The Parthenon Marbles and International Law

Foreword by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, OBE, FBA

Springer 2023


The Parthenon marbles case is the most famous international cultural heritage dispute concerning repatriation of looted antiquities, the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum’s ‘Elgin Collection’. The case has polarised observers ever since Elgin had the marbles hacked out of the ancient temple at the turn of the 19th century in Ottoman-occupied Athens. In 1816, a debt-stricken Elgin sold the marbles to the British government, which subsequently entrusted them to the British Museum, where they have remained since then.

Much ink has been spilled on the Parthenon marbles. The ethical and cultural merits of their repatriation have been fiercely debated for years. But what has generally not been considered are the legal merits of their return in light of contemporary international law. This book is the first in legal scholarship to provide an international law perspective of the cause célèbre of international cultural heritage disputes and, in doing so, to clarify the new customary international law on the return of cultural property unlawfully removed from its original context.

The book is a unique reference work on the legal case for the return of the Parthenon marbles and the new normative framework for the protection of cultural heritage. 

“This is a book that must be read with attention by all parties to this debate; and it is my hope and belief that it will accelerate the process by which an art-loving and philhellenic Britain finds a consensual way to return to its ancient ally a collection of broken and decontextualised fragments which illuminate a moment two and a half millennia ago when the city that pioneered democracy created a monument of transcendent beauty which embodied the values that inspire us still.”

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
Emeritus Professor and Director of Research, Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge

“Catharine Titi, a brilliant Greek academic lawyer based in Paris, has written a superb, entirely fresh account of the seemingly interminable ‘Elgin Marbles’ controversy. Cutting through the swathes of ideological obfuscation, she patiently and incontrovertibly demonstrates just how shaky in international law is the UK’s case not alone for retention but even for the original possession let alone ownership of the Sculptures held in the British Museum.”

Paul Cartledge
AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, University of Cambridge