Saturday 10 June 2023

Robert Tombs explodes liberal myths about the Benin bronzes


A really mastery article by my former supervisor Dr Robert Tombs, a great Tory historian, about the Benin bronzes. As usual everything you read about this in the media was utterly misleading. It was ever thus. But why does that handsome young don now look old?

To describe it, as a ‘trade dispute’ leading to the ‘sack’ and ‘looting’ of Benin by a British force is, as some readers will know, rather economical with the truth. The expedition was a response to the massacre of a peaceful diplomatic mission and a large number of African porters. The ‘trade dispute’ was an act of aggression against neighbouring peoples by the Oba (king) of Benin. Benin itself was a violent, slave-holding and slave–raiding society. When the punitive expedition reached Benin, it found hundreds of dead and dying slaves, some beheaded, crucified or disembowelled. The expedition’s shocking sketches and photographs exist. The British expedition (mainly African soldiers) ended the Oba’s mass human sacrifices and liberated many slaves.

As was then legal, the expedition’s commanders seized the Oba’s personal treasures – carved ivory tusks as well as the famous bronzes – to defray its costs, and doubtless to weaken the Oba’s cultic power. Some bronzes, many of them busts of royal ancestors, were covered in the blood of sacrificed slaves.


  1. Yes indeed - Benin as about slavery and human sacrifice, the British ended both, and yet the young are being taught that the British were the "bad guys". Even the worst of the Colonial rulers of the age, King Leopold of Belgium, was bad because he did not prevent the local people engaging in mass killing and mutilation in the Congo - but the young (and not so young now) believe that he was a Hitler like figure who introduced mass killing and mutilation in a previously peaceful Congo. They do not understand that he did not want these things - and that they existed long before he was (supposedly) "in charge" in the Congo - a place he never visited. It was taken away from him in 1908 because of his neglect and incompetence - NOT because he was a Hitler type who ordered mass death.

  2. It is unsurprising that Tombs appears old - he is a forty-niner, almost as old as the King.