Our Fake History

Episode #155- What Became of the Benin Bronzes? (Part II)

In 1897 Queen Victoria marked her diamond jubilee and Britain was in a celebratory mood. The British Empire had never been stronger. Few could imagine that this world-spanning empire might very well be peaking. But in 1897 Britain was in no mood for painful self-reflection. Instead Britons were gaily celebrating the what they perceived to be the "triumphs" of empire. Earlier that year a British punitive expedition sacked the West- African city of Benin. The victorious Brits carried off thousands of priceless cultural treasures, many of which were then displayed as trophies of war and instructive curios at the British Museum. The British press had painted Benin City as a hopelessly "savage" place, but these artworks instead reflected a society of great sophistication and artistic skill. Perhaps Britain had been wrong about Benin. How did a British expeditionary force end up at the gates of Benin City in the first place? Tune-in and find out how miscommunications, shady treaties, and pageants with machine guns all play a role in the story.

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