Strangely enough, the Cyrus Cylinder never caught my attention, in spite of my repeated visits to the
It probably was one clay tablet among so many thousands, and even had I been
aware of its existence, it is always hard to find that one item among so many
in a large museum as this one. British Museum
But as the Cyrus Cylinder is being put in the floodlights, I realize what I have missed. Cyrus the Great was raw-model for Alexander the Great and that should be reason enough for me to dig in deeper. Although I was aware of Cyrus’ great heart and his desire to set all conquered peoples free, allowing them to return to their homes and homelands, it did not occur to me that this had been written down on a special cuneiform tablet, in this case in the shape of a cylinder. In today’s context of warring Middle-East and discontent youth worldwide, Cyrus’ message of peace, tolerance and multiculturalism sounds extremely modern. No wonder that the Cyrus Cylinder has been called the first bill of human rights!
This remarkable object is now travelling to several museums in the U.S., together with a number of artifacts adding to a better comprehension of the religions, the cultural and linguistic traditions of the empire founded by Cyrus, that of the Achaemenids (539-331 BC). Their rule ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great and his victory at the famous Battle of Gaugamela.
This travelling exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning has been organized by the
in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and the Arthur M. Sacker
Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in , where it makes its first
appearance. From May 3 through June 14, 2013, the collection will be on view at
the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, followed by the Metropolitan Museum of
Art, New York, NY from June 20 till August 4, 2013; the Asian Art Museum, San
Francisco, CA, from August 9 till September 22, 2013; and the J. Paul Getty
Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu/Los Angeles, CA from October 2 till
December 2, 2013. Washington
This precious cylinder was buried as a foundation object to be tied with Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and is written in Babylonian cuneiform. It claims his victory over the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, adding that his newly conquered peoples will enjoy religious freedom. Most of the non-Babylonians had been moved from their home countries by force during Assyrians conquests, which included the destruction of Jerusalem. Cyrus now allows the Jews to recover their statues and gods that had been confiscated and taken out of their own temples; they also were allowed to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their temple. That gesture earned him the title “shepherd of God” and “Lord Anointed” (Messiah) in the Book of Isaiah. Although Cyrus’ ideology was known for centuries, it was only after the discovery of this cylinder in 1879 that his religious tolerance was proven. But even before this, generations of philosophers, kings and statesmen found their inspiration in his words, from ancient
to the Renaissance, to the Founding Fathers. It is not surprising that a copy
of this cylinder is being kept at the United Nations Headquarters. The text
shows a very modern way of ruling, uniting people from different backgrounds,
ethnicities and religions. Thomas
Jefferson had declared that the book Cyropaedia
written by the Greek Xenophon (431-355
BC) should be mandatory reading for every
No wonder that Cyrus the Great served as an example to Alexander the Great, being very well aware of Xenophon’s oeuvre as he must have read most if not all his books. Had Alexander lived long enough to consolidate his huge empire, we would have seen how he implemented the ideas of the Great King of Persia.
Today’s Iranians are proud to be descendants of Cyrus since he was the first Persian King who decided to break the tradition and allowed deported peoples to return to their homes. I find it hard to place this very concept in our modern world, either in the Middle-East or in
that matter. This cylinder may incite us to deep reflection, I hope.