Memorandum submitted by the British Committee
for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles
1. The British Committee for the Restitution
of the Parthenon Marbles submits evidence in relation to Other
Return Issues. It is specifically concerned with the return of
the Parthenon Sculptures, now in the British Museum, to Athens
and the museum that will be erected there to exhibit all the artefacts
belonging to the Parthenon that are not still in the structure.
We will make observations in this context under the heads listed.
2. The British Committee was formed in 1983.
Here follows a list of its current members with brief notes on
their areas of expertise:
Mr Graham Binns MA (Oxon) (Chairman), Fulbright
Scholar to USA. One-time Assistant Regional Director Arts Council
of Great Britain and Broadcasting and Communications Executive.
Mr Christopher Price MA (Oxon) (Deputy Chairman),
former Chairman of the Select Committee for Culture, Science and
the Arts. Chairman of Yorkshire Arts.
Mrs Eleni Cubitt (Secretary), film and documentary
producer. Cultural and historical events organiser.
Sir Kenneth Alexander, Fellow of the Royal Society
of Edinburgh; former Chancellor, University of Aberdeen; Vice-Chancellor,
University of Strathclyde; Trustee, Royal Museum of Scotland.
Professor Anthony Snodgrass, the Laurence Professor
of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge University.
Professor A A M Bryer, Emeritus Professor of
Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, Former Chairman of
the British National Committee of the International Byzantine
Association. Member of the Council of the British Institute of
Archaeology in Ankara. Vice-President of the National Trust in
Professor Judith Herrin, Professor of Late Antique
and Byzantine Studies, Kings College, London. Formerly Stanley
J Seeger Professor of Byzantine History, Princeton, United States
Professor Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek
History, Cambridge University. Fellow and Director of Studies,
Professor Oliver Taplin FBA, Professor of Classical
Languages and Literature, Oxford University.
Mr Keith Hunter OBE, formerly British Council
Director, Italy. Trustee, British School at Rome.
Ms Jane Shallice, educationalist and researcher.
2.1 The Committee proposes that serious
discussions should be instituted between the British and Greek
Governments. The question of ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures
should be set aside while consideration is given to moving the
displaced pieces to Athens, to be housed in a specially designed
museum which would incorporate all the artefacts from the Parthenon
that are not now part of the edifice. The object would be to restore
the integrity of the frieze, metopes, and pediments by bringing
them together in one place, as near to the Parthenon itself as
practicable. An appropriate occasion for announcing the opening
of such discussions would be at the Olympic Games in Athens, AD
3. THE CASE
When a Committee of the House of Commons recommended
the acquisition of the "Elgin" Marbles in 1816, it accepted
Lord Elgin's claim that he had been authorised by a "firman"
issued in 1801 to make drawings, casts, and remove pieces of stone
and that his more extensive depredations had been cleared, after
the event, by two further "firmans".
No firmans were produced in evidence. What was
represented as an Italian translation of the initial "firman"
did not authorise Elgin to dismantle the Parthenon. It was not,
in fact, a true firman, or authorisation from the only competent
power in the matter, the Sultan himself, but a letter from a deputy
to the Grand Vizier.
The Committee of 1816 made its Report when the Great Powers were
in competition for collections of classical sculpture. Its conclusions
were contested at the time and do not bear scrutiny today.
3.1 Nevertheless, the British Museum is
in possession of almost half of the sculpted masonry that was
once an integral part of a structure that is itself unparalleled
in the history of architecture. Whatever arguments were made in
1816 for keeping such significant parts of the monument in Britain,
while Greece was a subject province of the Ottoman Empire, no
longer apply. If the Parthenon itself and the British Museum's
collection of Parthenon Sculptures lay within the same state boundaries,
but 2,000 miles apart, there is no question but that they would
not be brought together.
3.2 The British Museum's position in this
matter is based on ownership. We urge that it is of greater international
importance to consider the unity of the monument itself. The Parthenon
cannot be reconstituted. But it is being conserved to the most
exacting international standards, and a new museum is to be erected
on the site already announced, in the vicinity of the Acropolis.
We believe that the British Museum should offer constructive co-operation
and collaboration to the Greek authorities and identify itself
with the reunification of the artefacts belonging to the Parthenon.
All this, of course, is subject to the satisfactory completion
of the new museum.
3.3 To date the British Museum and the British
Government have made no gesture toward the conservation of the
Parthenon, nor toward the project of the new museum. What observations
have been made have generally been of an unsympathetic or hostile
nature. We propose a fresh approach in which the British Museum
offers itself as part of the project to conserve the site and
create a new museum. If the Hermitage Museum of St Petersburg
can, for different reasons, reach out to Somerset House in London
and to Amsterdam, and the Guggenheim from New York to Bilbao and
Venice, the British Museum should be able, in the interests of
conservation, to extend itself in a truly international style
beyond the confines of Bloomsbury.
So far, the opposite has been the case. In reassembling
and stabilizing the Parthenon, the Greek conservators need a section,
or "drum", in order to complete a structural column
of the building. That "drum", a block of fluted stone,
was removed by Elgin's men. It is in the British Museum. The Greek
request was refused. This would seem to indicate neither interest
nor concern in the monument of which all these marble blocks are
a part. In a further instance of hostility, the British Museum
has attempted to malign Greek competence in conservation techniquesan
attempt that has rebounded to the discredit of the Museum (see
3.4 The case of the column "drum"
(3.3 above) is itself sufficient to demonstrate that the relationship
between the British Museum and the Greek archaeological service
has become unproductivewhich is why we are proposing a
new beginning. If it can be agreed that everyone's first consideration
must be what is best for the site and the monument, for the proper
understanding of that monument, and for scholarship, then a genuine
effort must be made to reconcile all the real interests concerned,
while putting aside those that are merely nationalistic, British
3.5 Policies and procedures
This issue concerns not only the practical usefulness
of uniting the separated parts of the monument; it is also a matter
of ethical concern. In today's world nobody has, or is believed
ever to have had, the right or justification to dismantle a historic
building of great cultural and national significance and remove
large sections of it to a distant country. Neither has any institution
or country a right to declare these artefacts a part of their
own national culture.
A consequence of restitution would also be of
significance in sending a strong message to illicit dealers and
those who buy from them that they cannot rely on length of possession
and lapse of time alone to render them immune from prosecution.
3.6 Guidance and advice
We urge that the British Government should make
positive endeavours to bring about the reunification of the sculptures
in a spirit of goodwill and in a manner mutually beneficial to
Greece and Britain.
We urge that the British Government should initiate
any necessary legislation and that it should in due course open
discussions with the Greek Government with the aim of reaching
a positive resolution to the issue to coincide with the International
Olympics, Athens 2004.
5 See Appendix A: "Was the Removal of the Parthenon
Marbles Legal?" by Professor V Demetriades. Back
See Appendix B by Professor Anthony Snodgrass. Back
See Appendix D: "The New Museum". Back