Monday, 10 October 2011

Political Issues of the Elgin Marbles

Elgin’s disregard for the historicity of the Parthenon and the images that it preserved caused great upset and turmoil among the Greek population. The removal of the Parthenon marbles created strains between Greece and England which would continue for centuries after.

Complex political relationships resulted from the power of empires in the nineteenth century which affected the political situations between the Ottomans, British, and the Greeks. During the time of Elgin and his project of the Parthenon, Greece was under the power of the Ottoman Empire. In the case of the Parthenon marbles, the Ottomans showed little to no concern for the temples under their control and even desecrated them for their own purposes. This indifference towards the Greek culture by the Ottomans only added to the pre-existing hatred for them by the Greeks. It has been suggested by some scholars that the Ottomans’ decision to allow the British to have control over the Parthenon marbles resulted from the fact that the Ottomans were grateful to Britain, which had blocked the advance of Napoleon in Egypt. The political relationship between the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire ultimately resulted in the destruction of the Greek culture. In 1821 there was a national Greek revolution, during which the Greeks expressed themselves strongly about the removal of the Parthenon marbles. In 1829 the Greeks gained complete independence from Ottoman rule and immediately began to advocate their dismay to the British. This devastation of the Greeks would transfer from the Ottomans to the British in later years.

The Greeks united after being freed from Ottoman rule and began to take steps towards getting the Parthenon marbles back from the British. In 1835 the Greek Archaeological Service came to be formed with the Acropolis under its jurisdiction. The Service then became responsible for all conservation, excavation, and restoration of the Parthenon. The Service paved the way for future efforts of restoring the Parthenon to its original magnitude. The poor political situation between the Greeks and the British still exists today and thus has a negative impact on modern archaeology. Today the Greeks are employing various political devices in order to get the British to return the Parthenon marbles. For example, the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles has called upon a previous UN resolution, which states that “the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin...[is for the means of] protecting cultural property.”

I believe that Greece has a right to its own heritage and should not have to prove their ability to care for it. Looting, which influenced the desire for the Parthenon marbles, has created a tense political situation between England and Greece which will not be resolved very easily. Modern archaeology has been negatively affected by this political situation because the Greeks feel that they are not able to present the archaeological evidence of their own heritage in a proper manner.

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