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Italy Returns Parthenon Marble to Greece Piling Pressure on British Museum

Parthenon MarblesItaly will return a fragment of the Parthenon Marbles Lord Byron left in Palermo. Credit: Urban Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5

The Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports has announced that Italy will return a fragment of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, adding pressure on the British Museum to follow suit and return the magnificent Parthenon Marbles.

At a November 30 meeting of the Central Archaeological Council, journalists were informed that the return of the fragment of the Parthenon Marbles would be initiated at its next meeting, scheduled to take place before the end of 2021.

This is the second time the fragment returns to Greece. In 2008 Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano and his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias were present at the Acropolis Museum in Athens on September 24 to witness the joining of the fragment with its frieze.

Grecian Delight supports GreecePalermo fragment Parthenon MarblesThe Palermo fragment of the Parthenon Marbles will be returned to Greece before the end of 2021. Credit: John Kolsedis Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5

The fragment, depicting the right foot of the goddess Artemis, has its own odyssey. After Lord Elgin detached the piece from the Parthenon along with the rest of the Parthenon Marbles, he embarked on his voyage to London by sea in 1986.

Elgin made a stop in Palermo and met his friend, the British consul Robert Fagan, who was known for his love of archeology and art. Elgin offered Fagan the fragment of the Parthenon Marbles before leaving for London in order for Fagan to add it to the collection of antiquities he already had from the excavations in Sicily.

Following Fagan’s death, the piece was transferred to the Royal University of Palermo and ended up at the Salina Museum. It has since been known as the Palermo fragment of the Parthenon Marbles.

Greece offered a similar deal to the UK in November, seeking the return of the Parthenon Marbles. Amid the long-running and contentious debate over repatriation for pieces of the Parthenon held by the British Museum, the UK prime minister’s office announced that the decision will be delegated from the government to the museum’s board of trustees.

Without any legislative update to existing deaccessioning laws, the board is powerless to return anything at all, especially pieces the museum maintains were obtained legally, not looted. However, documents that emerged recently suggest that the UK may have more discretionary power than it publicly admits: they establish that official policy at the time of their writing, in 1991, was to obfuscate, because the government didn’t want to return the ancient items to Greece.

To pressure the British Museum, this action could be the model for the Parthenon Marbles to be exchanged on a temporary loan of other significant Greek antiquities.

In November when Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson the Parthenon Marbles dominated the discussion.  Athens proposed reuniting the Parthenon Marbles in exchange for a long-term share of Agamemnon’s golden burial mask and Poseidon bronze Jupiter of Artemisio.

The exchange of the fragment with Italian cultural authorities could provide the model for the British Museum to follow a similar path for the reunification.

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