Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My thoughts on the Parthenon Marbles

The mere mention of the words "Parthenon Marbles" (also know as the Elgin Marbles) ignites a passionate debate in which everyone seems to have an opinion. I would like to share my opinions, which I'm sure many will agree with, though I know there are plenty who will think I'm wrong. The Parthenon Marbles were stolen, plain and simple. Now, before you jump to your own conclusions about my views, hear me out. The Parthenon Marbles where stolen from Greece between 1801 and 1812, and subsequently found their way to the British Museum. Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire when he purchased the marbles. At the time, as is the case now, the legality of that transaction raised a few questions. I feel that whether or not the sale and removal of the Parthenon Marbles was legal is a mute point after two hundred years. The marbles where taken, they now sit in the British Museum, and no amount of squabbling over the original transaction details is going to change that. My view is that the Parthenon Marbles were better off being bought/stolen. In the roughly two hundred years that have passed since their appropriation, they have been lovingly cared for in the British Museum and entertained millions of art fans from around the world. They are a cultural, historical and artistic treasure that have demanded professional care and respect. The British have taken far better care of the Parthenon Marbles than the Greeks could have.

So, what is my point? Though the British have been good stewards of the marbles, times have changed, both in Greece and around the world. Though the purchase of the Parthenon Marbles has always been suspect, the illegal trading of antiquities has gotten a lot of media coverage in the past few years, and public opinion is largely against such acts. Also, up until recently, Athens didn't really have an appropriate place exhibit and maintain the marbles. The New Acropolis Museum has changed that. And it's that museum that leads me to my conclusion. Greece now has a permanent home for the Parthenon Marbles, so there is no reason not to return them. No matter what excuses the British Museum or the British government make up, there is no good reason to keep the marbles in Britain. It's not a question of legality; every one knows that the marbles belong in Greece. The Parthenon Marbles owe their survival to Lord Elgin and the British Museum, but what they represent to Greece far outweighs any debt that is owed to Britain. The Parthenon Marbles belong in Greece not because of any law, but because when it comes down to it, it's the right thing to do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Temple of the Deified Hadrian Restored

Rome is a city of architectural layers. Since antiquity, pieces of the city have been reused and incorporated into newer structures. Some early examples of this process would be the building of the Aurelian Wall, which incorporated existing buildings along its stretch, or the Arch of Constantine, which reused sculptural elements from previous reigns. Many later examples of this process are evident today, the Temple of the Deified Hadrian being among them. Built in 145 CE by Antoninus Pius to honor the deification of the Emperor Hadrian, the temple was eventually incorporated into Carlo Fontana's 17th century palace. Today the palace hold the stock exchange, with the still extant columns of the temple facing the Piazza di Pietra. Like most ancient marble structures, the remains of the temple have been ravaged by time and the elements, and in the last century, by smog and acid rain. I'm thrilled that Italy, with it's long history of looking the other way when it comes to monument repair, has spent 1 million Euros on the temple's restoration. The Temple of the Deified Hadrian, like all of Rome's monuments, is an important piece of history. It is our job to protect these remnants of the past so future generations can enjoy them and learn from them. I hope that this latest effort is a sign of Italy's renewed interest in historical preservation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Amazing finds from ancient Pella

The graves recently unearthed in ancient Macedon are truly spectacular. Amour, weapons, gold, pottery; what more could you ask for. The early history of Macedon is incomplete, so hopefully with further study, these new artifacts can shed some light on one of the most important civilizations of the ancient world. Macedon, that uniter of the Greeks (under force) and conqueror of the Persians ushered in a new age, the Hellenistic, changing the shape of Europe and the Near East. The Hellenistic Era brought new heights to the arts and sciences, and set the example that the Romans emulated so well. Understanding the origins of the Macedonians will help complete the picture their history and the history of the Mediterranean world.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Large Roman Camp Found in Cumbria

The discovery of a large Roman camp in North Western England is an extremely important find and adds a new piece the the Roman Britain puzzle. As the article states, a Roman presence in that specific area has been hypothesized, but never proven. This camp obviously shows that the Romans where there, but when and for how long remains a mystery. It is interesting to think that this camp may have belonged to the Agricola period or before, but there is no way to tell without digging. I'm saddened to hear that excavations are not planned for this site, but that certainly may change in the future. I know it's impossible to dig up every archaeological site, so for now we'll have to hypothesize about the history of this Roman camp.