The Elgin Marbles is the nickname of a very large collection of marble sculptures that were taken from the ruins of the Parthenon in Greece and brought to Britain back in 1801 to 1805 by 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce. He spent a fortune doing this. He wanted to save them. Many people believed that Lord Elgin had no right to do this, and they wanted the marbles returned.
Did Lord Elgin have permission from the Greek government at the time to remove the marbles? There was no Greek government at the time. Today, Greece is a modern country. At the time, the Ottomans controlled Greece. After he brought the sculptures back to Britain, in response to an inquiry by the British government, even Lord Elgin admitted that the Sultan, the head of the Ottoman government in Greece, did not give him permission to remove so many of the ancient sculptures. Lord Elgin did have signed documents of permission, but that permission limited the removal to several loose pieces. But, as Lord Elgin pointed out, many tourists were visiting the Parthenon and removing pieces of it to take home as souvenirs. Some were actually chopping at the marbles, removing pieces from the standing statues. Some people were buying pieces on the black market. Damage by the elements - the weather - was extensive. Lord Elgin was convinced had he not removed the marbles, and brought them to Britain for protection and preservation, that they would soon no longer exist. These were good points. These things were happening. Britain decided to keep the sculptures. Since 1939, these sculptures have been on display at the British Museum in London.
Over the years, there have been many heated debates about who should have the marbles. No one is recommending they be returned to the Parthenon to be exposed once again to possible damage by tourists or the weather. But many people, including especially the Greek government, feel they should be returned and put on display in a museum in modern day Athens.
As of June 2018, the Elgin Marbles are still in the care of the British Museum. The British Museum continues to defend its right to own and display these treasures. The Greek government continues to demand their return. It will interesting to see what happens to the Elgin Marbles.
What do you think should happen? At first glance, you might think the answer is easy! Since Lord Elgin took the marbles illegally, they should be returned. But returned to whom? The modern day Greek government is not the government of the ancient city-state of Athens. Greece was not a country when these statues were created. Should other antiquities created by ancient civilizations be returned to the location where they were discovered? Some of the artifacts discovered are over two thousand years old. Some are even older. Who really owns them? Some people argue finders keepers. But it's not that easy. Personally, I would vote they belong to the whole world, and everyone in it. But that really doesn't decide who gets what and why.