PM Rishi Sunak cancels meeting with Greek counterpart in row over the Parthenon Marbles

LONDON – A war of words erupted yesterday between the UK and Greece over the Parthenon Marbles. The diplomatic imbroglio resulted in the cancellation of a meeting between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The Parthenon Marbles are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures that originally adorned the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens. These sculptures were created by the ancient Greek sculptor Phidias and his assistants in the 5th century BCE.

From a Pagan perspective, the Parthenon Marbles are rich in stories relevant to modern Hellenistic paths and revivals. The Marbles include depictions of mythical stories and figures, such as scenes from the Panathenaic Procession, which was a significant religious festival in ancient Athens. These scenes often involve gods, goddesses, and mythical creatures. The Marbles also showcase scenes from religious rituals and ceremonies, reflecting the importance of religion in ancient Greek culture. These scenes often depict individuals engaged in various aspects of worship and sacrifice.

In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, removed a significant portion of these sculptures from the Parthenon while serving as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then controlled Greece. Elgin claimed that he obtained permission from the Ottoman authorities, who ruled over Athens at the time, to remove the Marbles.

Imaged credit: Txllxt TxllxT – CC BY-SA 4.0,


The Elgin Marbles include friezes, metopes, and statues depicting various scenes from Greek mythology and religious rituals. The British Museum has held them since 1832 and their collection represents the majority of the surviving marbles.

The ownership and display of these marbles have been a source of controversy and a subject of ongoing debate between Greece and the United Kingdom, with Greece advocating for the repatriation of the marbles.

On Sunday in an interview with the BBC, Mitsotakis likened the British Museum’s retention of the Marbles to the Mona Lisa being split in half. The Greek government has maintained the Parthenon Marbles belong to and within the Parthenon.

Sunak withdrew from the meeting after Mitsotakis declined to assure that the meeting between the two leaders would not be an opportunity to lobby for the return of the marbles in a “public platform”.

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A spokesperson for Sunak said that the prime minister felt any talks with his Greek counterpart after the BBC comment was likely to be “dominated” by the row over the sculptures. “There were assurances that it would not be used as a public platform. We saw this happen with a previous visit with a previous prime minister in 2021. The assurances were not adhered to, and so the prime minister took the decision,” the spokesperson said.

“Obviously, ministers and leaders are able to express views as they wish, but I think the prime minister feels that if assurances are made as part of agreements in advance of a meeting … they should be adhered to and I think that’s what the public would expect in any walk of life.”

The Marbles in the British Museum [Photo Credit: Andrew Dunn, 3 December 2005. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Mitsotakis’s aides described Sunak’s last-minute cancellation as “wrong and undignified.” The cancellation of the meeting limits the dialogue about international events. In a statement, the Greek prime minister said “I [wish to] express my annoyance at the fact that the British prime minister cancelled our scheduled meeting a few hours before it was due to take place… Greece and Britain are united by traditionally strong ties of friendship and the framework of our bilateral relations is exceptionally broad. The views of Greece on the Parthenon sculptures are well known.

“I had hoped to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart along with other international challenges: Gaza; Ukraine; the climate crisis; migration,” he added.

Mitsotakis concluded his statement by criticizing Sunak for not meeting the challenge of addressing the destiny of antiquities, which has given rise to the longest-standing cultural dispute in the West. “Those who believe in the correctness and justice of their views are never hesitant to confront opposing arguments,” it stated.

The back and forth of blame also raised the Greek delegation’s breach of protocol meeting with Labour leader, Keir Starmer.

The new diplomatic spat also produces tensions in EU-UK relations. One European official was quoted as saying: “If you want to be global Britain, open to the world, based on international values and diplomacy, you don’t just stop talking with friends because of an issue that has been around for 200 years. Not engaging is a problem.”

“I understand the game that’s playing out internally in Britain, which will probably hold elections in 2024 … [Sunak] has difficulties, as is clear in the polls,” said a spokesperson for the Greek government.

In Pagan Community Notes, we noted that George Osborne, the chairman of the British Museum has recently made statements that possibly reflect a shift in the attitude of the Trustees of the British Museum. Osborne said in an interview 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… Sensible people could arrange something that makes the most of the Parthenon marbles but if either side says there’s no give at all, then there won’t be a deal.”

The Wild Hunt has previously commented on this issue in an editorial Theft and woe at the British Museum should lead to change.

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