An adventure extending into the 21st century
The modern history of the Acropolis sculptures
(19th century on)
In a nutshell
What Elgin removed from the Acropolis
Elgin did not have permission to dismember buildings or temples of the Acropolis, or to detach, cut or remove any parts of them
Elgin’s acts were unpopular in Athens
Elgin tried to control the reaction of the locals
Far from an act of conservation
Elgin was in a critical financial state and, while taking the Acropolis sculptures to Britain was initially a desire to decorate his mansion in Scotland, it was an easy way out of his financial situation.
You can find documentaries explaining Elgin motive's in Films & Videos.
Elgin caused enormous damage to the Parthenon and the other Acropolis buildings
Elgin broke pieces off the Parthenon, cutting their artistic facade off their architectural extension with a saw. He then shipped the artistic part of the sculptures to Britain. He abandoned the architectural parts on the Acropolis, which you can still see today. One of them, on which you can see the saw marks, is displayed in the Acropolis Museum. Elgin’s actions would be totally unacceptable according to today’s conservation standards.
Documentaries about the impact of Elgin's act on the Acropolis are available in the Films & Videos section.
Elgin’s ship sank leaving the sculptures in sea water for 2 years
On its way to Britain, Elgin’s ship that carried the sculptures, ‘The Mentor’, sank outside the island of Kythera, leaving the Acropolis sculptures in sea water for two years (Pavlou, 2011).
Elgin brought the sculptures to damaging conditions
The sculptures suffered bad treatment by Elgin. They were placed in a dirty, damp shed in his house where he kept them decaying for years. At the end of Elgin’s financially devastating adventures, after an enquiry by the British government which aimed to investigate Elgin’s actions, the British government bought the Acropolis sculptures and kept them in the British Museum. Later, in the 1930s, an erroneous belief by the British Museum curators that the sculptures were and should look again white, led to damaging practices of British Museum staff using metallic brushes to scrape off what later experts realised was the patina. This practice led to irrecoverable loss of part of the delicate details on the surface of a number of the sculptures, also taking into account the relative significance of the portion lost in comparison to how thin the sculptural relief is.
Greece has been asking for the return fo the sculptures since the 19th century
The first claim was by Otto (Othon), King of Greece, in the 19th century (24 June/6 July 1836, Royal Decree #125/46; General State Archives) for the return of the frieze parts of the temple of Athena Nike, followed by the famous claim for their return led by Melina Mercouri (late 20th century). The request by Greece and supporters from around the world for the reunification of the Acropolis Sculptures remains continues today, gaining increasing support also from the public in the UK (see links below).
The British Museum has refused to return the sculptures to Athens
Despite the historical facts, scientific reasons, popular claims, and ethical basis for the reunification of the sculptures, the British Museum continues to hold the Acropolis sculptures in London, refusing to reunite them with the matching originals in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Moving forward: Britain can return the Acropolis sculptures to Athens by a new Act of the English Parliament
Perspective: A brief timeline of the complete history of the Acropolis
>> Click here to view the history timeline of the Acropolis Sculptures <<