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The Cyrus Cylinder is a barrel-shaped cylinder of baked clay measuring It was built up with extra layers of clay to give it a cylindrical shape before a fine surface slip of clay was added to the outer layer, on which the text is inscribed.
It was excavated in several fragments, having apparently broken apart in antiquity. The main body of the Cylinder, discovered by Rassam in , is fragment "A". It underwent restoration in , when it was re-fired and plaster filling was added.
The latter fragment was acquired by J. Nies  of Yale University from an antiquities dealer. Although the Cylinder clearly post-dates Cyrus the Great's conquest of Babylon in BC, the date of its creation is unclear. It is commonly said to date to the early part of Cyrus's reign over Babylon, some time after BC.
The surviving inscription on the Cyrus Cylinder consists of 45 lines of text written in Akkadian cuneiform script. The first 35 lines are on fragment "A" and the remainder are on fragment "B. The beginning of the text is partly broken; the surviving content reprimands the character of the deposed Babylonian king Nabonidus.
It lists his alleged crimes, charging him with the desecration of the temples of the gods and the imposition of forced labor upon the populace. According to the proclamation, as a result of these offenses, the god Marduk abandoned Babylon and sought a more righteous king. Marduk called forth Cyrus to enter Babylon and become its new ruler. In [Nabonidus's] mind, reverential fear of Marduk, king of the gods, came to an end.
He did yet more evil to his city every day; … his [people He took the hand of Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan , and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.
Midway through the text, the writer switches to a first-person narrative in the voice of Cyrus, addressing the reader directly. A list of his titles is given in a Mesopotamian rather than Persian style: A partial transcription by F. Weissbach in was supplanted by a much more complete transcription after the identification of the "B" fragment;  this is now available in German and in English.
A false translation of the text — affirming, among other things, the abolition of slavery and the right to self-determination, a minimum wage and asylum — has been promoted on the Internet and elsewhere. Bush referred to Cyrus, declaring that his people had "the right to worship God in freedom"  — a statement made nowhere in the text of the Cylinder. The British Museum announced in January that two inscribed clay fragments, which had been in the Museum's collection since , had been identified as part of a cuneiform tablet that was inscribed with the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder.
The fragments had come from the small site of Dailem near Babylon and the identification was made by Professor Wilfred Lambert , formerly of the University of Birmingham, and Irving Finkel , curator in charge of the Museum's Department of the Middle East. In two fossilized horse bones inscribed with cuneiform signs surfaced in China which Professor Oliver Gurney at Oxford later identified as coming from the Cyrus Cylinder. The discovery of these objects aroused much discussion about possible connections between ancient Mesopotamia and China, although their authenticity was doubted by many scholars from the beginning and they are now generally regarded as forgeries.
The history of the putative artifact goes back almost a century. While Xue did not recognize the script on the bones he guessed at its antiquity and buried the bones for safekeeping during the Cultural Revolution.
Identification of the source text proceeded slowly until , when Wu Yuhong along with Oxford Assyriologist Stephanie Dalley and Oliver Gurney recognized the text in one bone as coming from the Cyrus Cylinder. One year later Wu Yuhong presented his findings at the 33rd Rencontre Assyriologique and published them in a journal article.
After that the second bone inscription remained undeciphered until , when Irving Finkel worked on it. In that same year the British Museum held a conference dedicated to the artifacts.
Based on the serious textual errors in the inscription, including the omission of a large number of signs from the Cyrus Cylinder, Wu Yuhong argued the inscriptions were most likely copied from the cylinder while housed in the British Museum or from an early modern publication based upon it. However he acknowledged the remote possibility it was copied in late antiquity. Finally, after the workshop concluded, an edition of the Cyrus Cylinder by E. Wallis Budge came to Irving Finkel's attention.
This publication used an idiosyncratic typeface and featured a handcopy for only a section of the whole cylinder. However the typeface in that edition matched the paleography on the bone inscriptions and the extract of the cylinder published in the book matched that of the bone as well. This convinced Finkel that the bone inscriptions were early modern forgeries and that has remained the majority opinion since then.
According to the British Museum, the Cyrus Cylinder reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms. The British Museum and scholars of the period describe it as an instrument of ancient Mesopotamian propaganda. The text is a royal building inscription, a genre which had no equivalent in Old Persian literature.
It illustrates how Cyrus co-opted local traditions and symbols to legitimize his conquest and control of Babylon. Both continuity and discontinuity are emphasized in the text of the Cylinder. It asserts the virtue of Cyrus as a gods-fearing king of a traditional Mesopotamian type.
On the other hand, it constantly discredits Nabonidus, reviling the deposed king's deeds and even his ancestry and portraying him as an impious destroyer of his own people. As Fowler and Hekster note, this "creates a problem for a monarch who chooses to buttress his claim to legitimacy by appropriating the 'symbolic capital' of his predecessors.
It is perhaps for this reason that the Achaemenid rulers made greater use of Assyrian rather than Babylonian royal iconography and tradition in their declarations; the Cylinder refers to the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal as "my predecessor", rather than any native Babylonian ruler. The Cylinder itself is part of a continuous Mesopotamian tradition of depositing a wide variety of symbolic items, including animal sacrifices, stone tablets, terracotta cones, cylinders and figures.
Newly crowned kings of Babylon would make public declarations of their own righteousness when beginning their reigns, often in the form of declarations that were deposited in the foundations of public buildings.
The cylinder was not intended to be seen again after its burial, but the text inscribed on it would have been used for public purposes. Archive copies were kept of important inscriptions and the Cylinder's text may likewise have been copied. The Cyrus Cylinder bears striking similarities to older Mesopotamian royal inscriptions. As a conqueror, Marduk-apla-iddina faced many of the same problems of legitimacy that Cyrus did when he conquered Babylon.
He declares himself to have been chosen personally by Marduk, who ensured his victory. When he took power, he performed the sacred rites and restored the sacred shrines. He states that he found a royal inscription placed in the temple foundations by an earlier Babylonian king, which he left undisturbed and honored. All of these claims also appear in Cyrus's Cylinder. Twelve years later, the Assyrian king Sargon II defeated and exiled Marduk-apla-iddina, taking up the kingship of Babylonia.
Sargon's annals describe how he took on the duties of a Babylonian sovereign, honouring the gods, maintaining their temples and respecting and upholding the privileges of the urban elite. Again, Cyrus's Cylinder makes exactly the same points. Nabonidus, Cyrus's deposed predecessor as king of Babylon, commissioned foundation texts on clay cylinders — such as the Cylinder of Nabonidus , also in the British Museum — that follows the same basic formula. The text of the Cylinder thus indicates a strong continuity with centuries of Babylonian tradition, as part of an established rhetoric advanced by conquerors.
By implication, of course, all his acts became, inevitably and retrospectively, tainted. The familiarity with long-established Babylonian tropes suggests that the Cylinder was authored by the Babylonian priests of Marduk, working at the behest of Cyrus. The Verse Account is so similar to the Cyrus Cylinder inscription that the two texts have been dubbed an example of "literary dependence" — not the direct dependence of one upon the other, but mutual dependence upon a common source.
This is characterised by the historian Morton Smith as "the propaganda put out in Babylonia by Cyrus's agents, shortly before Cyrus's conquest, to prepare the way of their lord. Sherwin of the University of Cambridge puts it, the Cyrus Cylinder and the Verse Account are "after the event" compositions which reuse existing Mesopotamian literary themes and do not need to be explained as the product of pre-conquest Persian propaganda. The Cyrus Cylinder's vilification of Nabonidus is consistent with other Persian propaganda regarding the deposed king's rule.
In contrast to the Cylinder's depiction of Nabonidus as an illegitimate ruler who ruined his country, the reign of Nabonidus was largely peaceful, he was recognised as a legitimate king and he undertook a variety of building projects and military campaigns commensurate with his claim to be "the king of Babylon, the universe, and the four corners [of the Earth].
The Assyriologist Paul-Alain Beaulieu has interpreted Nabonidus's exaltation of the moon god Sin as "an outright usurpation of Marduk's prerogatives by the moon god. Iranologist Pierre Briant comments that "it is doubtful that even before the fall of [Babylon] Cyrus was impatiently awaited by a population desperate for a 'liberator'. Fried says that there is little evidence that the high-ranking priests of Babylonia during the Achaemenid period were Persians and characterises them as Babylonian collaborators.
The inscription goes on to describe Cyrus returning to their original sanctuaries the statues of the gods that Nabonidus had brought to the city before the Persian invasion. This restored the normal cultic order to the satisfaction of the priesthood. It alludes to temples being restored and deported groups being returned to their homelands but does not imply an empire-wide programme of restoration.
Instead, it refers to specific areas in the border region between Babylonia and Persia, including sites that had been devastated by earlier Babylonian military campaigns. The Cylinder indicates that Cyrus sought to acquire the loyalty of the ravaged regions by funding reconstruction, the return of temple properties and the repatriation of the displaced populations. However, it is unclear how much actually changed on the ground; there is no archaeological evidence for any rebuilding or repairing of Mesopotamian temples during Cyrus's reign.
The text presents Cyrus as entering Babylon peacefully and being welcomed by the population as a liberator. This presents an implicit contrast with previous conquerors, notably the Assyrian rulers Tukulti-Ninurta I , who invaded and plundered Babylon in the 12th century BC, and Sennacherib , who did the same thing years before Cyrus conquered the region.
The Cyrus Cylinder presents a very different message; Johannes Haubold notes that it portrays Cyrus's takeover as a harmonious moment of convergence between Babylonian and Persian history, not a natural disaster but the salvation of Babylonia. However, the Cylinder's account of Cyrus's conquest clearly does not tell the whole story, as it suppresses any mention of the earlier conflict between the Persians and the Babylonians;  Max Mallowan describes it as a "skilled work of tendentious history".
Fried suggests that there may have been a siege or stand-off between the Persians and the temple's defenders and priests, about whose fate the Cylinder and Chronicle makes no mention.
She speculates that they were killed or expelled by the Persians and replaced by more pro-Persian members of the Babylonian priestly elite. The rebels sought to restore national independence and the line of native Babylonian kings — perhaps an indication that they were not as favourably disposed towards the Persians as the Cylinder suggests.
The Persians' policy towards their subject people, as described by the Cylinder, was traditionally viewed as an expression of tolerance, moderation and generosity "on a scale previously unknown. Modern historians argue that while Cyrus's behavior was indeed conciliatory, it was driven by the needs of the Persian Empire, and was not an expression of personal tolerance per se.
The magnanimity shown by Cyrus won him praise and gratitude from those he spared. The Bible records that some Jews who were exiled by the Babylonians , returned to their homeland from Babylon, where they had been settled by Nebuchadnezzar , to rebuild the temple following an edict from Cyrus. The Book of Ezra 1—4: I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.
This passage has often been interpreted as a reference to the benign policy instituted by Cyrus of allowing exiled peoples, such as the Jews, to return to their original homelands. The dispute over the authenticity of the biblical edicts has prompted interest in this passage from the Cyrus Cylinder, specifically concerning the question of whether it indicates that Cyrus had a general policy of repatriating subject peoples and restoring their sanctuaries.
It does not describe any general release or return of exiled communities but focuses on the return of Babylonian deities to their own home cities. Grabbe , a historian of early Judaism, has written that "the religious policy of the Persians was not that different from the basic practice of the Assyrians and Babylonians before them" in tolerating — but not promoting — local cults, other than their own gods.
Cyrus may have seen Jerusalem , situated in a strategic location between Mesopotamia and Egypt, as worth patronising for political reasons. His Achaemenid successors generally supported indigenous cults in subject territories as an expression of their legitimacy as rulers, thereby currying favour with the cults' devotees. The Cylinder gained new prominence in the late s when the last Shah of Iran called it "the world's first charter of human rights ".
The Cyrus Cylinder was dubbed the "first declaration of human rights" by the pre- Revolution Iranian government,  a reading prominently advanced by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi , in a book, The White Revolution of Iran. The Shah identified Cyrus as a key figure in government ideology and associated his government with the Achaemenids. In his Nowruz New Year speech, the Shah declared that would be Cyrus the Great Year, during which a grand commemoration would be held to celebrate 2, years of Persian monarchy.
It would serve as a showcase for a modern Iran in which the contributions that Iran had made to world civilization would be recognized. The main theme of the commemoration was the centrality of the monarchy within Iran's political system, associating the Shah of Iran with the famous monarchs of Persia's past, and with Cyrus in particular. The Cyrus Cylinder was adopted as the symbol for the commemoration, and Iranian magazines and journals published numerous articles about ancient Persian history.
It was also its longest-running exhibition inside the country. Ahmadinejad considers the Cyrus Cylinder as the incarnation of human values and a cultural heritage for all humanity,  and called it the " First Charter of Human Rights ". The Cylinder reads that everyone is entitled to freedom of thought and choice and all individuals should pay respect to one another.
The historical charter also underscores the necessity of fighting oppression, defending the oppressed, respecting human dignity, and recognizing human rights. The Cyrus Cylinder bears testimony to the fact that the Iranian nation has always been the flag-bearer of justice, devotion and human values throughout history. Some Iranian extremists, Islamists and rightist politicians such as MP Ali Motahari criticized Ahmadinejad for bringing the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran,  although Tehran daily Kayhan , viewed as an ultra-conservative newspaper, had opined that the Islamic Republic should never have returned the Cyrus Cylinder to Britain: There is an important question: Doesn't the cylinder belong to Iran?
And hasn't the British government stolen ancient artifacts from our country? If the answers to these questions are positive, then why should we return this stolen historical and valuable work to the thieves? At the time, the Curator of the National Museum of Iran, Azadeh Ardakani, reported approximately 48, visitors to the Cylinder exhibition, amongst whom over were foreigners, including foreign ambassadors.
The interpretation of the Cylinder as a "charter of human rights" has been described by some historians as "rather anachronistic " and tendentious. Fairchild Ruggles and Helaine Silverman describe the Shah's aim as being to legitimise the Iranian nation and his own regime, and to counter the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism by creating an alternative narrative rooted in the ancient Persian past.
Writing in the immediate aftermath of the Shah's anniversary commemorations, the British Museum's C. Walker comments that the "essential character of the Cyrus Cylinder [is not] a general declaration of human rights or religious toleration but simply a building inscription, in the Babylonian and Assyrian tradition, commemorating Cyrus's restoration of the city of Babylon and the worship of Marduk previously neglected by Nabonidus.
Arnold and Piotr Michalowski, comment: Comparison by scholars in the British Museum with other similar texts, however, showed that rulers in ancient Iraq had been making comparable declarations upon succeeding to the [Babylonian] throne for two millennia before Cyrus […] it is one of the museum's tasks to resist the narrowing of the object's meaning and its appropriation to one political agenda.
He cautions that while the Cylinder is "clearly linked with the history of Iran ," it is "in no real sense an Iranian document: Some historians,  as well as writers on human rights, have supported the interpretation of the Cyrus Cylinder as a human rights charter. Talbott, an American philosopher, believes the concept of human rights is a 20th-century concept but describes Cyrus as "perhaps the earliest known advocate of religious tolerance" and suggests that "ideas that led to the development of human rights are not limited to one cultural tradition.
The Cyrus Cylinder has been displayed in the British Museum since its formal acquisition in Many replicas have been made. Some were distributed by the Shah following the commemorations, while the British Museum and National Museum of Iran have sold them commercially. The British Museum's ownership of the Cyrus Cylinder has been the cause of some controversy in Iran, although the artifact was obtained legally and was not excavated on Iranian soil but on former Ottoman territory modern Iraq.
When it was loaned in , the Iranian press campaigned for its transfer to Iranian ownership. The Cylinder was brought back to London without difficulty, but the British Museum's Board of Trustees subsequently decided that it would be "undesirable to make a further loan of the Cylinder to Iran. It was held in collaboration with the Iranian government, which loaned the British Museum a number of iconic artefacts in exchange for an undertaking that the Cyrus Cylinder would be loaned to the National Museum of Iran in return.
The planned loan of the Cylinder was postponed in October following the June Iranian presidential election so that the British Museum could be "assured that the situation in the country was suitable. The Freedom Sculpture Persian: The design of the Freedom Sculpture was created by artist and architect Cecil Balmond. It is themed on the Cyrus Cylinder from 2, years ago, which is sometimes considered the first declaration of human rights.
It commemorates the declaration of Cyrus the Great , King of ancient Iran , granting individual and religious freedoms to those within his empire. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Redirected from Cyrus cylinder. Cyrus Cylinder The Cyrus Cylinder, obverse and reverse sides. Cyrus in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Return to Zion. Retrieved 19 June Retrieved 21 September Archived from the original on Retrieved 14 December Journal of Ancient Civilizations.
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With permission secured, Rassam initiated a large-scale excavation at Babylon and other sites on behalf of the Trustees of the British Museum.
The Cyrus Cylinder presents a very different message; Johannes Haubold notes that it portrays Cyrus's takeover as a harmonious moment of convergence between Babylonian and Persian history, not a natural disaster but the salvation of Babylonia.
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