Athens recently for the reunification of the Parthenon sculptures, the report said.

Greece steps up efforts for the return of marble sculptures in collaboration with international committees dedicated to the cause.

The primary aim of the 17 international committees — from New Zealand to Brazil and Britain to Russia — is to reunite the Parthenon sculptures to Athens, the report said.

Mendoni underlined the vital role played by the international committees, saying “We undertook a series of initiatives along with the support of the committees to keep the issue alive, because we believe that it can be used as leverage to the British museum.”

According to the Greek Reporter, the British Museum has dug in, claiming that Lord Elgin didn’t “steal” the artifacts. Instead, the museum insists that Elgin took them with the complete knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities.

During the time when Lord Elgin was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Athens was under its rule.

Elgin shipped his loot to England and in 1816 he sold the marble statues for £35,000 — nowhere near its estimated market value, The Greek Reporter said.

The Parthenon has fragments of its remains scattered throughout museums in eight different nations since 2009. These include The British Museum, the Louvre, the Vatican collection, and the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. As for the Parthenon Sculptures, however, they are split evenly between London and Athens.

Even British politicians have tried to pass bills demanding that the Parthenon Sculptures be returned to Greece, The Greek Reporter said.

As recently as 2016, a new UK Bill was presented by a joint-partisan panel composed of Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, supported by Conservative Jeremy Lefroy and 10 other MPs from Labor, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

“This Bill proposes that the Parliament should annul what it did 200 years ago. In 1816 Parliament effectively state-sanctioned the improper acquisition of these impressive and important sculptures from Greece,” Williams said according to The Independent.

“It’s time we engaged in a gracious act. To put right a 200-year wrong,” he said, concluding with sentiments felt by so many people around the world, “These magnificent artifacts were improperly dragged and sawn off the remains of the Parthenon.”

2020 marked 204 years since Greece was robbed of its famous Parthenon Marbles, known around the world as the so-called “Elgin Marbles.” Credit: File photo.