Daily Mail

Stolen? El­gin Mar­bles were re­ally a gif t

- By Sam Walker Archaeology · Arts · Social Sciences · United Kingdom · Greece · British Museum · Athens · England · Ottoman Empire · Istanbul · İzmir · Turkey · Baghdad · Mumbai · Amal Clooney · George Clooney · Arbeidersparty · Jeremy Corbyn · London · Elgin · Parthenon · Victor Bruce · Selim III · Topkapı Palace · Smyrna · James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin

THEY have been at the cen­tre of a decades-long tus­sle be­tween Bri­tain and Greece. But the ‘stolen’ El­gin Mar­bles were ac­tu­ally a gift, ac­cord­ing to a de­scen­dant of the man who brought them to UK shores. Lord Charles Bruce said the friezes, now on dis­play in the Bri­tish Mu­seum, were handed by a Turk­ish sul­tan to his fore­bear Thomas Bruce, the sev­enth Earl of El­gin. In re­turn, the earl gave him a chan­de­lier – and the small­pox vac­cine. The mar­bles were re­moved from the ru­ins of the Parthenon tem­ple in Athens and shipped to Eng­land be­tween 1801 and 1805. At the time, Greece was part of the Turks’ Ot­toman Em­pire. The le­git­i­macy of their jour­ney to the UK has been the sub­ject of de­bate be­tween Bri­tain and the Greek author­i­ties, who claim the mar­bles were stolen. But Lord Bruce, 57, son of the cur­rent earl, has now come for­ward to de­fend the mu­seum’s en­ti­tle­ment to the mar­bles, also known as the Parthenon Sculp­tures. He claimed his an­ces­tor was given per­mis­sion to re­move and con­serve them by Turk­ish sul­tan Se­lim III as part of his role as the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to the Ot­toman Em­pire. He told The Times: ‘The mar­bles were a diplo­matic gift. It’s a part of the story not clearly un­der­stood. ‘The Bri­tish had ce­mented a mil­i­tary al­liance with the Turks, and there was a per­sonal friend­ship be­tween El­gin and the sul­tan. They ex­changed gifts, and there’s a beau­ti­ful chan­de­lier from El­gin which still hangs in the Top­kapi Palace [in Is­tan­bul] in a room where Lady El­gin taught the sul­tan’s fam­ily to dance the eight­some reel. ‘We also gave them the small­pox vac­cine, which pre­vented an out­break in Smyrna [now Izmir in Tur­key], and later went on to Bagh­dad and Bombay, and was used to inoc­u­late a mil­lion In­di­ans.’ Lord Bruce said the sul­tan also gave Lord El­gin four acres of land in Is­tan­bul and £10,000 for Bri­tain’s first pur­pose-built em­bassy. The mar­bles were put on dis­play in a tem­po­rary mu­seum be­fore mov­ing to the Bri­tish Mu­seum in 1817. Re­cently lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of ac­tor Ge­orge Clooney, and Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn have backed re­turn­ing them to Greece. The Bri­tish Mu­seum’s web­site says Lord El­gin was ‘pas­sion­ate about an­cient Greek art’ and re­moved the sculp­tures ‘with the full knowl­edge and per­mis­sion of the Ot­toman author­i­ties’. Their ar­rival in Lon­don ‘pro­moted the high re­gard that the Euro­pean En­light­en­ment al­ready had for an­cient Greek civil­i­sa­tion’.

 ??  ?? Con­tro­versy: The El­gin Mar­bles
Con­tro­versy: The El­gin Mar­bles

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