History of the Marbles

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Stripping the Acropolis Repeatedly

The end ('telos') was, however far from near. In the spring of 1802 Elgin came over to Athens himself, congratulated his team and oversaw personally the removal of the stunning horse's head from the chariot of the waning moon (Selene) in the east pediment.

Shipping the sculptures to London presented problems. In September the 'Mentor', Elgin's own small brig, sank outside the Island of Cythera with some of the finest sculptures of the Parthenon. On Christmas Eve 1802, Hunt managed to enlist the help of Captain Clarke, commanding the HMS 'Braakel', to salvage the sunken sculptures and ship them to London.

Lord Elgin left Constantinople with his family on 16 January 1803, was captured by the French and held prisoner for the next three years. During that time his man in Athens, Lusieri, removed one of the Caryatids of the Erechtheion and replaced it with a crude bare brick pillar to prevent the roof from collapsing.

By 1806, when Elgin was released from captivity, his second large collection of antiquities was still In Athens with the beleaguered but loyal Lusieri standing guard over It. When in 1809 the new British Ambassador Robert Adair asked for their release, the Ottomans told him that Lord Elgin had never been authorised to remove any sculptures from the Parthenon In the first place. On 18 February they changed their mind and the Voivode was ordered to let them go.

The order reached Athens on 20 March. Losing no time, Lusieri loaded everything on a ship that set sail for London on 26 March. It contained most of the Parthenon sculptures but had to leave behind five of the heaviest cases. These were shipped to London a year later on 11 April 1811 by a British navy vessel having on board Lusieri and his last cargo 'the last plunder from a bleeding land' as Byron was to call it in Childe Harold.