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The Parthenon marbles at the British Museum. Photo: Txllxt TxllxT/Wikipedia Commons.
The Parthenon marbles at the British Museum. Photo: Txllxt TxllxT/Wikipedia Commons.

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss Refuses Return of Parthenon Marbles to Greece

Newly appointed UK prime minister Liz Truss has revealed that she opposes a scheme that would see the UK and Greece share possession of the Parthenon marbles that since 1817 have been held by the British Museum. “I don’t support that,” she told television and radio channel GB News, when asked about the plan, suggested in June by British Museum chair and former UK chancellor George Osborne, that would see the contested antiquities loaned to Greece.

At issue are fifteen metopes, seventeen figural sculptures, and a portion of a frieze that graced the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple on the Acropolis before being removed to the UK by Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, early in the nineteenth century. Greece since 1983 has actively sought return of the objects; Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, in November 2021 announced that the responsibility for deciding the marbles’ fate lay with British Museum officials, rather than with the UK government. Osborne this past June told UK radio station LBC that a “deal is to be done where we can tell both stories in Athens and in London if we both approach this without a load of preconditions, without a load of red lines.” In August, British Museum deputy director Jonathan Williams outlined a “Parthenon partnership,” noting that the British Museum “hoped to change the temperature of the debate,” and further declaring, “There are many wonderful things we’d be delighted to borrow and lend.”

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has repeatedly lobbied for the marbles’ repatriation, is set to ask Truss directly to consider returning them, at an intergovernmental meeting slated to take place later this fall. “At a time when Truss will be looking to build her credibility and when the UK is sort of cornered in terms of its overall image after the [Queen’s] funeral it will be a fantastic gesture,” Mitsotakis told the Sunday Times“and that’s what I’ll tell her.”