As part of a historic agreement, the UK will hold formal talks with Greece regarding the repatriation of the Parthenon Marbles, which Greece has been actively seeking since 1983. Also known as the Elgin Marbles, the ancient sculptures were stolen from the Acropolis in 1801 by Lord Elgin and have been in the collection of the British Museum in London for over two hundred years. No date has yet been set for a first meeting, which propose by the United Kingdom on April 29 and accepted by Greece. Unesco announced the agreement on May 17.
Created between 447 BCE and 432 BCE, the disputed objects include fifteen metopes, seventeen pediment figures and a nearly 250-foot section of a frieze depicting a festive procession celebrating the birthday of the Greek goddess Athena. The British government has relied for decades on the so-called defense of Bloomsbury in its efforts to retain possession of the sculptures, claiming the objects belong to the British Museum and are therefore not subject to government oversight. Museum officials, for their part, maintained that the objects were legally acquired at a time when Greece was under Ottoman rule.
News of the historic agreement comes as repatriations surge around the world, with a wave of Beninese bronze returns coming to the fore. The British Museum, which houses a sizable trove of artefacts looted from the Kingdom of Benin by British soldiers in 1897, has notoriously dragged its feet in returning the treasures, although the pact to discuss the fate of the Parthenon Marbles offers a glimmer hopefully that might change soon. Among the institutions that have so far returned their Beninese bronzes are the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC, which revealed in March that it would return all thirty-nine pieces in its possession, the most repatriated to date. The announcement follows repatriations by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin and museums across Germany.