British Museum – defending colonial theft

The British Museum is doing nothing to improve the UK’s reputation by falling back on lame excuses for not handing back either the looted Greek Elgin Marbles or the Nigerian Benin Bronzes. Germany has handed back their Benin pieces and the Vatican has repatriated Parthenon marble fragments which makes it worse.

  There have been discussions about a ‘partnership’ with Greece with a quid pro quo for a loan of other historical artifacts coming back to the UK but it is unlikely the Greek authorities would agree to anything other than a permanent return.

  The British Museum has said “we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity”. They fall back on the line that the British Museum 1963 Act forbids it from  removing objects from its collections, except in some narrow circumstances.” There have been vague thoughts about changing the law but nothing has yet transpired.

  The British Museum founded by an act on 7 June 1753 has a Gemini Sun opposition Pluto square Uranus in Pisces – wide interests, pioneering and controlling. There’s also an adventurous and ‘entrepreneurial’ Fire Grand Trine of Mars in Aries trine Pluto trine Neptune which gives it an inspirational though also arrogant streak, and will tend to make it insensitive to others’ needs.

   Intriguingly it has a Scorpio North Node which hints that spiritual fulfilment lies in changing a strongly possessive streak and letting go what it once regarded as security. ‘The more he accumulates the more he traps himself.’ Transformation comes through the loss of what once felt precious. The 2023 Lunar Eclipse in Taurus will rattle the Brit Museum North Node so who knows?  It may be forced to shift. Tr Saturn will also move round its focal point Uranus this year and its Pluto, Sun, Venus in 2024 so it may have to bow to the inevitable. Certainly Neptune entering Aries in 2025 will have a considerable impact and the Museum may go through a sobering time of rethinking its values.

The 1963 Act has a patriotic Sun, Mercury in Cancer on one leg of a Yod sextile Mars in Virgo inconjunct Saturn in Aquarius. That has already been under pressure from tr Neptune opposition the Mars in 2021 but will be even more jolted by tr Uranus square the focal point Saturn from mid 2023 onwards. Playing Canute and trying to hold the tide of social pressure back may not work much longer.   

15 thoughts on “British Museum – defending colonial theft

  1. The British Museum often lends its exhibits to museums around the world. And it is not the habit of any museum to showcase all its artifacts simultaneously.

    It absolutely amazes me that the British Museum is made responsible for all the looting and misappropriation of other countries’ cultures. Even when other countries like France and the USA have far worse reputations concerning these things. My personal view is that the Elgin Marbles wouldn’t have survived had they stayed in Greece. And I haven’t noticed any lack of antiquities in the aforementioned country. I think The British Museum benefits the whole world including Greece!

  2. You’re right, Chrys, all empires overreach in the acquisition of foreign plunder, but it would be a gracious acknowledgment that they were valued, the history as well, and returned to their origins. These things have huge meaning on a national scale. Value the emotional impact, forget the monetary side….prove there are ethical, meaningful compromises.

  3. The Horniman museum near me has returned 6 Benin bronzes with more to follow. It hopes to have a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The NCMM looks forward to mutual collaborations with the Horniman. A good news story!

  4. “The 2023 Lunar Eclipse in Taurus will rattle the Brit Museum North Node so who knows? It may be forced to shift. Tr Saturn will also move round its focal point Uranus this year and its Pluto, Sun, Venus in 2024 so it may have to bow to the inevitable.”

    Fascinating, thanks Marjorie. I noticed that Lord Elgin obtained the ‘firman’ or permission from the Sultan in 1801. This is then the same year as the chart we use for the UK, with the same outer planets. Maybe this ties the idea of ‘Britain’ to the debates about the Parthenon Marbles more closely?

    The first shipment of 65 cases arrived in London in January 1804. By then, Jupiter was at 2 Scorpio, squaring the British Museum 2 Leo Neptune – an interesting mix of power, glamour, and obstinacy there. October’s recent eclipse at 2 Scorpio aspected these. Foreign acquisitions – Jupiter in Scorpio….it would be a Jupiter cycle before Elgin sold the Marbles to the Museum.

    When Elgin finally sold the marbles to the British Government, it was 1816. Saturn in Aquarius, Uranus and Neptune in Sagittarius, Pluto in Pisces. Jupiter, once again, was in Scorpio.

    I’m curious to see what Jupiter in Taurus may bring to this argument next year, plus the eclipse there as well.
    Not sure what the astrology might be for the Institute for Digital Archaeology, but they have produced 3D ‘printed’ exact copies of some of the sculptures this year, made from the same type of marble too. These could be used to replace the originals, and used for teaching purposes etc.

  5. What about the diamonds and crown jewels too? I understand from Shashi Tharoor on The Oxford Debates YT that all of those are stolen from India? Royals all over seem not in fashion these days. So sending all that lot back could be a gesture. What terrible things have been done for a load of uncomfy crowns and baubles…

    • Most of the biggest gems in the Imperial State Crown are from the Cullinan diamond mined in South Africa in 1905. The rest such as the large Spinel and the Sapphires are medieval. The King Edward Crown used at the Coronation dates back to Charles II reign and most of the gems in it are actually semi precious. Apart from the Queens Crown which contains the Koh-I-Noor Diamond and Imperial Crown of India which is not used most of the Crown Jewels are not connected to British rule of India. The King Edward’s crown and the medieval Ampulla used to anoint the monarch are the only items of real political and religious significance.

  6. One also has to exercise a degree of scepticism about some claims of provenance. When the Roman era Mildenhall Treasure was discovered in the 1940s and displayed the British Museum it was of such high quality that some people thought it could not have been discovered in “provincial Roman Britain”. There were even speculation that the artefacts had been looted and brought to the U.K. by soldiers in the Mediterranean in the Second World War. It has only been in recent decades that other better documented finds of similar quality such as the Hoxne hoard have proved that 4th century Roman Britain did indeed have the wealth and trade contacts to acquire work of that quality. As a consequence for a historical work of art to be regarded as loot then there needs to be at least some evidence to prove the fact it was stolen. I would regard the Benin bronzes as meeting that requirement as we know that they were largely acquired as plunder from 19th century colonial wars.

  7. Theft has its merits – funny thing to say but Oh! if only they’d got their hands on the Mayan codexes before the Spaniards ! And brought them back to Britain for humanity, for posterity, for study ! Rather than have them burnt by the conquistadors, and all that brilliant world understanding and celestial knowledge tragically lost forever

  8. Institutions like the British Museum have far more artefacts than they can ever display at any one time so it is not as though they are going to run out of material if they return some objects. I firmly believe where it can be established that items were simply looted then they should be sent back but I am not sure that the Elgin Marbles fits quite into that category. A better argument is that they would have more historical relevance if they were returned to Athens to be displayed in the Museum near the Parthenon where they were originally located. Of course not all African Art has been looted. The famous wooden doors carved by Olowe of Ise in London were actually commissioned for the Nigerian Pavilion at the British Empire exhibition and were subsequently purchased by the British Museum.

  9. While I agree in theory I don’t when the marbles are put into historical context

    Elgin obtained a firman, or official permission, for taking the marbles, the ottomans were using them as target practice at the time so he did save them

    Plus Elgin sold the Parthenon Marbles to the British government for £35,000, less than half of what it cost him to procure them, declining higher offers from other potential buyers, including Napoleon.

    I still think they should stay put

    There are other treasures much more questionable than the marbles

      • To be honest the Elgin marbles like so many cultural icons are a bit overrated. I personally find them one of the most boring exhibits in the British Museum. Perhaps we could swap them with the Greeks for something a bit more interesting from the Byzantine era

        • The point is to have them in the beautiful Acropolis Museum – the top floor has built it the dimensions of the parthenon – so one can walk around imaging the ancients while looking out the windows to the Acropolis and Parthenon – that would not be a boring exhibit – I was just there and did the walk alas missing the marbles – it was still moving and extraordinary – if you can go some day- you will see

  10. It will improve Great Britain’s status in the world – if they can let go- there are many ways that they could showcase works even the ones returned by multi media presentations and exchanges

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