Democracy ancient and modern: what can we learn from the Greeks?

paul cart Paul Cartledge on democracy ancient and modern: what can we learn from the Greeks?

Fom University of Cambridge, David Runciman presenting 'Election Politics' podcast

And for the book:

Democracy Democracy

                       A Life

                              Paul Cartledge

  • The long story of democracy, from ancient Greece to the twenty-first century, including:
  • How democracy was born and developed in the ancient world - and the many different forms that it took
  • The long centuries of democratic eclipse - from Byzantium to the Renaissance
  • The arguments against democracy over the centuries
  • The re-birth of democracy in seventeenth century England, revolutionary France, and the United States
  • How democracy has been constantly reconstituted and reinvented ever since

To order a copy follow the link:

Classics and/as World Literature conference, Kings College London, 03-04 June 2016

Location: Council Room (K2.29) King’s Building Strand CampusCategoryConference/Seminar, Culture

When: 03 (10:00) - 04/06/2016 (18:30)

Contact for tickets, please visit the King's eStore

For enquiries, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Description: Classics and/as World Literature conference


The aim of this two-day international conference is to explore (1) how Greek and Latin classical authors, often in modern-language translations, have historically functioned as part of the colonial curriculum and (2) their status relative to Comparative Literature and World Literature.

World Literature has been advocated as new approach to the study of literature in a globalised age, and as one which avoids the nationalist and colonialist pitfalls of studying literatures in traditional departmental and disciplinary formations. But prominent advocates of World Literature have as yet evaded the challenge presented by the ancient Greek and Roman literature to their conceptual framework.

Histories of World Literature progress from Gilgamesh immediately to Dante and skip everything in between. This conference is designed to address that lacuna and emphasise the rightful place of ancient Greek and Latin texts, imperialist warts and all, at the heart of the 21st-century international World Literature syllabus.

Spaces are limited. Please book your place via the King's eStore

Penwithlit and Edith Hall's Ancient Greeks

Edith Hall 2

Reading Edith Hall’s book on the Ancient Greeks, develops a deep respect for the power of poetry. No poet was more effective in this regard than Homer recounting the sea adventures contained in the ‘’The Odyssey’’. It shaped the self-definition of a nation and engendered self-confidence. The mariners set out in their beautiful ships across the Aegean and established colonies to the West, in the Mediterranean as far as the Pillars of Hercules, to the East as far as the Levant and built trading cities in natural harbours along the fertile edges of the Black Sea. They were, as Plato wrote in the Phaedo, “around the sea, like frogs and ants around a pond.” They were encouraged by Delphic oracles and inspired by the company of diving dolphins.

The structure of Hall’s account is clearly set down at the start with a useful chronology from the Myceneans in 1500 B.C. to the close of the Delphic oracle in 395 A.D. providing a clear context for the following text. It also gives a framework that neatly conveys the interaction between individuals, resources, military conflicts, the arts, sports, social upheavals and importantly the contributions of recent research. Anyone reading this book will discover how much our understanding of the Greeks has developed currently from new excavations, discoveries and recent scientific techniques. The first four strongly interconnected qualities that Hall ascribes to the Greeks are that they were seagoing, suspicious of authority, individualistic and inquiring. Further, they were open to new ideas, witty, competitive, admired excellence in people of talent, were exceptionally articulate and were also addicted to pleasure.

Read more here

Warfare and economics conference, London 27-29 April 2016 at University College London

On 27–29 April, the departments of History and Greek & Latin at University College London are organizing a collaborative conference to bring together recent scholarship on the interplay between economics and ancient warfare.

“War,” Thucydides wrote, “is not about weapons, but money.” The ancients saw the link between economics and warfare, and throughout antiquity their understanding of these two areas of human activity developed hand in hand. Wars were fought over resources and trade networks; states experimented with ever more sophisticated forms of wealth extraction to finance their campaigns. The development of state finances allowed war to grow ever more sustained and professional, evolving from the border raids of untrained Greek militias to the world-conquering campaigns of Imperial Rome. Writes Roel Konijnendijk

Who owns Culture? Dr Tiffany Jenkins on the Parthenon Marbles

Tiffany Jenkins certainly knows how to raise eyebrows, not least those of her fellow panellists discussing “Who owns Culture” on Start the Week, BBC Radio 4, Monday 15 February, 2016.  And no wonder.  Let us consider a string of pronouncements which cannot pass unchallenged.


Did Elgin save the marbles from being “ground for mortar”? Possibly some the rubble from the explosion of 1687 was being thus recycled. Because of the difficulty of transporting building materials in antiquity it was established practice to reuse available fallen masonry.  It is however highly unlikely that any of the pieces that Elgin’s workmen hacked and crowbarred off the Parthenon were at such risk?


Did Elgin rescue them from damage through exposure to the elements? With hindsight, yes.  Acid rain certainly damaged those left in situ, but acid rain was not a problem in Athens in the 18th century.  It did not play a part in Elgin’s purpose.


Were the marbles “Decontextualised” in the British Museum?  No.  They were Recontextualised.  Their original context was incorporated in the British Museum’s artificial construct.  Their original context is inalienable.  The British Museum’s is contingent.


Is repatriation an invalid concept because “no object is where it was created”.  Unless I am corrected my understanding has always been that raw blocks of marble were transported to the Acropolis and sculpted there.  Indeed, as the work proceeded, on the Parthenon itself.  This is fundamental to our argument – that the Parthenon is a fixed monument (and not any old fixed monument) and the marbles belong with it.


Does it matter that “they cannot go back on the Parthenon”? Isn’t it now established curatorial practice for monumental sites to have museums attached, for contextual purposes, to display related objects AND if necessary to protect vulnerable pieces from exposure to the elements.  The Acropolis Archaeological Park and the Acropolis Museum are an outstanding example.


Does it matter that “they aren’t the same as the originals” (which were olychromatic)?  That may be relevant to the question as to whether they should be repainted but it is not relevant to the reunification of the single artistic entity.  The form is more important than the original painted surface.


Does it matter that you “only 65% survives”?  What matters is that what survives is divided roughly 50/50 between London and Athens.  Since when has it been a requirement that 100% completeness is necessary to restore a work, particularly monumental masonry?


Was the argument when they arrived in England more about their worth than the manner of Elgin’s acquiring of them?  Certainly Tiffany Jenkins can cite men of culture who regarded them as a heap of old ruins, and certainly much of the discussion in the Select Committee convened to consider their purchase was on the level of “never mind the quality, feel the width”, but the evidence is, and indeed much of the justification for retaining them, that they were valued for their transformatory cultural effect.


As for Tiffany Jenkins assertion in her book that “few doubt the legal right of the British Museum to keep the Elgin Marbles”, the less said the better.


Eddie O'Hara, Chairman BCRPM


Further reading:

Openings: Judgment is not set in stone by Tiffany Jenkins


Letter in the Financial Times in response to Tiffany Jenkins article 12 February 2016 Openings: Judgment is not set in stone.



Keeping Their Marbles: How the Treasures of the Past Ended up in Museums, and Why They Should Stay There by Tiffany Jenkins

Museums shouldn’t be sending any treasures back, insists this forthright study. John Carey Published: 14 February 2016 in the Sunday Times Review


BMCR Review (Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.12.06) by Johanna Hanink on Tiffany Jenkins' book, can be read from the link here. 

Classics for all

This month marks a year since BCRPM lost a long serving Deputy Chairman, Christopher Price.

Chris continues to be missed, his energy and dedicaion to the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles was second to none.

His obituary written by Julia Langdon in the Guardian can be read online here.

Sitting with Chris in Athens on a number of occassions from 2000 to 2009, soaking up the Attica light, I was in awe of his knowledge and passion for the classics. He was a firm believer in classics for all. A belief shared equally by new BCRPM member Edith Hall.

Edith's article on the importance of access to ideas from classical antiquity was published in the Guardian Review and can be read on line here



Edith Hall's Ode on a Grecian Quarry

Judith Hall's 'Ode on a Grecian Quarry' lifted our January spirits. If you haven't read this blog, do make time to do so, even after January. We also appreciated the photos which were graced by that Attica light -we're certain that the TV crew found it perfect for their filming too.

And so to the thought about where the fragmented Parthenon Marbles would best be viewed. The 'crowbarred ' frieze blocks, metopes and pedimental statues that were removed in the early nineteenth century by Lord Elgin and transported to Britain, would look amazing - when and if - they might be reunited.... in Athens.

To read Edith blog, view it here

Sense of Self: The British Museum’s Efforts to Disassociate the Marbles from the Monument

The two-hundred-year-old debate over the ownership and placement of the Parthenon Sculptures, otherwise known as the Elgin Marbles, is one that has renewed relevance in today’s world. Repatriation controversies have become a crucial facet of international museum law and relations, while the concurrent completion of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and the Greek economic crisis inject new factors into the specific case of the Parthenon Sculptures. The new museum allows for the conversation to be redirected towards achieving repatriation on the grounds of artistic and archaeological integrity and unity, rather than debates over purchase authentication and trustee ownership. My thesis reviewed the existing arguments for repatriation[i], but supplemented them by developing the underutilized argument of aesthetic integrity. I promote the concept of the Parthenon’s formal qualities and the need for cohesion among those qualities as the basis upon which the debate over placement and display of the sculptures should be governed.

Given the dearth of literature since the completion of the new Acropolis Museum (AM), I compare the authenticity and educational experience of the displays in the new AM and the British Museum (BM). Put simply, the estranged marbles cannot be considered or understood as autonomous artworks, as doing so ignores and diminishes the formal qualities of the Parthenon and the intent of its creators. My research examines precisely how the BM’s division of the sculptures continues to injure the integrity of the Parthenon, as well as how the museum’s presentation of the sculptures does a disservice to the archaeological record.

An examination of the Parthenon exhibit in the BM demonstrates a display that is contradictory to both the original structural and instructive aspects of the Parthenon. The displays in the BM are unnatural and serve to disrespect the Parthenon and its sculptures, inhibiting their unity both literally and conceptually. The layout also severely impairs both the viewer’s comprehension and the sculptures’ physical and iconological integrity. For example, in the BM, sections of the South frieze are estranged from the South metopes intended to accompany them. The South metopes are actually displayed along with the East and West pedimental programs (whose metopes are in Athens). The South and North frieze sections in the BM actually face each other, which greatly hinders the proper viewing progression of the narrative for all viewers unaware of the precise order of the Ionic (continuous) frieze.

One particularly interesting illustration of the connections that exist between the different types of sculpture on the Parthenon can be seen in an example that Olga Palagia points out, on the Northeast corner of the building. The metope on this corner (East side, metope 14) depicts Helios, the sun god who brings in the day, and his chariot with several horses. In the Parthenon’s original state, directly above this block, the horses of Selene, the moon goddess and sister to Helios, appear in the pediment facing the opposite direction.[ii] This juxtaposition of these opposing forces, who are related both by mythology and proximity, can hardly be random and is a poignant example of the methodical calculation and planning that went into the creation of the Parthenon. In comparison, in the British Museum, Selene’s horse faces a metope plucked from the South side of the building.


Glenna 1

Figure 1 and 2: Selene's horse and the display map in the British Museum. Although not labeled, the metopes that the horse faces are from the South metope-triglyph frieze. Source: Parthenon Gallery, British Museum, London. Photograph taken by author, 2014.

During my time in the BM, I watched as viewers hopped from South frieze to West pediment, to North frieze, to South metopes, all the while believing that they had gleaned the true meaning and message of these spectacular sculptures. This is an easy trap to fall into—the BM’s entire exhibition program of the Parthenon Sculptures works to maintain the focus on the magnificence of the individual sculptures, and simultaneously aims to deemphasize their connection to the Parthenon. Indeed, throughout the BM exhibition, there are only two small photographs (roughly 5 in. x 7 in.) of the Parthenon.   In addition, nowhere in the entire exhibition can the viewer see a reconstruction, either physical or virtual, of all the remaining sculptures reunified.

By intentionally emphasizing the sculptures and deemphasizing their connection to the monument, the BM exhibition protects the viewer from the more complicated ethical issues. The sculptures are so beautiful that this is rather easy to achieve. Viewers are so entranced by the magnificence of the sculptures that it becomes extremely difficult to contemplate the notion that something is wrong with

the picture, so to speak. The concerning presentation of the marbles is a symptom of the bigger problem, namely the idea that the sculptures are independent, autonomous works that are conceptually free-standing, as well as physically free-standing. This line of thought should not be allowed to be perpetuated—it delegitimizes the conceptual basis of the Parthenon, just as it literally detracts from its physical integrity.

As I continued to document the sculptures’ layout, two visitors made a remark that quickly cuts to the heart of this issue. We were standing in front of some of the South metopes, many of which are missing heads, feet, and torsos from the figures they depict. Numerous wall texts read “The head is in Athens,” or “The feet are in BM Gallery 18b” (there are 3 separate Parthenon galleries in the BM). The man standing next to me sarcastically asked, “So what, is there an exhibition of heads somewhere?” This little comment speaks volumes—it communicates the confusion and frustration viewers feel at the disunity of the Parthenon’s elements and the disorganization of their display in the BM.

This sense of disunity is only enhanced when one continues to read the wall texts, particularly the didactics for the metopes and pedimental figures. Numerous pieces are missing heads, torsos, or feet, not because the pieces are destroyed, but because they are housed elsewhere, mainly in Athens. For example, in the West pediment room, there are seven pedimental figures and eight South metopes. Of the fifteen sculptural pieces in this room, the wall labels state that ten are missing body parts (see fig. 3). The pieces are in either the Acropolis Museum in Athens, the Wurzburg or Copenhagen museums, or, as is the case with the foot from a suspected torso of Hermes, in gallery 18a. Gallery 18a, which is separate from gallery 18, has an entire case of sculptural fragments (see fig. 4), which serves to aptly highlight the disunity and fragmentation of the overall presentation of the sculptures in the BM.

 Glenna 2

Figure 3: Wall text demonstrating the problem with the division of the sculptures. There are many other wall texts similar to this one in the Duveen Gallery. Source: South Metope Wall text, Duveen Gallery, British Museum, London. Photograph by author.

  Glenna 3

Figure4: Display case of sculptural fragments from the West Pediment of the Parthenon. Source: Gallery 18a, British Museum, London. Photograph by author.

To remove figures from the composition, or sections from the frieze, is to inhibit the whole building’s success and detract from current understandings due to a lack of proper context for the removed pieces. The sculptures in the BM are fragments, which, as Jennifer Neils states, are “simply trophies that make little sense aesthetically or intellectually in isolation.”[iii] It is not for modernity to arbitrarily decide which elements can be “stand-alone” pieces after they have been destructively distanced from their context.  By prioritizing the missions of even the most revered universal museums over that of context and archaeological and aesthetic integrity, one negates the significance, meaning, and value of artifacts and museum collections.

The irrefutable logic of unity and cohesion can no longer be ignored, as the AM offers a spectacular—and highly superior—display that acknowledges and exalts the formal qualities of the Parthenon. In contrast, the BM presents the sculptures as conceptually freestanding pieces—a choice which neglects their context and higher purpose in the sculptural program of the Parthenon. The BM’s Parthenon Galleries fail to encourage an accurate understanding of the unity of the Parthenon and the relationships among its parts, and fail to appropriately present, and therefore connect, the sculptures to the monument. Despite Neil MacGregor’s constant use of the phrase “different and complementary stories,”[iv] let us be clear: There is no alternative interpretation of the Parthenon in the sense that it was created as a single, unified, site-specific monument. The BM has shown its disingenuous stripes through its botched attempts at rationalizing the retention of the marbles in London. MacGregor would have visitors feel as though they are, in fact, seeing a “complementary” perspective; in reality, visitors are seeing nothing more than a thinly veiled ploy to downplay the sculptures’ proper context—a maneuver that serves no purpose other than to attempt to ethicize a continued wrong.  

  Glenna 4

Figure 5: Ilissos sitting in isolation in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Source: Helena Smith, The Guardian, 2014,

Loan to the Hermitage

The BM’s disturbing efforts to force the complete disassociation of the marbles from the monument reaches new levels of audacity with the recent back-alley loan of Ilissos, the personification of the river of the same name, to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Aside from the egregious diplomatic implications of loaning a highly contested piece of art to a country which is currently annexing the Crimea, committing numerous violations of international law, and facing severe sanctions by world powers such as the European Union, the loan serves to epitomize the BM’s campaign to propagate the myth that the sculptures are iconologically independent works. While MacGregor congratulates himself and attempts to pass off the loan as a convivial Hermitage birthday celebration, Ilissos, now twice divorced from his context, is left to sit in isolation. The loan of Ilissos definitively proves the museum’s utter disrespect for the monument; one cannot venerate the Parthenon while distributing its already-fragmented elements across the globe, bereft of any context. Such an act is a direct violation of the formal qualities of the Parthenon.

Concluding Thoughts

The debate is lengthy and convoluted; however, offering a methodology based on respecting the formal characteristics of the Parthenon is the first step to guiding the dispute towards progressive solutions. Placing the emphasis back on the significance and formal traits of the Parthenon is the proper method by which the debate must be continued. This approach upholds the grandeur of the Parthenon and affirms the realities of its design and purpose. In contrast, arguments that fail to take into account the formal artistic and archaeological qualities of the Parthenon deny its importance and refute its validation. Claims based on dubious acquisition documents, false assertions of ownership, and colonialist entitlement attitudes are mere distractions and have no place in progressing the debate and achieving a resolution.   Aesthetic and archaeological integrity irrefutably negate any and all arguments against reunification, and if museum specialists, art historians and archaeologists, policy makers, and legislators work collaboratively through this paradigm, there is surely hope for repatriation of the sculptures.

 Selected Bibliography:

Neils, Jennifer. The Parthenon Frieze. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Palagia, Olga. “Fire from Heaven: Pediments and Akroteria of the Parthenon.” The Parthenon: From Antiquity to Present, ed. Jenifer Neils. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Smith, Helena. “Parthenon Marbles: Greece furious over British loan to Russia.” The Guardian. December 2014. Accessed December 20, 2014.

“The Parthenon Sculptures,” The British Museum, 2008,



 [i] I use the terms repatriation and reunification interchangeably. These terms are not intended to mean the physical rejoining of the sculptures to the Parthenon, but rather the return of the sculptures to Athens, Greece, for their inclusion in the Parthenon Gallery of the new Acropolis Museum.

 [ii] Olga Palagia, “Fire from Heaven: Pediments and Akroteria of the Parthenon,” The Parthenon: From Antiquity to Present, ed. Jenifer Neils, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 237.

[iii] Jennifer Neils, The Parthenon Frieze, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 257.

 [iv] “The Parthenon Sculptures,” The British Museum, 2008,
The Author: Glenna Gray is an Art History Museum Studies graduate of Randolph University, VA.
Glenna photo

Glenna Gray is a 2014 graduate of Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA.  She is passionate about researching art repatriation issues and the legal complexities that surround them. In her pursuit to gain knowledge in the field of cultural heritage preservation, she has worked with researcher Tess Davis from the University of Glasgow, assisting with research regarding the antiquities looting in Cambodia during the French explorations.  Glenna recently completed an Honours Thesis on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures, and travelled to London and Athens to assess the museum displays, presentation authenticity, and educational outcomes of the British Museum and Acropolis Museum’s Parthenon galleries.  In fall 2015, she will begin a Master’s program at Rutgers University, for a further degree in Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies.  Her current research interest pertains to the diplomatic tensions between Cyprus and the Turkish occupying forces, and the implications for the state’s rich material culture.  

Bell Pottinger poll on the"Elgin Marbles". Caveat lector.

On the 18th of February 2015 a news item appeared on the ITV website to the effect that 60% of art experts think that the "Elgin Marbles" should stay in London. This catches the eye because it contradicts all the opinion polls taken over two decades or more. The story does not appear to have gained wide currency, but it exists out there in the ether and should be examined.

It appears to originate in the Arts Report of Bell Pottinger Arts, which had examined which city would be the Arts Capital of the world in 2015.   They canvassed art experts of various specialisms who concluded that it would be London. So far so good. But then it gets a bit murky. They add what can best be described as a footnote:

"Bell Pottinger has no wish to to enter the public debate about the issues regarding the ownership and location of the Elgin Marbles - or the Parthenon Marbles as they are also known - however we were keen to understand the mood of opinion in the arts world on this perennially controversial subject. Sixty per cent felt they should remain in the British Museum while forty per cent thought they should be returned to Greece."

This poll is open to a number of questions about its purpose, its structure, its methodology and its findings.

- A "keenness to understand" does not really explain why a hard headed commercial player like Bell Pottinger, conducting a survey of the international markets of the art world, bothered to tack on a footnote about an issue of principle(s), especially as they "had no wish to enter the public debate".

- The sample (70) is miniscule.

- When it is broken down it produces a list of even more miniscule


- It is not random.

- Its geographical distribution is questionable.

- The specialisms included are heavily biased towards those which deal with art as a commodity for trading.

- The shadowy group called "political" requires clarification.

- No indication is given of the questions asked, as is normal in an opinion poll.

- Consequently no breakdown is given of the responses, by question or by category of respondent.

- The lists of "reasons" for supporting retention or return are similarly not broken down or analysed.

- They are broadly indicative of a superficial rather than a specialist knowledge of the issue.

- It would be particularly interesting to know more about the views of galleries and museums specialists, who might be expected to know more about the issues of principle.

In summary, this survey is an oddity. It claims to be disinterested. We trust that this is so, and that it will not be utilised by others with more vested interest. Its structure and methodology are too opaque and inadequate to allow any confidence in its findings. Caveat lector.

* The survey:

Bell Pottinger held 70 separate conversations with the arts communities in London, the Middle East and Asia. Respondents were invited to answer a number of questions anonymously.

Of the 70 correspondents 50 (74%) were UK based, and 20 (26%) were equally split between the Middle East and Asia.

The respondents were classified into five groups:

18 (26%) Galleries and museums

17 (224%) Advisors (fine art dealers, restorer, archivists, wealth

managers, insurers, legal experts, sponsorship brokers, event


14 (20%) Arts media

14 (20%) Other (Auction houses, collectors, artists, performing arts,

schools and universities)

7 (10%) Political (Those in the political world who advise on the arts or who have specific interests in art).

** Points made in favour of keeping the marbles:

- The dreadful precedent set for museums all over the world

- The length of time that had passed

- The "legality" of the original transfer

- The magnificent way in which the BM has looked after them

- The fact that over 6m people visit the BM every year

*** Points made in favour of return

- That they were stolen and should be returned

- Even if the law does not support this, the moral obligation exists

- Maybe copies can be made

- A more intelligent, respectful and co-operative conversation as

opposed to a purely nationalistic argument was probably the sensible

way forward

Q & A with Eddie O'Hara


A: The issue of the reunification of these sculptures is a a matter of universal concern. We as British campaigners have a particular responsibility in this as it is a British museum, which holds half of the surviving sculptures from the Parthenon.

We also have a particular responsibility to convince the British press, public and politicians of the need to reunify them with their counterparts in Athens.

We have had much success in persuading the British public, as indicated by numerous opinion polls, and also professional opinion, as demonstrated by a 2012 poll in the Museums Journal showing a majority of 73% in favour of reunification, but less so with politicians and the cultural establishment.

Much of our campaigning is focused on informing and educating a critical mass of the general public which could not be ignored by elected politicians and the cultural establishment.


A:Legal title to the ownership of these sculptures is extremely difficult to establish conclusively.

It is well documented that The British Government purchased the sculptures legally from Lord Elgin.

However Lord Elgin acquired the sculptures in questionable circumstances, the evidence for which is difficult to determine in full detail. There is much evidence that he exceeded what he had been given authority to remove by the Ottoman authorities.

The Ottoman state could be argued to have had legal title at the time of Elgin's acquisition; but the modern Turkish state is a different entity.

The Greek national state did not exist at the time of Elgin's acquisition of the sculptures and had never existed before that.

The only entity that could be argued to have had undisputed legal title was the demos of ancient Athens, but that did not survive antiquity.

Then there have to be taken into account differences of property ownership across time and countries, including the British Museum Act 1963.

But anyway, this should be seen not as a legal but essentially as a cultural issue. The sculptures belong to the Parthenon.


A: Over the years the British Museum has advanced a number of arguments which have been described as "historical curiosities discredited variously as inconsequential, disingenuous, debatable, statistically dubious or just plain wrong" (E O'Hara, Museums Journal, 112/06, 01/06/2012).

The one that continues to have specious public resonance is the "floodgates" argument - that to concede to the demand for the return of these sculptures would set a precedent leading to a flood of similar requests which would, if conceded, denude the galleries of the great museums.

This argument is incidentally close to an admission that much of the cultural property in the great museums is of questionable provenance. It is also overstated. The great museums have on permanent display a mere fraction, perhaps 20%, of the property in their collections. Also, not every demand would be of equal merit and each would be considered on its merits.

But anyway, the "floodgates" argument does not apply to the Parthenon Marbles. They are probably uniques in being integral elements of a fixed monument which is a UNESCO world heritage site, sawn off and divided for display, mainly in museums 2,000 miles apart. Thus their reunification would set no precedent.

The British Museum has recently rested its case on its status as a "universal" museum which transcends national cultural boundaries and presents the sculptures in a global context, unlike the "parochial" Acropolis Museum.

The status of "universal" museum is self serving and self designated by the Bizot Group of major museums. It is by no means universally accepted. There is evidence that most visitors do not seek or make the claimed cultural crossconnections. Rather they treat the collections as a smorgasbord of disparate delicacies.

Thus in essence the Parthenon Marbles are at best exemplars in the British Museum's collection and at worst trophies. Whichever way, their presence is essentially elective.

The Acropolis Museum makes no pretensions to being " universal" museum. It is focused on providing a comprehensive and holistic narrative of the Acropolis and is associated monuments. The role of the Parthenon Marbles in this narrative is not elective but integral and essential. This arguably gives the Acropolis Museum greater entitlement than the British Museum to the inclusion of the Parthenon Marbles in its display.


A: Greece is currently pursuing the matter through the UNESCO mediation process. An approach has been made to the British Government which has said it will respond in due course. However the issue has been on the agenda of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the return of Cultural Property since 1987.

Also the Swiss Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is currently pursuing a number of initiatives through the processes of the European Union.

However it is notoriously difficult to secure a judgement from an international organisation such as these against one of its members.


A: It is certainly a matter of visceral concern to the Greek people.

This is sometimes misrepresented and criticised as nationalism, a political concept of dubious pedigree.

In fact it is rather a matter of ethnicity: the Greek state and people regard the Parthenon as an iconic symbol of their ethnic identity. This is a cultural concept.

According to the Faro Convention (2005) an identified cultural group have a human right to the enjoyment of their cultural heritage.


An Affair without Ending: The Parthenon and its Sculptures

Antonia pic

 Antonia Georgiadou (MA Tourism Management, University of Westminster)


As a matter of fact, life appears to unfold through a series of events, which involve rituals and movements with a certain purpose and way of conduct, and depend on space and time to acquire meaning and fill us with memories. Travelling as an event during one’s lifetime encapsulates by definition the need to escape, explore, learn and remember…something different, unique and original. What is more, it said that the more intense the emotions of the traveller, the more genuine their experience.


My MA thesis entitled “Exploring Authenticity in Heritage Tourism: The Dialectic Between the Visitor, the Setting and the Experience at the New Acropolis Museum and at the British Museum” has aspired to foster the legitimacy of the New Acropolis Musem as the first better home to accommodate the artefacts from the Acropolis, predominately the Parthenon Sculptures. It took me precisely two (2) weeks to compile 100 questionnaires answered by visitors to the New Acropolis Museum, last June, whereas I barely managed to gather 50 at the British Museum carrying out my survey for another two (2) weeks, the following July. Of course, I still remain convinced that would I have been granted permission to just enter the British Museum courtyard-which I only found out later that constitutes “public space”-the target of the 100 samples would have been more surely reached. For this reason, I find it more appropriate to limit the discussion to the results of the first on-site survey, discarding the others for the sake of authenticity, which is what the whole research has sought for, after all.


About a year ago (summer 2013), people from 31 different countries aged between 18-69 years-old, 42 men and 57 women, were asked to fill in a questionnaire about their experience at the New Acropolis Museum on the day of their visit. Surprisingly, it occurred that more than half of them (i.e. 65 out of 100) had also visited the Parthenon (Duveen) Gallery at the British Museum. Their responses are quite enlightening. Most of them motivated purely by personal interest thought of the museum overall atmosphere as quite positive and lively during their tour, while they were also pleased with the exhibition design, particularly the ease of circulation, signage/directions, info on exhibits, position of artefacts, lighting, meaningful interconnection of the collection. According to their answers, the most helpful tools to comprehend the meaning of the exhibition were their own perception and individual interpretation, the labels as well as the atmosphere, in general.


Drawing on the psychological and socio-cultural aspect of the museum experience, it becomes evident that the visitor experience at the New Acropolis Museum showcases three (3) main affective states towards the exhibits: respect (72%), admiration (65%) and reflection (38%). On the other hand, guests upon their exit from the museum building admitted to have felt “satisfaction” (57%) followed by an equal share of “introspection” (24%), “pride” (23%), and “nostalgia” (22%). Last but not least, 78/100 visitors answered that the “location of the museum enhanced [their] experience” while 70/100 agreed that “the surrounding environment supports the character of the museum”. Finally, at the end of the questionnaire, interviewees were given room to provide freely their own feedback-either positive or negative-about their visit. The whole survey had no intention whatsoever to touch upon or challenge people’s opinion on the return of the so-called Elgin Marbles.


Returning the Parthenon Sculptures from the British Museum to the New Acropolis Museum had always been a subject for high culture discourse on the part of the elite, but also a communal vision of national identity for the Greek society. Decades of political confrontations and diplomatic negotiations have gone by without having achieved the desired effect yet. Personally, I have come to believe that the case is hardly ever going to be resolved. Paraphrasing the words of Melina Mercouri, I would advise that before arguing for their return we should all try to understand what the Parthenon Marbles mean to the rest of world, to each and every tourist who visits the Acropolis-not just the New Museum. Thus, it should not be all about having them back, but, instead, it should all be about ensuring that they are being taken good care of so as to be able to instil into their viewers the same sentiments and sensibility, until the day of them coming home


Greek Ministry of Culture:Resolution 18GA 2014/40 passed at ICOMOS General Assembly in Florence, Italy


Greek Ministry of Culture:Resolution 18GA 2014/40 passed at ICOMOS General Assembly in Florence, Italy, 14 November 2014 




ICOMOS GREECE – International Issues
General Director of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage
Hellenic Ministry of Culture


In the 19th century Lord Elgin removed integral architectural sculptures from the frieze, the metopes and the pediments from the Parthenon. The Parthenon Marbles that are on display at the British Museum make up approximately 60% of the total remaining sculptural material of the monument. The need for their reunification with the other 40%, now exhibited in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, is a cultural desideratum. It will be to the benefit of every visitor (scholar or not), who seeks to view the Parthenon and its historical environment. The issue of the Parthenon Marbles is continuously on the agenda of the Committee for the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) since 1984. Twenty two (22) Committees all over the world were founded in support of the reunification, while polls carried out through the years, show the high public interest on the issue.

For many years Greece has requested from the British Government on various occasions and on a consistent basis the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles on the basis of collaboration and good will. This is probably the most famous and longstanding request of cultural heritage ever. It concerns this most exquisite monument of classical Athens and the most representative manifestation of the classical spirit.

At a meeting held between the Greek Minister of Culture and Sports and the Director General of UNESCO, in July 2013, the former asked UNESCO for its good offices, in order for Greece and the UK to enter into mediation for the issue of the Parthenon Marbles. UNESCO sent a letter to the Secretary of State of the U.K., Mr. William Hague, the Secretary of Culture, Ms Maria Miller and the Director of the British Museum, Mr. Neil MacGregor, informing them of Greece’s request that UNESCO examine the possibility of resorting to the process of mediation as foreseen by the relevant bylaws of the Organization, in order to reach an amicable solution concerning the Parthenon Marbles.

Moreover, on 1st and 2nd October representatives of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports met within the context of the Unesco Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin (ICPRCP) with representatives of the British Government in order to discuss the Parthenon Marbles issue. The main point of the bilateral discussions this time was the lack of reaction of the UK to the invitation sent in August 2013 by UNESCO in regard to the mediation with Greece on the Parthenon Marbles issue.

The meeting resulted in a consensus, adopted by the Committee. The Recommendation invites Britain to consider the proposal for mediation.

In this framework UNESCO will use its good offices in order to facilitate further meetings between the two sides.

It is the first time that Member States of Unesco are invited to mediation since these rules have only been adopted in 2010.

The Rules of Procedure for Mediation and Conciliation are conceived under the general principles of equity, impartiality and good faith, which are intended to promote harmonious and fair resolution for disputes concerning the restitution of cultural property. Each State is invited to nominate and submit to the Secretariat the names of two individuals who may serve as mediators and conciliators. Their qualification is contingent on their competency and mastery in matters of restitution, resolution dispute and other specific characteristics of the protection of cultural property.

The rules of procedure are meant to be complementary to the work of the Intergovernmental Committee. It is noted that the text adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee represents a legal tool that does not constitute a binding normative obligation.

Regarding the above, the National Committee of ICOMOS Hellenic, deems it necessary to request the approval of the following proposal regarding the Greek request for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles in order, for the integrity of the monument, to be restored in its historic, cultural and natural environment:

1. Use of the procedure of mediation

2. UK should enter into mediation with Greece on the Parthenon Marbles issue, on the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation rules.

Mediation is a new procedure, which is not binding and will encourage collaboration and discussion between the two sides to find a win-win solution.

The resolution addresses the following public agencies and other competent institutions:

1. Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports

2. UK Ministry of Culture, Media and Sports

3. National Committees for UNESCO


1. State Public Services (e.g. Ministries of Culture)


3. ICOMOS (National Committees)


The 18th General Assembly developed in Florence, Italy, from 9 to 14 November 2014, considering the the 19th Recommendation of the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting The Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation and the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation rules, resolved:

To support the mediation process proposed by Greece for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles on the basis of UNESCO’s 2010 mediation and to encourage both parties (Greece and United Kingdom) to open a fruitful dialogue aiming at a mutually acceptable solution.

Further reading :

“ACROPOLIS – A Unique World Heritage Monument - The Return of the Marbles

Why it’s right to repatriate certain museum artefacts: a response to James Cuno by tom flynn


BBC Sunday Morning Live debate November 2nd 2014: Should Britain return its historical treasures?

BBC Sunday Morning Live debate November 2nd 2014: Should Britain return its historical treasures? Presented by Sian Williams

I write to protest at the use of the Parthenon Marbles as the main exemplar for a debate on the general issue of whether cultural property should be returned to its country of origin.

The most cursory investigation would have revealed to your researchers that the campaigners for the reunification (note the word - not "return") of the Parthenon marbles focus specifically and solely on the merits off this particular case.  We do not campaign for "returnism" in general.

Opinion polls about the reunification of the Parthenon marbles always produce a large majority in favour.  The result of your opinion poll looks like an exception.  This is because the Parthenon marbles were presented as an exemplar for a case which we do not make and without the main arguments which we do make.  Furthermore any opinion pollster would tell you that the question "Should Britain return its historical treasures?" Has a built in bias towards a negative response.

The Parthenon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Not any old UNESCO World Heritage site but judged by UNESCO itself to be the most important such site in Europe.  Not only in Europe.  Its global significance is recognised by its adoption by UNESCO as the basis for its own logo.   Its "marbles" are integral, sculpted architectural elements of the monument. These sculpted elements are a single artistic entity with the building.  Over 50% of them were removed, in many cases sawn or hacked off by Elgin's agents and removed to Britain, an action widely criticised both then and now as cultural vandalism.  The rest remain in Athens.  Whilst they are so separated the artistic integrity of the whole is impaired.  The Parthenon is a fixed monument.  It is in Athens.  Thus the only place where the integrity of the whole can be restored is in Athens.  Nor is the Acropolis Museum just "another museum".  Its glass walled upper gallery is aligned with the Parthenon.  In it the sculptures are displayed in correct configuration, with maximum natural light, in direct line of sight with the Parthenon in a single visual and aesthetic experience.   It is impossible to put them back on the Parthenon.  This is the closest possible and it can only happen there.  In short, the ethical and cultural case for the reunification of the Parthenon marbles in Athens is unique and overwhelming.

Eddie O'Hara
Chairman, The British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles

And the results of a more specific poll on should we return the sculptures from the Parthenon resulted in 90% voting YES