The Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek sculptures that has been housed by the British Museum in London for nearly 200 years, will go on loan to Russia in a move Athens, which has long demanded their return, has called "an affront."
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a statement, according to the BBC: "We Greeks are one with our history and civilization, which cannot be broken up, loaned out, or conceded."
It is the first time any of the Elgin Marbles have been put on loan to another institution. They will go for two months to Russia's Hermitage Museum.
The relics, which date from about 400 B.C., were taken from the Parthenon and other famous structures in Greece by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, Seventh Earl of Elgin, in the early 1800s. As we've explained in the past, while he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Elgin "obtained controversial permission to remove large sculptures from the Parthenon's wall in Athens, a city that was under Ottoman rule.
"Elgin planned to use these antiquities to decorate his home in Scotland. Instead, they were sold to the British government, which then handed them over to the British Museum."
They have been in the museum's possession since 1816.
"The British argument held until recently — that the Parthenon Marbles cannot be moved — is no longer valid, just as the existence of the new Acropolis Museum invalidated the other British argument that there was no appropriate space for exhibiting the sculptures," Samaras said.
"The Parthenon and its Marbles have been looted. The sculptures are priceless," he said.