IN a dispute that has rumbled on through the ages, rather than there being any sign of resolution, the row over the Elgin Marbles has now deepened.


What are they?

Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, they are a collection of stone sculptures kept in the British Museum in London for over 200 years, featuring different types of marble architectural decoration from the temple of Athena (the Parthenon) on the Acropolis in Athens, made between 447BC and 432BC.


Such as?

They consist of a frieze, a series of metopes (sculpted relief panels) and figures of the gods and legendary heroes from the temple's pediments.


How did they arrive in the UK?

The collection from both the Parthenon and other sacred and ceremonial buildings on the Acropolis of Athens, was  controversially procured by the Fife nobleman, Lord Elgin, in the early 1800s. He said he was concerned about damage to important artworks and acted amid fears they would be destroyed. 



Their removal sparked controversy and so began the debate about who ought to be the rightful owner of such cultural antiquities.


Among his opponents?

Lord Byron, regarded as one of the greatest English poets in history, was a bitter opponent of Lord Elgin, said to be incandescent when Elgin's agent gave him a tour of the Parthenon, during which he became aware of the missing friezes and sculptures. He penned a poem, the Curse of Minerva, to decry Elgin's actions.


When did the artefacts move to the museum?

The collection was initially private but Lord Elgin later sold it to the Crown for £35,000. The Greek government has frequently called for the return of the marbles, but the British Museum state Lord Elgin "acted with the full knowledge and permission of the legal authorities of the day in both Athens and London" and that his activities were "thoroughly investigated" by Parliament and "found to be entirely legal". Following a vote, the museum was allocated funds to acquire the marbles in 1816.



UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has again called on the UK and Greece to resolve the dispute, but Greece has now rejected a claim by the museum's deputy director, Dr Jonathan Williams, who told the annual meeting of UNESCO heritage delegates "these objects were not all hacked from the building as has been suggested”, adding: “Much of the frieze was in fact removed from the rubble around the Parthenon.”


What do Greece say?

Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni, told The Guardian: “Lord Elgin used illicit and inequitable means to seize and export the Parthenon sculptures, without real legal permission to do so, in a blatant act of serial theft.” And so the row goes on.



The New Acropolis Museum in Athens, close to the ancient site, has a large area devoted to the Parthenon, and the pieces removed by Lord Elgin are represented by veiled plaster casts.