UK 'refuses' Libya request to return 'stolen' Roman artefacts

UK 'refuses' Libya request to return 'stolen' Roman artefacts
Lawyers for the Crown Estate of Queen Elizabeth II have reportedly turned down the request to return 'stolen' artefacts from the ancient Roman settlement of Leptis Magna in president-day Libya, despite a campaign of a British-Libyan lawyer.
2 min read
09 May, 2022
Some of the Leptis Magna ruins on display in 1894, Virginia Water, Windsor Great Park [Getty]

The UK has allegedly refused a request to hand over artefacts 'stolen' from Libya more than 200 years ago, according to media reports on Sunday.

A London-based lawyer, Mohamed ben Shaban, submitted an official request last month to the Crown Estate of Queen Elizabeth II, asking for columns from the ancient Roman settlement of Leptis Magna in Libya to be returned, Al-Wasat reported.

The columns were 'stolen' in 1816 from the Augustus Temple in Leptis Magna, whose ruins are located with present-day Khoms, 130 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli, on the Mediterranean coast.

British imperial officers Hanmer Warrington and William Henry Smyth transferred the ruins to the UK and the blocks are currently located in Windsor Great Park.

The Crown Estate maintains that the stonework was gifted, but ben Shaban said there is "no proof" that Warrington legally acquired the ruins while on his diplomatic mission.

Lawyers for the Crown Estate replied: "Our client has informed us that the columns will not be returned to Libya."

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Ben Shaaban had reportedly made several attempts to have the columns returned to Libya, beginning in October 2021, and sought mediation through the UN’s heritage body UNESCO.

The lawyer, who is the first-ever British-Libyan dual national to qualify as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales, expressed his disappointment with the responses that he called "insulting".

"Besides polite emails saying 'we will get back to you', I received nothing substantive for months. I think they’re hoping we’ll get over it," he told the UAE daily The National.

"Morally, there is no question in our view that this heritage was stolen from the people and should be returned to them," he added.

The British weren't the only ones to obtain artefacts from Leptis Magna - the French King Louis XIV reportedly took away 600 columns, which he used in the palaces of Versailles and Paris in the 7th Century.

Warrington allegedly persuaded the local Ottoman governor to let him help himself to the relics of Leptis Magna on behalf of the British Crown.

The columns were initially placed in the British Museum, and were later erected in 1828 in Virginia Water, Windsor Great Park by then-King George IV’s architect.

The columns, which are made from various types of material, including granite and marble, are officially listed as Grade II property of the Crown Estate, according to The National.