U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

History of Protection of Cultural Property




For centuries, humans have been plundering and destroying our cultural heritage. Below is a timeline that documents the efforts of concerned individuals and organizations to protect and preserve our collective treasures worldwide.

When you choose a topic below, more information will be revealed. Click on the link for additional in-depth content.

  • 2nd century BC
    Polybius, the earliest extant author to criticize wartime plundering of art

    Although it was commonplace in antiquity for victorious armies to loot items from a defeated enemy's territory, some such as the historian Polybius condemned the practice. His view that war should be waged according to generally accepted rules became the basis for international law from the 18th century on. more »

  • 146 BC
    Scipio Aemilianus conquers Carthage and returns works of art to Sicily

    Scipio Aemilianus, or Scipio Africanus the Younger, was a leading general and politician during the Roman Republic and, as consul, commanded the final siege and destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. After his victory he arranged for the return of various works of art that Carthage had robbed from the Greek cities of Sicily to their owners. more »

  • 70 BC
    Cicero prosecutes Verres for corruption

    In 70 BC, the Sicilians commissioned Cicero to prosecute the island's former governor, Gaius Verres, for corruption. After Cicero delivered a damning summary of his evidence, Verres went into exile rather than wait for the verdict. Cicero later published all of the speeches he had intended to deliver in five books known as Against Verres (In Verrem). more »

  • 1625
    Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace

    In 1625, Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch scholar and jurist, published his legal masterpiece, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace). In it he raised the question of whether nations were justified in pillaging with impunity the wealth of other nations during times of war.  His work contributed significantly to the formation of international law as a distinct discipline. more »

  • 1758
    Emmerich de Vattel makes the case against plundering of art and architecture in time of war

    In The Law of Nations, or the Principles of Natural Law Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and of Sovereigns, Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss jurist, explicitly made the case that plundering art and architecture in times of war should be considered unlawful.
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  • 1814
    Louis XVIII repatriates paintings to Prussia after the defeat of Napoleon

    By a decree of Louis XVIII, a limited number of paintings were returned from France to Prussia after Napoleon’s defeat and his exile to Elba. more »

  • 1815
    Repatriation of art plundered by Napoleon

    Treaties concluded by Napoleon with the states that he conquered specified works of art to be ceded to France. After the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington pressured France to restore any art taken by French troops as spoils of war. This was the first time that the significance of national cultural property was invoked to justify a major restitution of art works. more »

  • 1819
    Edward Dodwell states that monuments such as the Parthenon should be the “property of all nations”

    Edward Dodwell, an Irish painter, traveller and writer on archaeology, witnessed Lord Elgin’s removal of sculpture from the Parthenon.  He lamented the event , declaring that it and the other temples of Athens must not be destroyed since they are “the property of all nations.” more »

  • 1863
    Lieber Code

    The Lieber Code of 1863 incorporated the principle that monuments, places of worship, works of art, libraries and scientific collections must be spared from destruction in times of war. The code, commissioned during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln and written by Professor Francis Lieber, was published as a pamphlet that could be carried by Union soldiers. The Lieber Code also identified military necessity for the first time as a general legal principle whose purpose was to limit violence. more »

  • 1874
    Brussels Declaration

    On 27 July 1874 the delegates of 15 European States met in Brussels to examine the draft of an international agreement concerning the laws and customs of war submitted to them by the Russian Government. The Conference adopted the draft with minor alterations. Not all the governments were willing to accept it as a binding convention, however, so it was not ratified. Nevertheless, the project formed an important step in the movement for the codification of the laws of war. more »

  • 1880
    Oxford Manual

    In 1874, the Institute of International Law appointed a committee to study the Brussels Declaration and to submit to the Institute its opinion and supplementary proposals on the subject. The efforts of the Institute led to the adoption of the Manual of the Laws and Customs of War at Oxford in 1880. Both the Brussels Declaration and the Oxford Manual formed the basis of the two Hague Conventions on land warfare and the Regulations annexed to them, adopted in 1899 and 1907. more »

  • 1899 & 1907
    Hague Conventions

    In 1899 the first Hague Peace Conference was convened in order to revise the declaration set forth but never ratified by the Conference of Brussels in 1874 concerning the laws and customs of war. The 1899 Hague Convention on land warfare was adopted and subsequently ratified by fifty State Parties. Although the 1899 Convention was revised at the Second International Peace Conference in October 1907, only minor differences exist between it and the 1907 Convention. Because the provisions of these conventions are considered to be part of the rules of customary international law, today all states, even those not State Parties to either or both Conventions, are considered to be bound by their provisions. more »

  • 1935
    Roerich Pact

    The first convention dedicated exclusively to the protection of cultural property in times of war, the ‘Roerich Pact’, began as a private initiative by Nicholas Roerich, a Russian artist born in St. Petersburg.  With the Red Cross as his model, Roerich proposed a treaty for the protection of cultural property during times of both war and peace. In 1933 the Seventh International Conference of American States recommended the adoption of the Roerich Pact. A flag, which Roerich called the ‘Banner of Peace’, was to mark places under the protection of the pact. more »

  • ​5 January 1943
    Declaration Regarding Forced Transfers of Property in Enemy-controlled Territory

    Following the Nazi plunder of works of art, seventeen nations and the French National Committee signed a joint declaration condemning the Nazi plunder of cultural property, which served as a partially successful impetus for attempts at restitution of art works pillaged by the Germans. more »

  • 23 June 1943
    Roberts Commission established

    In 1942, a proposal was made to establish a government commission to protect and salvage European artistic and historical monuments. On 23 June 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Roberts Commission, which cooperated with the U.S. Military program known as Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) to protect cultural treasures, gather information about war damage to such treasures, and compile data on cultural property appropriated by the Axis Powers in order to encourage its return. The Commission was abolished on 30 June 1946. more »

  • 23 June 1943—Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives (MFAA) program of the Civil Affairs & Military Government Sections of the Allied armies established

    The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives program was established to protect cultural materials in war areas. Like all sections of the Allied military government, the MFAA was composed nearly equally of American and British officers whose backgrounds were not as military officers but as art historians, architects, artists, archaeologists and archivists. more »

  • 29 December 1943
    General Eisenhower issues an order for the protection of historical monuments

    In this order Eisenhower stated that military forces are bound to respect historical monuments so far as war allows. He added that nothing can stand against the accepted principle of military necessity, but asserted that the phrase is sometimes used where the more correct phrase would be “military convenience” or even “personal convenience”. more »

  • 1944
    General Eisenhower Issues second directive on the protection of cultural property

    The second directive on the protection of cultural property admits that because the lives of men are paramount, commanders may order the destruction of an honored site when military necessity dictates. In cases where it cannot be justified centers of historical and cultural significance are to be preserved.  Civil Affairs Staffs are to advise commanders of the locations of such historical monuments and the information is to be passed down through command channels to all echelons. more »

  • 1945
    London Charter of 8 August 1945

    The Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of the Major War Criminals of the European Axis, and Charter of the International Military Tribunal were adopted in London on 8 August 1945, thereby establishing as a principle of international humanitarian law that the “plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity” are to be considered war crimes. Those involved in such crimes will be subject to trial and punishment by the International Military Tribunal. more »

  • 1954
    Hague Convention

    In 1954 representatives from the United Nations met at The Hague under the auspices of UNESCO where they wrote and adopted the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The Preamble to the Convention sets forth the principle that because “damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind,” it is incumbent upon the international community to enact special legal measures for its safeguarding. The main convention defines the term ‘cultural property’ for the first time and, in contrast to the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, includes both moveable and immovable property in that category. more »

  • 1954
    Hague Convention, First Protocol

    The First Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has two unambiguous purposes. First, all High Contracting Parties must take active measures to prevent all exports of movable cultural property, as defined in the 1954 Hague Convention, from any territory that they might occupy during an armed conflict. Second, they must undertake to seize and hold, to the end of hostilities, any cultural property that was imported into their territory in contravention of the first principle of the Protocol. It also provides that such cultural property must never be retained as war reparations. more »

  • 1977—Protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,
    and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I)

    Article 48 of Protocol I requires that Parties to a conflict “shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.”  Article 53 requires that combatants not commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples; not use such objects in support of the military effort; and not make such objects the object of reprisals. more »

  • 1993
    International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) established

    The U.N. Security Council set up the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1993 to respond to atrocities committed during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. more »

  • 1999
    Hague Convention, Second Protocol

    The Second Protocol is not an amendment to the main Convention or its First Protocol but is a separate treaty that must be ratified by State Parties that choose to do so. However, only states that have ratified the main Convention can become parties to the Second Protocol. Moreover, the Protocol only applies to States that have ratified it. The Second Protocol provides more detail than the main Convention and its First Protocol regarding actions that State Parties must take during both peacetime and armed conflict. more »

  • 14 April 2000
    Strasbourg Charter

    The Strasbourg Charter sets out the requirements that must be met by national initiatives that wish to seek recognition as national committees of the Blue Shield. more »

  • 2002
    International Criminal Court (ICC) established

    The International Criminal Court is a permanent court that has jurisdiction over serious international crimes regardless of where they are. The Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted in Rome in July 1998. more »

  • 2004
    Torino Declaration

    At the first meeting of the founding members of the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) and representatives of various national Blue Shield Committees, it was recommended that all states parties to UNESCO and to the United Nations ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, the First Protocol of 1954 and the Second Protocol of 1999. They also urged, among other things, that governments and relevant organizations of the United Nations act to prevent looting and destruction of cultural heritage sites and buildings and illicit trade in cultural property. more »

  • 2006
    Founding of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield

    USCBS is one of many national committees organized under the principles of the 1954 Hague Convention. It was incorporated in the State of Minnesotaon 9 January 2006 and formally recognized as a Blue Shield national committee by  the  International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) in May 2007. USCBS is a 501(c)(3) corporation and as such is exempt from federal income taxes.  All donations to USCBS are deductible within the limitations of the law. more »

  • 2009
    United States Becomes a State Party to the 1954 Hague Convention

    Although the United States helped to draft the 1954 Hague Convention and signed it in the same year, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations took no action on ratification of the treaty until 15 April 2008. The full Senate voted to give its advice and consent to ratification on 25 September 2008, and the U.S. deposited its instrument of ratification with UNESCO on 13 March 2009, making the United States the 123rd nation to become a party to this historic treaty. more »

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