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The Greeks May Get The Elgin Marbles Back … Thanks to Brexit?

The Greeks Shall Inherit

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22: Sections of the Parthenon Marbles also known as the Elgin Marbles are displayed at The British Museum on November 22, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Beware Greeks bearing … Brexit Terms?

The UK began their official year of transition out of the EU on February 1st, and while nothing much seemed to happen at first, there are all sorts of terms and conditions being applied by the EU for Britan’s Exit and one of them aims to get justice for what many see as an infamous theft of antiquities.

The Parthenon Marbles were for centuries part of, you got it, the Parthenon in Athens. The 160-meter frieze, along with sculptures from the Parthenon, are priceless artifacts of ancient Greece and the temple of Athena—and now are a star-attraction at the British Museum in London. Because they, like a lot of antiquities, were stolen by a colonizing power.

The marbles were “bought” by Lord Elgin (hence the name “Elgin marbles”) in 1816 while Greece was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire aka Turkey and then they were presented to the crown. This is the same period of history when Britain and other Imperial powers were doing a lot of plundering. Napoleon found the Rosetta Stone in Egypt … then lost to the British so it too is in the British Museum. Funny that.

Greece has long disputed the legality of the sale of the marbles and demanded their return to their rightful place, and who can blame them. This is like your least favorite acquaintance broke into your house and sold your stuff on eBay while you were gone. Now imagine your stuff is an essential cultural treasure and you get an idea of how Greece feels.

Now, to Brexit. As terms are negotiated, the EU’s new draft mandate on their future relationship with the UK includes that it seeks the “return or restitution of unlawfully removed cultural objects to their countries of origin,” according to Reuters (via the New York Times).

This term has far-reaching implications for all the stolen artifacts and treasures that the UK holds, but sources confirm that the term was added by Greece with support from Italy and is meant to bring the Parthenon Marbles home to where they belong. Greece’s cultural minister also has stated recently that they will be stepping up their campaign for the return of the marbles, now that Britain’s influence and power are waning in the EU thanks to Brexit.

The British, for their part, maintain that they will keep the stolen artifacts, because of course they will. They won’t admit that most of the treasures in the British Museum are stolen or that London auction houses are a hub for other stolen artifacts, but here’s hoping that this move by the EU and Greece actually works.

The Parthenon Marbles belong in the Parthenon—they’d likely go to the Acropolis Museum now in Athens—not in a museum in London. As glorious as they are, they belong in the country they were made in and into whose cultural heritage they play such a big role. We all said the Brits had lost their marbles going through with the Brexit business, so now it’s time to make it literal.

(via The New York Times)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.