Elgin Marble row: Greek PM calls on British Museum to return 'stolen' ancient sculptures

Sections of the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, in London's British Museum.
Sections of the Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, in London's British Museum.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis says his Government is willing to loan 'treasures' in return for the marbles

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The Greek prime minister has issued a fresh call for the Parthenon Marbles to be returned to Greece, even offering to loan some of his country’s treasures to the British Museum in exchange.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the 2,500-year-old sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, were “stolen” from Athens and “belong in the Acropolis Museum”.

Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to challenge Boris Johnson over the ancient sculptures.
Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is set to challenge Boris Johnson over the ancient sculptures.

Mr Mitsotakis told the paper: “Our position is very clear. The marbles were stolen in the 19th century, they belong in the Acropolis Museum and we need to discuss this issue in earnest.

“I am sure that if there was a willingness on the part of the Government to move we could find an arrangement with the British Museum in terms of us sending abroad cultural treasures on loan, which have never left the country.”

The marbles were removed from the Acropolis more than 200 years ago and have long been the subject of dispute.

They were once in the ancient Greek Parthenon temple and other buildings on the Acropolis but around half were taken to Britain in the early 19th century by staff working for the Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce.

The marbles were stolen in the 19th century

Greek PM Mitsotakis

Mr Mitsotakis told the paper he intends to raise the issue with Prime Minister Boris Johnson when they meet next week.

He said: “Refusing to discuss the topic seems to me, given the context of everything that has been happening in terms of the return of cultural treasures, to be rather an anachronistic approach.

“It would be a fantastic statement by what Boris calls Global Britain if they were to move on this and look at it through a completely different lens.”

Mr Johnson earlier this year ruled out returning the marbles to Greece, telling Greek newspaper Ta Nea: “I understand the strong feelings of the Greek people – and indeed Prime Minister Mitsotakis – on the issue.

“But the UK Government has a firm longstanding position on the sculptures which is that they were legally acquired by Lord Elgin under the appropriate laws of the time and have been legally owned by the British Museum’s Trustees since their acquisition.”