Greece Offers to Loan the British Museum ‘Important Antiquities’ in Exchange for the Parthenon Marbles

The Greek culture minister said the artifacts would "fill the void" left by the return of the marbles.

Sections of the Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum in London. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni has promised to supply the British Museum with rotating exhibitions of Hellenic treasures in exchange for the return of the Parthenon Marbles. The remarks from Mendoni, made in an interview with The Guardian on December 27, comes as the British Museum has signaled increased openness to coming to a compromise to resolve the issue of the artifacts in a way that equally benefits both countries.

“Our position is clear,” said Mendoni. “Should the sculptures be reunited in Athens, Greece is prepared to organize rotating exhibitions of important antiquities that would fill the void.” She added that any artifacts provided to the U.K would “constantly renew international visitor interest in the Greek galleries of the British Museum.”

The U.K. and Greece have been in a decades-long dispute over the sculptures, which have been in the collection of the British Museum for more than 200 years since they were chopped up in 1801 and taken by Lord Elgin, who served as ambassador to the former Ottoman Empire. The British Museum has long said it’s the proper steward for the ancient artifacts, claiming that the relics were saved from destruction by Elgin and with the permission of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time.

In the past, Greece has argued that permission granted to Elgin by the Ottoman Empire was not valid because the Ottomans had conquered and occupied Greece for centuries, and the decision was made without the approval of the Greek. However, Greece has appeared to shift its language in recent months.

“This is not in my mind an ownership question,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the BBC in November. “This is a reunification argument.”

Mitsotakis said Greece wants to restore the marbles to their proper place at the Acropolis Museum, which was built to house the Parthenon sculptures, a feat of reparation not simply repatriation. Following that interview, in which the Greek leader likened the British Museum’s holding of the Parthenon Marbles to “cut[ting] the Mona Lisa in half,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak canceled a planned meeting with Mitsotakis.

The diplomatic snub marked an escalation of the discussions around the sculptures. Early in 2023, the British Museum and Greece entered talks over the return of the Parthenon Marbles, likely as part of a “cultural exchange,” though the negotiations went nowhere. In August, following a spate of thefts at the museum, Greece renewed its calls for the sculptures’ return, with Medoni saying at that time that the “Ministry of Culture is following the development of the issue with great attention.”

And while Greece is open to parting with some of its national treasures on a loan basis with the British Museum, Mendoni in her recent interview to The Guardian denied that there have been discussions about opening a branch of the U.K. institution at the Acropolis Museum.

She also seemed to sidestep questions about whether Greece had decided against taking any sort of legal action against the British Museum. She responded that that the government continues “to make full use of the possibilities offered by dialogue and cultural diplomacy.”

 

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