Danish Museum Refuses to Return Stolen Ancient Parthenon Marble Pieces

November 28, 2023

ATHENS – With Greece and Britain in a row over the stolen Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, the National Museum of Denmark said it will not return three fragments it has kept there for centuries, claiming them as part of Danish history.

The sculptural pieces are on display in the permanent collection in Denmark, consisting of two marble heads and a horse’s hoof that were obtained between 1688-1835, and the museum said they won’t be returned to Greece.

Dr. Rane Willerslev, the Danish museum’s director, claimed that “after careful consideration, [the fragments] are of greater importance to the National Museum than if they were sent to Greece.”

The National Museum’s Head of Research, Christian Sune Pedersen, added that the three fragments on display in Copenhagen are of “great importance for Danish cultural history and for understanding our interaction with the world around us at a time when democracy was taking shape.”

“It is important for Danes to know Denmark’s place in European history. There have always been interactions between countries, and this has had a huge cultural impact on who we are today,” he said.

“The National Museum of Denmark owns a very small part of the total preserved sculpture fragments of the Parthenon Temple, which are of great importance for understanding our own history in the world,” he said.

He didn’t explain how Greek-made ancient treasures have anything to do with Denmark’s role in history in the world, the pieces kept there also essentially stolen after being blown off the Parthenon in a bombing by the Venetians.

That was in 1687 and they found their way to a street vendor in Athens who sold them to a Danish Army Captain, Moritz Hartmann, who was in the Venetian service, who bought them.

The marble sculptures, in advanced classical style and obviously the work of an important sculptor, date from the fifth century BC. The heads, a centaur and a Lapith, were removed from one of the southern metopes of the Parthenon. Originally, they formed part of a frieze depicting the classic battle between the Lapiths, the ancient Greeks of Thessaly (representing civilisation and order) and the centaurs, drunken monsters with human torsos growing out of horses’ bodies (symbolising chaos and barbarism) noted the site Elginism.


The friezes in the British Museum were long called The Elgin Marbles, after the Scottish diplomat who ripped them off the Parthenon, with permission from the then-ruling Ottoman Empire, which didn’t own them.

The British Museum has long cited that as proof of ownership and had offered only a loan to Greece – if Greece gave up ownership and sent other artifacts to be kept hostage as insurance.

The Danes call the pieces they hold and display The Copenhagen Marbles, which are part of the Parthenon as much as those taken by Elgin, who sold them to the British Museum when he got into financial troubles.

In 2003, Georgios Fotopoulos, who was Cultural Attache at the Greek Embassy in Copenhagen said that, “The two Copenhagen heads are of great symbolic significance for the Greek people, they are part of an entity, they belong with the rest of the Parthenon sculptures.
He called on the Danes to return them and noted that the Acropolis Museum that opened in 2009 in hopes of showing off the Parthenon Marbles if they were ever returned was under construction.

“Regardless of when or how Denmark got them, the two heads belong in Greece with the rest of the frieze. But we have as yet made no official request for their return,” Fotopoulos said.


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