I have long said that the rights and wrongs of the Elgin Marbles debate are more complicated than we often make them seem, and that the argument would be much more productive if we managed to see some of the complexity.
Now that Amal Clooney has taken up the case, all the old over-simplifications are crawling out again. Personally I hold no brief for Lord Elgin (I have remained uncomfortably "on the fence" on the whole issue for many a year). And it is important to admit that there is an awful lot we dont know about him and his motives (to be honest, it is completely uncertain whether he was looking to save a precious antiquity or looking for some nice decoration for his stately pile, or some combination of the two).
But there are some aspects to the story as it is now told that are simply WRONG.
For a start, the idea that Elgin went up to something like the "pristine" Acropolis we now see and gave orders for the finest sculptures from the finest temple to be removed and parcelled off to Britain is far from the truth. In the early years of the nineteenth century the Acropolis was an Ottoman garrison base with a rather squalid village attached. The antiquities were all encroached upon by shacks, houses, offices and stores, and there is no doubt that some of the ancient marble was being reused for various garrison purposes. How endangered the sculptures were is hard to say, but Elgin was not taking anything from what we would think of as an archaeological site (with or without permission -- the extent of his "firman" is not entirely clear, and anyway we dont have the Ottoman original, only an Italian translation, accurate or not).