Greece–United Kingdom relations

Greek–British relations are foreign relations between Greece and the United Kingdom. The two countries have been allies during the First World War and the Second World War, but also Greece received military and financial assistance from the United Kingdom during the Greek War of Independence. Both countries currently maintain relations via the British Embassy in Athens and a consulate general in Thessaloniki[1] and the Greek Embassy in London and honorary Greek consulates in Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Gibraltar.[2]

British–Greek relations

United Kingdom


Greece and the United Kingdom maintain excellent and cordial bilateral relations[3] with the (then) British Prime Minister, David Cameron, paying an official visit to Athens in 2011.[4] Greece and the United Kingdom are both members of the United Nations, NATO and the Council of Europe.


WWI Mikra British Cemetery in Thessaloniki
Gordon Brown with George Papandreou during his visit to Athens
Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos (left) meeting with the Ambassador of the United Kingdom David Landsman in Athens in July 2012

The United Kingdom supported Greece in the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s with the Treaty of Constantinople being ratified at the London Conference of 1832.

In 1850, the British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston sent a Royal Navy squadron to Greece over the Pacifico incident.

When the Greek King Otto was deposed by the Greeks in 1862, Queen Victoria's son Alfred, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was chosen to succeed him by the Greek people with a referendum. However, the British government would not allow this. The current British monarch Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom's husband Prince Philip was the grandson of Otto's eventual successor George I of Greece.

The United Kingdom wrested control of the Ionian Islands from Napoleonic France in 1815. As the "United States of the Ionian Islands", they remained under British control, even after Greek independence. However, in 1864, the United Kingdom responded to calls for enosis by transferring the islands to Greece as a present for the enthronement of George I of Greece.

The two countries were Allies during WWI. After 1918, UK was the only Allied power that supported Greece during the Greco-Turkish War until the end of the war.

They were Allies also during WWII. However, after WWII, relations between the two states were strained due to the Cyprus dispute.

In 2000, Stephen Saunders, the British military attaché in Athens, was murdered by motorcycle gunmen who were members of Revolutionary Organization 17 November. The investigation that followed led to an unprecedented level of co-operation between Greek and UK Police services, who achieved, following a lengthy investigation the arrest of members of 17N who were then brought to trial.

Conference of Hydra

The Conference of Hydra took place in the island of Hydra in March 2000 in order to boost further the friendship between Great Britain and Greece. Discussions during the conference emphasised the economic aspect of this relations and the ways to soar trade between Great Britain and Greece.[5]

Diplomatic representation

Greek and British flags waving from a window in Athens

Greece has an embassy in London and Honorary Consulates in Belfast, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Gibraltar, Glasgow and Leeds.[6] The United Kingdom has an embassy in Athens and a Honorary Vice Consulate in Patras and Thessaloniki. The United Kingdom also has Honorary Consulates in Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Thessaloniki and Zakynthos.[7][8]

Cultural exchange between Greece and the United Kingdom

There are between 40 and 45 thousand Greeks residing permanently in the UK, and the Greek Orthodox Church has a strong presence in the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain. The British cultural presence in Greece is promoted mainly through the British Council. There is a significant Greek presence of Greek students in tertiary education in the UK. A large Cypriot community – numbering 250-300 thousand – rallies round the National Federation of Cypriots in Great Britain and the Association of Greek Orthodox Communities of Great Britain. There are some 20 Greek cultural, philanthropic and professional organizations. There are seven chairs of Greek and Byzantine studies at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, East Anglia, Royal Holloway, Birmingham, King's College and the London School of Economics, and two Greek Studies Centres, at the universities of Bristol and Reading.[9]

Elgin Marbles

The ownership of the Elgin Marbles, held in the British Museum, are a source of tension between Greece and the UK

A source of tension between the UK and the Greece is the dispute over the ownership of the Elgin Marbles, a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures, inscriptions and architectural pieces that originally were part of the temple of Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.[10][11] Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin was allegedly given written permission by the Ottoman Sultan to remove the marbles between 1801 and 1812 and transported them by sea to Great Britain. In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by many,[12] while others likened Elgin's actions to vandalism.[13][14][15][16][17][18]

The marbles are currently held in the collection of the British Museum. After gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire, Greece began major projects for the restoration of the country's monuments, and has expressed its disapproval of Elgin's actions to remove the marbles from the Acropolis and the Parthenon,[19] which is regarded as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments,[20] disputes the subsequent purchase of the marbles by the British Government and urges the return of the marbles to Greece.

The dispute arose especially during the 1980s by the governments of Andreas Papandreou and minister of culture Melina Mercouri. In 2014 UNESCO agreed to mediate between Greece and the United Kingdom in resolving the dispute of the Elgin Marbles.[21][22]

See also


  1. "UK and Greece - UK and the world - GOV.UK". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  2. "News". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  3. "UK and Greece - UK and the world - GOV.UK". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  4. Jason Beattie (2 November 2011). "Greece bailout referendum plunges eurozone into crisis - Mirror Online". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  5. "ELIAMEP | UK / Greece: A new look at relations". 29 May 2005. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  6. "Greece's Bilateral Relations". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  7. "Worldwide organisations - GOV.UK". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  8. "British Embassy Athens - GOV.UK". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  9. "The Hellenic Centre London | Venue Hire & Greek Cultural Centre - About us". Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  10. "What are the 'Elgin Marbles'?". Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  11. "Elgin Marbles – Greek sculpture". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
  12. Casey, Christopher (30 October 2008). ""Grecian Grandeurs and the Rude Wasting of Old Time": Britain, the Elgin Marbles, and Post-Revolutionary Hellenism". Foundations. Volume III, Number 1. Archived from the original on 13 May 2009. Retrieved 25 June 2009.
  13. Encyclopædia Britannica, The Acropolis, p.6/20, 2008, O.Ed.
  14. Linda Theodorou; Facaros, Dana (2003). Greece (Cadogan Country Guides). Cadogan Guides. p. 55. ISBN 1-86011-898-4.
  15. Dyson, Stephen L. (2004). Eugenie Sellers Strong: portrait of an archaeologist. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-3219-1.
  16. Mark Ellingham, Tim Salmon, Marc Dubin, Natania Jansz, John Fisher, Greece: The Rough Guide,Rough Guides, 1992,ISBN 1-85828-020-6, p.39
  17. Chester Charlton McCown, The Ladder of Progress in Palestine: A Story of Archaeological Adventure,Harper & Bros., 1943, p.2
  18. Graham Huggan, Stephan Klasen, Perspectives on Endangerment, Georg Olms Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-487-13022-X, p.159
  19. "The Background of the Removal". Greek Ministry of Culture.
  20. "Acropolis, Athens". UNESCO.
  21. "UNESCO Letter to British Government for the return of Parthenon's Marbles". UNESCO. Archived from the original on 19 October 2014. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  22. "UK has not written back to UNESCO Letter" (PDF). UNESCO.

Further reading

  • Frazier, Robert. Anglo-American Relations with Greece: the Coming of the Cold War 1942-47 (Springer, 2016).
  • Hayes, Paul. Modern British Foreign Policy: The Nineteenth Century 1814-80 (1975) pp. 155–73.
  • Higham, Robin. Diary of a Disaster: British aid to Greece, 1940-1941 (University Press of Kentucky, 2015).
  • Holland, Robert and Diana Markide. The British and the Hellenes: Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850-1960 (2008)
  • Morgan, Tabitha. Sweet and Bitter Island: A history of the British in Cyprus (IB Tauris, 2010).
  • Roessel, David. In Byron's shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American imagination (Oxford UP, 2001).
  • Wills, David, ed. Greece and Britain Since 1945 (2014). excerpt