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Football’s Coming Home, But the Parthenon Marbles Stay Put

football coming home Parthenon marbles
The Euro 2020 Wembley final a reminder that the Parthenon Marbles are not coming home. Credit: UEFA, British Museum. Illustration: Greek Reporter

England expects that “football’s coming home,” yet Greece has been expecting their treasured Parthenon Marbles to come back home for more than two centuries.

The whole nation of England, the birthplace of football, is hoping their national team will lift the Euro 2020 trophy at Wembley on Sunday night. English fans full of national pride, have been chanting with zest throughout the tournament: “football’s coming home.”

PM Boris Johnson joined the fever by calling on “the three lions” to bring it home.

For a footballing nation that has never won a Euro and is 55 years without a World Cup, the scale of enthusiasm is understandable. If England beats Italy on Sunday, football will indeed be coming home to the country that invented it.

Greece has invented Democracy and created the Parthenon which is the reference point of Western civilization. Yet, some of the most important symbols – the Parthenon Marbles -will not be coming home, they will stay put in the British Museum.

Johnson: It’s coming home, but Parthenon Marbles stay put

While Boris Johnson calls on his boys to bring football home, he refuses Greece the opportunity to bring their treasures to the place they belong.

Back in March he once again refused Greek requests. Speaking to the Greek daily Ta Nea, he said: “The British government has a firm and long-standing position on the sculptures: they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin, in accordance with the laws in force at the time.”

He added that he understands the strong feelings of the Greek people, but he opined that “The rightful owners are the commissioners of the British Museum since they came into their possession.”

Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, was British ambassador to the Ottoman Court in Istanbul when he stripped much of the surviving inner frieze and most of the pediment sculptures from the Parthenon, shipped them off to England in 1802, and sold them to the British Museum in 1816.

Elgin had stretched the powers of an Ottoman permit allowing him to collect inscriptions and slabs from the Acropolis, and in their rushed efforts his crews greatly damaged the temple.

Elgin did not even have a permit to strip off the Parthenon Marbles

However, more recent historical evidence suggests that Elgin did not even have an Ottoman permit.

As Elly Symons and George Vardas recently argued in an article in Greek Reporter, extensive research undertaken in the meticulously kept Ottoman Archive has yielded significant evidence of the transactions and movement of Lord Elgin during the period in question.

Several permits or firmans have been unearthed regarding Elgin’s presence in Athens and his wider travels in Greece. However, and significantly, the very firman which Elgin claims legitimizes his removal of the Sculptures, does NOT exist. That, we argue, is because it NEVER EXISTED.

The so-called translation in Italian, a language common to none of the treating parties who predominantly spoke English, Greek or Turkish, is in all likelihood a draft of a request prepared on behalf of Elgin and limited specifically to the making of drawings and casts of the sculptures and the collection of broken fragments on the ground. That is all. There was no blanket permission to ransack and pillage the monument.

There are also the letters of Elgin and his agents, the Reverend Philip Hunt and Giovanni Battista Lusieri, which provide evidence of the bribery of local Ottoman authorities.

The proceedings before the UK House of Commons in 1816 to consider the acquisition of the Elgin collection also reveal that Elgin’s motives and actions were strongly opposed by many members, including the Committee’s leading lawyer, MP Sergeant Best, who concluded that “these Sculptures were brought to this country in breach of good faith.”



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