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Cyrus Cylinder in Iran

Monday, September 13, 2010

Active ImageFor the first time after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the British Museum has returned the Cyrus Cylinder to the country under tight security measures.

The cylinder was escorted by a delegation headed by the British Museum keeper of the Middle East collections John Curtis to the National Museum of Iran where it will remain for four months.

“This four-month period is a great opportunity for all Iranians who are interested in seeing the cylinder,” head of the National Museum of Iran Azadeh Ardakani said.

The Cyrus Cylinder was unveiled during a special ceremony on Saturday (September 11th) at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.

The Cyrus cylinder, which is considered the world's first charter of human rights, is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus II, king of Persia (559-530 BC).

The cylinder was scheduled to be given to Iran on loan in September 2009; however, the British Museum backed out of the agreement, citing Iran's post-election unrest.

Tehran had earlier said that it would cease cooperation with the British Museum until the cylinder is loaned to the National Museum of Iran.

The cylinder is expected to be put on public display in the coming days.

The Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder is a Babylonian document of the 6th century BC, discovered in the ruins of Babylon in 1879. It is a clay cylinder, broken into several fragments, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script. The text is in the name of the Achaemenid Persian king Cyrus the Great. The Cyrus Cylinder, issued in 539 B.C. by Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (ancient Iran) after his conquest of Babylon, is said by many to be the first human rights document. In 1971, the Cyrus Cylinder was described as the world’s first charter of human rights, and it was translated into all six official U.N. languages. A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in the second floor hallway, between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council chambers.

The Cylinder was created following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when the Persian army under Cyrus invaded the Neo-Babylonian Empire and incorporated it into the Persian Empire. The Babylonian king Nabonidus was defeated in battle by the Persians and was deposed by Cyrus, who replaced him as ruler of Babylonia. The text on the Cylinder commemorates the Persian victory and praises Cyrus's kingly virtues, listing his genealogy as a king from a line of kings, in contrast with the low-born Nabonidus. The deposed king is denounced as an impious oppressor of the people of Babylonia. The victorious Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian god Active ImageMarduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. The text says that Cyrus was welcomed by the people of Babylon as their new ruler and entered the city in peace. It appeals to Marduk to protect and to help Cyrus and his son Cambyses. It exalts Cyrus's efforts as a benefactor of the citizens of Babylonia who improved their lives, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries across Mesopotamia. It concludes with a description of the work of Cyrus in repairing the city wall of Babylon, in which he found a similar inscription by an earlier Babylonian king.

The Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered the Cylinder during an excavation carried out for the British Museum. It had been placed as a foundation deposit in the foundations of the Esagila, the city's main temple. According to the British Museum, the Cylinder reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms. Cyrus's declaration shows how he sought to obtain the loyalty of his Active Imagenew Babylonian subjects by stressing his legitimacy as king, and showing his respect for the religious and political traditions of Babylonia. It has widely been regarded as an instrument of ancient Mesopotamian propaganda, most likely created by the Babylonian priests of Marduk working at the behest of Cyrus.

Passages in the text of cylinder have been interpreted as expressing Cyrus’ respect for humanity, and as promoting a form of religious tolerance and freedom; and as result of his generous and humane policies, Cyrus gained the overwhelming support of his subjects.

The Cyrus Cylinder is not the only reason that the Cyrus legacy is admired. According to Professor Richard Frye:

"In short, the figure of Cyrus has survived throughout history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring. His personality as seen by the Greeks influenced them and Alexander the Great, and, as the tradition was transmitted by the Romans, may be considered to influence our thinking even now."

Active ImageBritish Museum: Translation of the Text on the Cyrus Cylinder

Translation by Irving Finkel
Assistant Keeper, Department of the Middle East

Translation of the Cyrus Cylinder

1. [When ... Mar]duk, king of the whole of heaven and earth, the ....... who, in his ..., lays waste his .......
2. [........................................................................]broad ? in intelligence, ...... who inspects} (?) the wor]ld quarters (regions)
3. [..............................................................…] his [first]born (=Belshazzar), a low person was put in charge of his country,
4. but [..................................................................................] he set [a (…) counter]feit over them. 
5. He ma[de] a counterfeit of Esagil, [and .....….......]... for Ur and the rest of the cult-cities.
6. Rites inappropriate to them, [impure] fo[od- offerings ….......................................................] disrespectful […] were daily gabbled, and, as an insult,
7. he brought the daily offerings to a halt; he inter[fered with the rites and] instituted […....] within the sanctuaries. In his mind, reverential fear of Marduk, king of the gods, came to an end.   
8. He did yet more evil to his city every day; … his [people ................…], he brought ruin on them all by a yoke without relief.  
Active Image9. Enlil-of-the-gods became extremely angry at their complaints, and […] their territory.  The gods who lived within them left their shrines,
10. angry that he had made (them) enter into Shuanna (Babylon).  Ex[alted Marduk, Enlil-of-the-Go]ds, relented.  He changed his mind about all the settlements whose sanctuaries were in ruins, 
11. and the population of the land of Sumer and Akkad who had become like corpses, and took pity on them.  He inspected and checked all the countries, 
12. seeking for the upright king of his choice.  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.  
13. He made the land of Guti and all the Median troops prostrate themselves at his feet, while he shepherded in justice and righteousness the black-headed people 
14. whom he had put under his care.  Marduk, the great lord, who nurtures his people, saw with pleasure his fine deeds and true heart, 
15. and ordered that he should go to Babylon  He had him take the road to Tintir (Babylon), and, like a friend and companion, he walked at his side.  
16. His vast troops whose number, like the water in a river, could not be counted, were marching fully-armed at his side.  
Active Image17. He had him enter without fighting or battle right into Shuanna; he saved his city Babylon from hardship.  He handed over to him Nabonidus, the king who did not fear him.  
18. All the people of Tintir, of all Sumer and Akkad, nobles and governors, bowed down before him and kissed his feet, rejoicing over his kingship and their faces shone.  
19. The lord through whose help all were rescued from death and who saved them all from distress and hardship, they blessed him sweetly and praised his name.
------------------------------------------------- 
20. I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world, 
21. son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, ki[ng of the ci]ty of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, 
22. the perpetual seed of kingship, whose reign Bel (Marduk)and Nabu love, and with whose kingship, to their joy, they concern themselves.  When I went as harbinger of peace i[nt]o Babylon 
23. I founded my sovereign residence within the palace amid celebration and rejoicing.  Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe.  
24. My vast troops were marching peaceably in Babylon, and the whole of [Sumer] and Akkad had nothing to fear.  
25. I sought the safety of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries.  As for the population of Babylon […, w]ho as if without div[ine intention] had endured a yoke not decreed for them, 
26. I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds(?).    Marduk, the great lord,  rejoiced at [my good] deeds, 
27. and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops, 
Active Image28. that we might live happily in his presence, in well-being.  At his exalted command, all kings who sit on thrones, 
29. from every quarter, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, those who inhabit [remote distric]ts (and) the kings of the land of Amurru who live in tents, all of them, 
30. brought their weighty tribute into Shuanna, and kissed my feet. From [Shuanna] I sent back to their places to the city of Ashur and Susa, 
31. Akkad, the land of Eshnunna, the city of Zamban, the city of Meturnu, Der, as far as the border of the land of Guti - the sanctuaries across the river Tigris - whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated, 
32. the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them.  I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements, 
33. and the gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad which Nabonidus – to the fury of the lord of the gods – had brought into Shuanna, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, 
34. I returned them unharmed to their cells, in the sanctuaries that make them happy.  May all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries, 
35. every day before Bel and Nabu, ask for a long life for me, and mention my good deeds, and say to Marduk, my lord, this: “Cyrus, the king who fears you, and Cambyses his son,
36. may they be the provisioners of our shrines until distant (?) days, and the population of Babylon call blessings on my kingship. I have enabled all the lands to live in peace.  
37. Every day I increased by [… ge]ese, two ducks and ten pigeons the [former offerings] of  geese, ducks and pigeons.
38. I strove to strengthen the defences of the wall Imgur-Enlil, the great wall of Babylon,
39. and [I completed] the quay of baked brick on the bank of the moat which an earlier king had bu[ilt but not com]pleted its work.  
40. [I …… which did not surround the city] outside, which no earlier king had built, his workforce, the levee [from his land, in/int]o Shuanna.  
41. [… .......................................................................with bitum]en and baked brick I built anew, and [completed] its [work].  
42. […...........................................................] great [doors of cedarwood] with bronze cladding,  
43. [and I installed] all their doors, threshold slabs and door fittings with copper parts.   [….......................] I saw within it an inscription of Ashurbanipal, a king who preceded me;
44. […..................................................................] his … Marduk, the great lord, creator (?) of [ ... ]
45. [….................................................] my [… I presented] as a gift.....................] your pleasure  forever.

Read the Text in Persian:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/cyrus_cylinder_translation_persian.pdf

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