Who owns antiquity?

Topics: 1st millennium, Ancient Rome, Roman Empire, Roman Republic, Byzantine Empire / Pages: 10 (2400 words) / Published: Sep 29th, 2013
In the art world today, the question of whether antiquities should be returned to their country of origin is both controversial and crucial, because museums in Europe and America own many disputed items in its collections. The most glaring example is the British museum, where the refusal to return the Elgin Marble to Greece has brought the issue to international attention. In response to the problem, James Cuno in Who Owns Antiquity? argued that although antiquities should be protected from looting, they should not have to be kept in the counties in which they were found. This is because the basis of the retention laws is political, and that antiquity is international heritage. I agree with Cuno’s general principle that no country could be the sole inheritors of a particular civilisation, because art is a result of symbiosis from different cultures and therefore must be shared. Even Classical art, long presumed to be archetypically western, grew from and influenced art in the eastern world. However the question of who owns antiquity is specific as well as broad. We should return artefacts which were obviously stolen, but it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Antiquity does not belong to any individual, nation, or group of nations because ancient cultural relics should be common property of humankind. The nationalist retention laws which often prevent any export of antiquities beyond the borders of the countries of origin are in place for political reasons according to Cuno, and so do not have any moral basis. Firstly, the exclusive link which modern states often claim with past cultures is almost always weak. For example, Turkey’s claim of sovereignty over all artefacts found in the territory of the former Ottoman Empire is unsound because it is hard for us to link the people of modern Turkey with either the culture of the ancient Greeks, or the customs and doctrines of the Christian Byzantine Empire. Even though these past cultures once dominated the

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