Stolen Heritage


The Elgin Marbles are back in the news for another round of handwringing and complaining.
The Greek prime minister has said the British Museum's decision to loan one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia is "an affront" to the Greek people.
Antonis Samaras added: "We Greeks are one with our history and civilisation, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded."
He said Britain's view that the marbles could not be moved was now invalid.
A depiction of the river god Ilissos will go on show in St Petersburg's State Hermitage Museum.
It is due to remain on display in the Russian city until mid-January.
The work is one of a number of relics acquired [a fantastic euphemism for stolen, as usual] by Lord Elgin in Athens in the early 19th Century, now known collectively as the Elgin Marbles.
Ownership of the artefacts, once part of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple, is disputed by Greece.
It maintains that Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was under Turkish occupation as part of the Ottoman Empire. The items have remained in the British Museum ever since.
Yes, I think we can all agree that the old British Empire stole whatever it wanted just like everyone else. No, there really is no compelling case for not returning the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

I can see the reasoning behind these arguments, but if you're going to be a purist about this sort of thing, then the museums of Europe need to be emptied of everything they contain.

I remember visiting the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe, thinking that I would see a lot of German artifacts. And you can certainly see some of that, but what you will also see are numerous artifacts looted from around the world, either "borrowed" or "acquired" the way everyone else used to do it--through war or conquest, and usually both and almost always waged with a heavy hand against anyone who dared lay claim to a cultural treasure.

Honestly, why would a museum in Baden-Württemberg feature all of those Egyptian and Greek artifacts if they hadn't already been loaded into wagons or onto horses centuries ago and stolen? If you send back the Elgin Marbles, I think you have to send back all of the pottery as well. And then and only then can we talk about the removal of human remains.