Parthenon Marbles could return to Greece on long-term loan

British Museum chairman George Osborne is reportedly negotiating the deal

The British Museum acquired the Parthenon Marbles in the 19th century. Getty
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The Parthenon Marbles could be returned to Greece on a long-term loan from Britain, it has been claimed.

An exchange deal could lead to the British Museum swapping the marbles for other Greek treasures, the Daily Telegraph reported.

It said the museum’s chairman, former UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, was negotiating the possible deal.

The museum did not confirm details but said talks were continuing on what it calls a “Parthenon partnership”.

“We have said publicly we are actively seeking a new Parthenon partnership with our friends in Greece and as we enter a new year, constructive discussions are ongoing,” a spokesman told The National.

The British Museum is banned by law from disposing of most items in its collection, but a long-term loan could potentially get around this.

A selection of the sculptures could return to Greece in an initial gesture while talks progress, it was reported. Greece has previously said it wants the Parthenon Marbles back for good.

The 2,500-year-old marble sculptures were taken from the Acropolis in Athens in the early 19th century.

They were removed by British diplomat Lord Elgin, giving them their alternative name of the Elgin Marbles.

The British Museum’s position is that this happened legally with the approval of Greece’s Ottoman rulers.

Greece argues the marbles were stolen and has lobbied Britain for decades to return them to Athens.

It comes amid a wider rethink on the future of cultural heritage stored in western museums.

Germany recently returned 20 looted sculptures to Nigeria that belonged to a collection called the Benin Bronzes. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germans should reflect on how they would feel if the Gutenberg Bible or Martin Luther’s writings were in another country.

In Egypt, former antiquities minister Dr Zahi Hawass is gathering support for the return of the 2,200-year-old Rosetta Stone, another treasured item held by the British Museum.

Seeking a million signatures for his petition, Dr Hawass told The National that the British Museum had thousands of Egyptian objects and no need to retain the Stone it acquired in 1802.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has similarly argued that the Parthenon Marbles would be better enjoyed in Athens than in London.

He said in November that he sensed momentum on the issue and spoke of a possible “win-win solution”.

The museum says it is open to a partnership, but said would abide by the law and would not dismantle its “great collection”.

The UK government said it was a matter for the museum’s trustees. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said last month there were no plans to change the law on giving away treasures.

Updated: January 04, 2023, 9:36 AM