According to a report from Ta Nea, a Greek newspaper, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and British Museum Chairman George Osborne have been discussing in secret a potential return of the ancient artifacts.
Ta Nea claimed the deal was in an “advanced” stage, with a source telling the outlet that the deal was about 90% completed. The talks have reportedly been going on for over a year.
Following the report, the British Museum has “pledged” to not “dismantle” its collection, according to the Associated Press, but did not directly address whether Osborne and Mitsotakis had been meeting.
“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity,’’ the museum said Saturday. “But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”
The Elgin Marbles, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, are ancient marble statues that were featured throughout the Acropolis of Athens in Greece. Many of the artifacts were from the Parthenon, which was the Greek temple to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The artifacts were taken to Britain in the early 1800s.
Thomas Bruce, known as Lord Elgin, was a British diplomat who obtained permission from the Ottoman Empire to take away the marble statues now prominently displayed in London. His move was controversial at the time, but Elgin argued it was necessary to preserve the artifacts.
Several pieces Elgin removed were from the Parthenon’s famous massive 520-foot frieze that had been damaged during a battle between the Ottomans and the Venetians in 1687.
After getting permission to “to take away any pieces of stone with old inscriptions or figures thereon,” he orchestrated the shipping to England from 1801 until 1812. In 1816, he sold the artifacts to the royal authorities at a loss.
Since 1941, Greece has pushed to have the artifacts returned, but Britain has so far declined in part because British law makes it extremely difficult for the museum to sell or give away artifacts.
Mitsotakis, who has been prime minister of Greece since 2019, has pushed for reunification, stating that he thought the two countries could come up with a compromise. “I don’t want to speak publicly about the discussions that we have had,” he said on Monday. “But I think there is a better sense of understanding that maybe a win-win solution can be found that will result in a reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures in Greece, while at the same time also taking into consideration concerns that the British Museum may have.”
The British Museum is also facing demands from Egyptian activists to return the Rosetta Stone, which British soldiers also took during the early 1800s.