The first formal request for the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles came in 1983. (photo Brian Jeffery Beggerly; via Flickr)

Liz Truss, the United Kingdom’s new conservative prime minister, does not support sending the Parthenon Marbles back to Greece. The fifth-century sculptures and friezes used to line the Acropolis in Athens but were taken by British forces between 1801 and 1805 when the city was under Ottoman rule. The British Museum has housed around half of the marbles for over 200 years. The first formal request for their repatriation came in 1983, a subject that has been hotly debated for decades.

In June, British Museum Chairman George Osborn stated that an arrangement could be made in which visitors see the ancient works, which depict gods, heroes, a battle, and the ancient Panathenaea festival, “in their splendour in Athens and alongside the splendour of other civilisations in London.”

Liz Truss, who was elected Prime Minister last month, disagrees. When asked for her thoughts on the possibility of repatriation in an interview with GB News this week, she told a reporter she “does not support” the return before moving on to other topics.

The Parthenon Marbles depict and ancient Athenian festival, gods, heroes, and a battle. (photo Brian Jeffery Beggerly via Flickr)

Last November, former prime minister Boris Johnson stated that the marbles’ return was at the discretion of the British Museum’s board of trustees, not the UK government. The board maintains that they have never been asked to loan the works, only to permanently return them. Osborne’s suggestion of a loan, however, marked a vital shift on the part of the museum.

This April, the British Museum refused a digital scan that could have created a close replica of the marbles, and in June, protestors at the London institution urged the museum to return the ancient works to Greece where they could be reunited with their counterparts at Athen’s Acropolis Museum. The British Museum and the Acropolis Museum did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

This spring, the UK and Greece also agreed to formal talks over the Parthenon Marbles. No date has been set yet, but Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis plans to raise the issue of the marbles on his trip to England later this year.

“At a time when Truss will be looking to build her credibility and when the UK is sort of cornered in terms of its overall image after the [Queen’s] funeral, it will be a fantastic gesture, and that’s what I’ll tell her,” Mitsotakis told the Sunday Times last week.

UK law used to heavily restrict the deaccession of museum objects, but this fall, the country will implement a new law granting museums the power to return some objects “for moral reasons.” The British Museum has not announced any intention of repatriating the marbles to Greece.

The topic of repatriation and the British Museum’s hoards of looted art made its way to mainstream television this week when night talk show host John Oliver dedicated his entire segment to museums.

“The Parthenon Marbles should absolutely be returned to Greece,” Oliver said.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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