In the early 19th century the foundations for the extensive collection of sculpture began to be laid and Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts dominated the antiquities displays. After the defeat of the French campaign in the Battle of the Nile, in 1801, the British Museum acquired more Egyptian sculptures and in 1802 King George III presented the Rosetta Stone key to the deciphering of hieroglyphs. Gifts and purchases from Henry Salt, British consul general in Egypt, beginning with the Colossal bust of Ramesses II in 1818, laid the foundations of the collection of Egyptian Monumental Sculpture. Many Greek sculptures followed, notably the first purpose-built exhibition space, the Charles Towneley collection, much of it Roman Sculpture, in 1805. In 1806, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803 removed the large collection of marble sculptures from the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens and transferred them to the UK. In 1816 these masterpieces of western art, were acquired by The British Museum by Act of Parliament and deposited in the museum thereafter. The collections were supplemented by the Bassae frieze from Phigaleia, Greece in 1815. The Ancient Near Eastern collection also had its beginnings in 1825 with the purchase of Assyrian and Babylonian antiquities from the widow of Claudius James Rich.
In 1802 a Buildings Committee was set-up to plan for expansion of the museum, and further highlighted by the donation in 1822 of the King's Library, personal library of King George III's, comprising 65,000 volumes, 19,000 pamphlets, maps, charts and topographical drawings. The neoclassical architect, Sir Robert Smirke, was asked to draw up plans for an eastern extension to the Museum "... for the reception of the Royal Library, and a Picture Gallery over it ..." and put forward plans for today's quadrangular building, much of which can be seen today. The dilapidated Old Montagu House was demolished and work on the King's Library Gallery began in 1823. The extension, the East Wing, was completed by 1831. However, following the founding of the National Gallery, London in 1824, the proposed Picture Gallery was no longer needed, and the space on the upper floor was given over to the Natural history collections.
The British Museum has one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections of antiquities from the Classical world, with over 100,000 objects. These mostly range in date from the beginning of the Greek Bronze Age (about 3200 BC) to the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Milan under the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313 AD. Archaeology was in its infancy during the nineteenth century and many pioneering individuals began excavating sites across the Classical world, chief among them for the museum were Charles Newton, John Turtle Wood, Robert Murdoch Smith and Charles Fellows.
The Greek objects originate from across the Ancient Greek world, from the mainland of Greece and the Aegean Islands, to neighbouring lands in Asia Minor and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean and as far as the western lands of Magna Graecia that include Sicily and southern Italy. The Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are represented, and the Greek collection includes important sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens, as well as elements of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.
Beginning from the early Bronze Age, the department also houses one of the widest-ranging collections of Italic and Etruscan antiquities outside Italy, as well as extensive groups of material from Cyprus and non-Greek colonies in Lycia and Caria on Asia Minor. There is some material from the Roman Republic, but the collection's strength is in its comprehensive array of objects from across the Roman Empire, with the exception of Britain (which is the mainstay of the Department of Prehistory and Europe).
The collections of ancient jewellery and bronzes, Greek vases (many from graves in southern Italy that were once part of Sir William Hamilton's and Chevalier Durand's collections), Roman glass including the famous Cameo glass Portland Vase, Roman mosaics from Carthage and Utica in North Africa that were excavated by Nathan Davis, and silver hoards from Roman Gaul (some of which were bequeathed by the philanthropist and museum trustee Richard Payne Knight), are particularly important. Cypriot antiquities are strong too and have benefited from the purchase of Sir Robert Hamilton Lang's collection as well as the bequest of Emma Turner in 1892, which funded many excavations on the island. Roman sculptures (many of which are copies of Greek originals) are particularly well represented by the Townley collection as well as residual sculptures from the famous Farnese collection.
Objects from the Department of Greece and Rome are located throughout the museum, although many of the architectural monuments are to be found on the ground floor, with connecting galleries from Gallery 5 to Gallery 23. On the upper floor, there are galleries devoted to smaller material from ancient Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the Roman Empire.
Key highlights of the collections include:
The Parthenon Marbles (Elgin Marbles), (447438 BC)
A surviving column, (420415 BC)
One of six remaining Caryatids, (415 BC)
Temple of Athena Nike
Surviving frieze slabs, (427424 BC)
Temple of Bassae
Twenty three surviving blocks of the frieze from the interior of the temple, (420400 BC)
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Two colossal free-standing figures identified as Maussollos and his wife Artemisia, (c. 350 BC)
Part of an impressive horse from the chariot group adorning the summit of the Mausoleum, (c. 350 BC)
The Amazonomachy frieze A long section of relief frieze showing the battle between Greeks and Amazons, (c. 350 BC)
Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
One of the sculptured column bases, (340320 BC)
Part of the Ionic frieze situated above the colonnade, (330300 BC)
Knidos in Asia Minor
Demeter of Knidos, (350 BC)
Lion of Knidos, (350200 BC)
Xanthos in Asia Minor
Lion Tomb, (550500 BC)
Harpy Tomb, (480470 BC)
Nereid Monument, partial reconstruction of a large and elaborate Lykian tomb, (390380 BC)
Tomb of Merehi, (390350 BC)
Tomb of Payava, (375350 BC)
Prehistoric Greece and Italy (3300 BC 8th century BC)
Over thirty Cycladic figures from islands in the Aegean Sea, many collected by James Theodore Bent, Greece, (33002000 BC)
Material from the Palace of Knossos including a huge pottery storage jar, some donated by Sir Arthur Evans, Crete, Greece, (19001100 BC)
The Minoan gold treasure from Aegina, northern Aegean, Greece, (18501550 BC)
Segments of the columns and architraves from the Treasury of Atreus, Peloponnese, Greece, (13501250 BC)
Elgin Amphora, highly decorated pottery vase attributed to the Dipylon Master, Athens, Greece, (8th century BC)
Etruscan (8th century BC 1st century BC)
Some of the artefacts from the Castellani Tomb in Palestrina, central Italy, (8th6th century BC)
Contents of the Isis Tomb, Vulci, (570560 BC)
Painted terracotta plaques (the so-called Boccanera Plaques) from a tomb in Cerveteri, (560550 BC)
Oscan Tablet, one of the most important inscriptions in the Oscan language, (300100 BC)
Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa from Chiusi, (150140 BC)
Ancient Greece (8th century BC 4th century AD)
Group of life-size archaic statues from the Sacred Way at Didyma, western Turkey, (600580 BC)
Dedicatory Inscription by Alexander the Great from Priene in Turkey (330 BC)
Head from the colossal statue of the Asclepius of Milos, Greece, (325300 BC)
Bronze sculpture of a Greek poet known as the Arundel Head, western Turkey, (2nd1st centuries BC)
Remains of the Scylla monument at Bargylia, south west Anatolia, Turkey, (200150 BC)
Ancient Rome (1st century BC 4th century AD)
Cameo glass Portland Vase, the most famous glass vessel from ancient Rome, (125 AD)
Silver Warren Cup with homoerotic scenes, found near Jerusalem, (515 AD)
Discus-thrower (Discobolos) and Bronze Head of Hypnos from Civitella d'Arna, Italy, (1st2nd centuries AD)
Capitals from some of the pilasters of the Pantheon, Rome, (126 AD)
Jennings Dog, a statue of a Molossian guard dog, central Italy, (2nd century AD)