Memorandum submitted by The International
Organising CommitteeAustraliafor the Restitution
of the Parthenon Marbles
1. THE AUSTRALIAN
1.1 The Australian Committee for the Restitution
of the Parthenon Marbles was formed in 1982 and is representative
of a wide cross section of the Australian community. Its members
include former Prime Ministers, the Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser and
the Hon EG Whitlam, three State Premiers, the Hon Bob Carr (New
South Wales) the Hon Steve Bracks (Victoria) and the Hon John
Olson (South Australia), two former State Premiers the Hon Neville
Wran (NSW) and the Hon Jeff Kennett (Victoria) and former Federal
Cabinet Minister the Hon Sir James Killen KCMG.
1.2 Other prominent members of the Australian
Committee include the Chairman of the Australian Museum, Malcolm
Long, the Chairman of the Sydney Opera House, Joe Skrzynski and
the General Manager of the Australian Council for the Arts, Jenny
1.3 The Australian Committee accepts that
the question of the Parthenon Marbles and specifically the Elgin
Collection is important for both Britain and Greece. However,
given the important place of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and
the Classic Greek Age in world history, the issue is also of legitimate
interest to the wider international community. In short, we believe
this is more than an argument about Greek heritage; it is a world
heritage issue. We also believe that with some genuine goodwill,
a satisfactory solution to the matter might be found.
1.4 The Australian submission follows widespread
consultation with supporters of the restitution of the Parthenon
Marbles and with senior museum staff in Australia, New Zealand,
USA, Britain and Greece.
2.1 This House of Commons Committee by its
terms of reference will consider, inter alia, claims for the return
of items of cultural property which were historically removed
and not necessarily acquired as a result of illicit trade as well
as the policies and procedures to be adopted by museums relating
to such claims.
2.2 The Elgin Collection of the Parthenon
Marbles, removed from the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Athens,
Greece from 1801 by Lord Elgin and ultimately reposed in the Trustees
of the British Museum, is the most celebrated case of cultural
property which requires consideration by this Committee.
2.3 This House of Commons Committee inquiry
provides the British Parliament and the British Government with
a valuable opportunity to address the policies and the legislation
that have hitherto prevented the proper processing of the claim
for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum
2.4 The British Museum and the British Museums
Act, which prevents the museum from returning any significant
cultural property, is out of step with the present day practice
of many other museums. The British Museum, its policies and its
legislation should be brought into line with modern world practice.
Museums in Australia, the USA, Britain and elsewhere have in recent
years been moving increasingly to return cultural property over
which there have been claims.
2.5 The case for the return to Athens of
the Elgin Collection of Parthenon Marbles is overwhelming and
there are now no reasonable grounds for the continued retention
of the Collection in the British Museum or for the continued rejection
of claims for their return.
2.6 Recently the UK Museums and Galleries
Commission published new guidelines relating to the return of
cultural property by British museums. Any reasonable application
of these guidelines to the case of the Elgin Collection would
result in their being returned to Greece.
We would submit that the Committee make the
3.1 That British museums be encouraged to
adopt policies and procedures that will allow them to properly
and proactively process claims for the return of cultural property.
3.2 That the British Museum legislation
be amended to allow for the proper and proactive processing of
claims for the return of cultural property.
3.3 That as a gesture of goodwill aimed
at addressing the long standing dispute over the future of the
Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, the British Government
agree to the opening of dialogue aimed at reaching agreement on
the eventual consolidation of the surviving marbles in Athens,
in a new museum to be built close to the Acropolis.
3.4 That the principles governing agreement
on the future custodianship of the Parthenon Marbles should include:
ensuring the very best care and conservation, the best management,
the widest possible accessibility of the exhibits to the public
and the encouragement of the highest levels of international research
3.5 That discussion on the future of the
Marbles examine the possibility of British and other international
involvement in the on-going conservation, management, care and
scholarship associated with the collection.
3.6 That the discussion proceed on the understanding
(i) The Marbles be returned to Athens only
after the construction of a suitable new museum close to the Acropolis
and that Greece formalise its undertaking to arrange the funding
for the new museum.
(ii) Greece formalises its undertaking to
meet the costs associated with the return of the collection and
the cost of a complete set of copies to remain in London.
(iii) Greece consider arranging for the placement
of other significant exhibits of Greek antiquity with the British
(iv) Greece formalises its undertaking to
make no other claims for the return of Greek artefacts in museums
or collections in Britain.
4. RETURN OF
4.1 Increasingly, the international practice
is for museums to develop policies and guidelines that allow for
the processing of claims for the return of cultural property.
4.2 In almost every case where significant
cultural property has been returned it has been the cultural connection
to the material and not the legal ownership that has dictated
4.3 Museums Australia, the umbrella organisation
covering all of the museums and galleries in Australia and has
developed policies and guidelines covering the return of culturally
significant materials and many museums have returned items under
4.4 The Australian Museum, as a good example,
has policies for processing claims and has returned a considerable
number of items. They include artefacts to Papua New Guinea in
1977 and 1988, the Solomon Islands in 1988, Vanuatu in 1981 and
1988 and India in 1999.
4.5 Cases involving the return of significant
cultural property from museums in the United States include artefacts
from the Brooklyn Museum to Guatemala in 1973, from Newark Museum
to Syria in 1974, From Harvard's Peabody Museum to Mexico in 1976,
to Panama in 1977 and to Honduras in 1981, from the New York Museum
of Natural History to Greenland in 1993 and from the Metropolitan
Museum of New York to Turkey in 1993.
4.6 Cases involving the return of significant
cultural property from museums in Britain include the return of
artefacts from the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
to Uganda in 1962, from the Victoria and Albert Museum to Burma
in 1964, from the Liverpool Museum to Australia in 1998, from
the Wellcome Institute (London) to Yemen in 1981, from the Royal
Albert Memorial Museum to Tasmania in 1994 and from the Edinburgh
University Museum to Australia in 1991 and New Zealand in 1998.
4.7 Cases involving the return of significant
cultural property from European museums include the return of
artefacts from France to Laos in 1950 and from France to Algeria
in 1968, from Copenhagen University to Iceland in 1971 and from
Holland to Indonesia in 1977.
4.8 By way of contrast, the British Museum
appears to have no guidelines or policies addressing these issues
and its legislation prevents it from returning any significant
4.9 The failure or the inability of the
British Museum to address claims for the return of cultural property
is increasingly diminishing its reputation and overshadowing its
excellent record of scholarship and its other fine collections.
5. THE CASE
5.1 The Parthenon is widely regarded as
one of the most significant monuments in western civilisation
and arguably the purest expression of classical form ever created.
5.2 The Marbles are a series of statues
and friezes that are artistically and structurally part of the
Parthenon. As Ian Jenkins, the Senior Curator, Greek and Roman
Antiquities of the British Museum acknowledges, the Marbles, which
are "the finest ancient artworks known to man", are
also "component parts of an original architectural complex".
In other words, the Marbles are not separate, detached objects
but a vital and integral part of the Parthenon.
5.3 The Parthenon and its statues are perhaps
the most emblematic representation of Greek history, culture,
identity and heritage: they belong in Athens.
5.4 It is undeniably preferable, from every
point of view, be it artistic, architectural, archaeological,
historic or for the sake of conservation, research and scholarship,
or for the benefit of the general public, to unite the surviving
Parthenon statues and statue fragments together and as close to
their original settings on the Acropolis as possible. It is tragic,
for example, that parts of the torso of the important statue of
Poseidon are divided between the Acropolis Museum and the British
Museum and that parts of the head and other surviving parts of
the central figure of Athena are in Athens while the torso is
5.5 The consolidation of the Collection
in the proposed new museum close to the Acropolis will also allow
the Marbles to be displayed in their original configuration, which
is not possible in the Duveen Gallery of the British Museum.
6. THE NEW
UK GUIDELINES FOR
6.1 The UK Museum and Galleries Commission
recently (January 2000) published a document "Restitution
and Repatriation: Guidelines for Good Practice". The Guidelines
are designed to assist British museums "on how to prepare
for and respond to requests for the return of objects in their
collection". The document also states that policies and procedures
will make requests for return "easier to address, and both
the requesting party and the museum staff will be more confident
in working towards a constructive outcome".
6.2 Under the heading "Arguments that
Favour Return" the guidelines provide 10 general arguments
that might justify the return of cultural property. All ten arguments
support the case for the return of the Elgin Collection. The arguments
include, for example:
(i) New approaches to professional practice
in scientific research, archaeological excavation and museum activities,
which recognise others' rights to control cultural material and
(ii) Acknowledgment of past wrongful taking
and/or misunderstandings of complex customary ownership concepts,
and attempts to redress; and
(iii) Opportunity to build new relationships
important to the museum and potential to add new more accurate
information, and even new accessions, to museum collections.
6.3 The Guidelines also contain general
arguments in favour of the retention of cultural property. Many
of these general arguments, if applied in the case of the Parthenon
Marbles, would support the case for their returnand not
their retention in Britain. Examples include:
(i) Integrity of collections;
(ii) Opportunities for comparative research
at one central point; and
(iii) Need to move forward while acknowledging
6.4 Only two of the 22 general arguments
for the retention of property in the Museum and Galleries Commission
Guidelines could possibly be used to support the retention of
the Elgin Collection in the British Museum. They are:
(i) Extended history of the material's presence
in the Museum makes it now part of the scientific or cultural
heritage of the United Kingdom; and
(ii) Local landmark status and sense of community
ownership gained through its presence in the museum.
6.5 The argument that the collection has
been in Britain for long enough to be part of the British Museum's
heritage, or a local landmark is no justification for retention
of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum or for denying
the claim for their return. The nature, history and prominence
of the Parthenon and its statues far outweigh any claim that they
are part of the heritage of the British Museum.
7.1 The British Museum points out that they
are prevented by the British Museums Act from returning the Parthenon
7.2 The British Museums Act, which prevents
the return of any significant cultural property, is increasingly
out of step with other museums in Britain and around the world.
The legislation should be amended and guidelines adopted so as
to allow the processing of claims for the return of material.
7.3 Ever since Elgin took the Marbles it
has been argued that better care would be taken of them by the
British Museum than if they were left in Athens. In 1816, the
House of Commons Committee, which recommended the Collection be
purchased from Elgin reported " . . . no country can be better
adapted than our own to afford an honourable asylum to these monuments
. . . secure from further injury and degradation".
7.4 Whilst this argument might have applied
in the past it no longer holds true now. The safe keeping of the
Collection can be assured in Athens and this should be guaranteed
as a condition of their return. Also, the reputation of superior
care in the British Museum has now been severely damaged with
revelations of the damage caused to a significant part of the
Collection in 1937 and 1938.
7.5 The British Museum has also expressed
concern that the return of the Parthenon Marbles would set a precedent
that would lead to many more claims for the return of material
held by the museum.
7.6 In an attempt to allay some of these
fears, the Greek President Stephanopolous in 1996 stated that
if the Parthenon Marbles were returned Greece would formally waive
all other claims for the return of their ancient artefacts in
British museums and collections.
7.7 It has been the Australian experience
that the return of property has not resulted in demands for the
return of other property. In many cases the return has resulted
in the gift of other material from the recipient and the forging
of closer relations between the peoples.
7.8 This has not only been the Australian
experience. We are unaware of any circumstances where the act
of return of significant cultural property has stimulated a further
demand for material from the museum.
7.9 In any event, fear of other claims is
not a reasonable or justifiable basis for rejecting the legitimate
claim for the return of the Elgin Collection.
7.10 In 1998, the Senior Curator of Greek
and Roman Antiquities of the British Museum, Ian Jenkins introduced
the novel argument that the Marbles are "the pictorial representation
of England as a free society and the liberator of other peoples".
(Daily Telegraph 29.6.98). Such claims cannot seriously
be maintained and is further evidence that the British Museum
is out of step with modern museum practice in relation to cultural
7.11 The British Museum has argued the Elgin
Collection was legally acquired and that the Museum rightfully
owns the collection.
7.12 This point is largely immaterial to
the merit of the current claim. Even if it could be demonstrated
that Elgin had the appropriate legal authority to take the collection,
it would not diminish the legitimacy of the claim for their return.
7.13 In any event, it has never been satisfactorily
established that Elgin acted properly or with the appropriate
legal authority when he had the Marbles removed. Specifically:
(i) As an international authority on cultural
property Jeanette Greenfield has pointed out there is "grave
doubt" that Elgin had proper legal title to the Marbles.
(ii) The authorisation for Elgin to proceed
exists only in a copy of a translation of an original letter that
has never been produced. The House of Commons Committee that examined
the matter in 1816 reported "your Committee had no opportunity
of learning from Lord Elgin . . . in what terms they . . . Allowed
the displacing, or carrying away of these Marbles . . . ".
(iii) It may be questioned whether Elgin
ever had authority for any dismantling of the buildings in order
to remove the sculptures.
(iv) It is clear from all the evidence that
the intent of the original project and the original authorisations
was to allow Elgin to draw and sketch and make casts of the statues
of the Parthenon and not to take them away to Britain. As early
as 1816, the House of Commons Committee reported that Elgin had
placed an "extensive interpretation" on such permission
as he was given.
(v) The removal of the Marbles (particularly
the metopes) necessarily caused severe structural damage to the
Parthenon, which was in no way authorised.
(vi) Elgin used his public office for private
gain. The Marbles were always intended for Elgin's private collection
yet his authority to work the site was only obtained because he
was British Ambassador. As the House of Common Committee reported
in 1816 "he was Ambassador from our Court: they granted the
same permission to no other individual".
(vii) The taking of the Marbles have never
been approved or sanctioned by any Greek authority.
8. THE BASIS
8.1 The Australian Committee believes it
is possible, consistent with British aspirations for the long
term care of the Marbles and having regard to Britain's role in
Europe and as leader of the international community and seizing
the occasion of the new Millennium and the opportunity presented
by this House of Commons Committee, for the claims for the return
of the Parthenon Marbles to be met.