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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Cyrus Cylinder, the world's first charter of human rights on display at the Met Museum


20 June 2013



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Cyrus Cylinder



Pahlavi II delivers his speech at the 2500 anniversary of the Iranian monarchy at the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great  in 1971.


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Cyrus Cylinder depicted on a postage stamps issued on 12 October 1971 to celebrate the 2,500-year anniversary of the Imperial government in Iran

  (Click to enlarge)


LONDON, (CAIS) -- The Cyrus Cylinder-a 2,600-year-old inscribed clay document from the ancient Persia discovered and one of the most famous surviving icons from the ancient world-is the centrepiece of the travelling exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: Charting a New Empire, on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning June 20. 


The Cyrus Cylinder, considered by many as the world's first bill of human rights is relevant to millions of people across the world. It marks the establishment of Persian Empire in 539 BCE by Cyrus the Great, with the inclusion of Babylon into the Persian realm, the restoration of shrines, freeing the slaves and return them to their homelands with their gods. Cyrus' legacy is celebrated in the biblical tradition, where he is seen as a liberator and God's anointed shepherd, enabling the return to Jerusalem.


The Cylinder and 16 related works on view, all on loan from the British Museum, reflect the innovations initiated by Persian rule in the ancient Near East (550-330 B.C.E.) and chart a new path for this empire, the world’s first superpower and largest the world had known. Also on display will be works of art from the Metropolitan's Department of Drawings and Prints and Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts that celebrate Cyrus the Great and his legacy as a liberal and enlightened monarch. A unique aspect of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum will be its display within the Galleries of Ancient Near Eastern Art, where objects from the permanent collections-including the famous lions from Babylon-will provide a stunning backdrop.


The exhibition was organised by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


The exhibition's presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is made possible with the support of the Ansary Foundation, Akbar A. Lari, Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, Nowruz Commission and Omid and Kimya Kamshad. Additional support provided by the NoRuz at the Met Fund.


Exhibition Overview

The barrel-shaped Cyrus Cylinder, buried as a foundation deposit, is inscribed in the Akkadian language in Babylonian cuneiform. The Cylinder was broken, at the time of its excavation in 1879, or soon after, and now comprises several pieces fixed together; just over one-third is missing. Its shape is typical for royal inscriptions buried in the foundations of buildings and city walls in Mesopotamia in the first millennium B.C.E., and also for proclamations. Inscribed on the orders of the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great, the Cylinder tells of his conquest of Babylon (539 B.C.E.); of his restoration to various temples of statues that had been removed by Nabonidus, the despot king of Babylon; and of his own work at the new Satrapy (province). Two clay fragments from a cuneiform tablet long in the collection of the British Museum were recently discovered to duplicate the text of the Cylinder, demonstrating that it was not unique. These fragments, which will be on view in the exhibition, also add information that is missing from parts of the Cylinder.


The Cylinder has resonances far beyond Iranian cultural heritage. The text of the Cylinder, which mentions the return of deported peoples and their gods, has been compared with biblical accounts that praise Cyrus' role in the return of the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile, and mention the building of the Second Temple. Cyrus is hailed as an ideal ruler in classical sources, and leaders throughout the millennia, as diverse as Alexander II of Macedonia, and Thomas Jefferson, have been inspired by his example.


Cyrus the Great laid the foundations for the powerful Persian Achaemenid dynasty, which-under the subsequent reign of Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.E.)-stretched from Egypt to India, and from Arabian Peninsula to the Aral Sea. This first "world empire" shifted the ancient Near East's political focus from Mesopotamia to Iran. Innovative practices were crucial to administer such a vast and culturally diverse region. Key to Persian imperial success was a policy of religious and cultural tolerance, which fostered political stability. The objects in the exhibition highlight the innovations introduced in the Achaemenid period and include inscriptions, coins, stamp and cylinder seals, a votive plaque, gold and silver tableware, and a gold armlet. Some of these objects are part of the Oxus Treasure, one of the most significant finds from the ancient Iranian world, which was probably originally discovered close to the northern banks of the Oxus River in present-day Tajikistan.


The Achaemenid Emperors or ‘the King of Kings’ introduced for the first time in the world, an annual budget to run their empire, achieved by an ingenious idea of creating a uniform monetary system based on gold coinage that in the ancient world could be spent anywhere and stabilized tax rates and collections. The exhibition will include three coins that feature an image of a crowned kneeling figure drawing a bow, often referred to as the "royal archer."


Engraved cylinder and stamp seals played an important role in the ancient World. The impressions they made on clay documents served as permanent visual reminders of the sealer's participation in the performance of a personal, legal, or administrative act.


Examples of both types of seals will be shown. Of special note is the well-known seal of Darius the Great in his chariot, hunting lions; a winged figure, perhaps a Zoroastrian deity, is above. A trilingual cuneiform inscription in Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian reads: "I (am) Darius, great king." Two other seals show a figure in a Persian-style robe and a crown, usually referred to as the "Persian royal hero," struggling with a mythological creature and a wild beast.


Achaemenid Emperors paid homage to Ahuramazda, the Supreme Zoroastrian God. Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheist religion in the world, dating to around 1750 B.C.E., which heavily influenced the three Semitic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) who borrowed many elements from it, including the Messiah, Judgment day and the Kingdom of heaven.  The Old Iranian religions were spread in Iran under the Achaemenid Emperors. A votive plaque from the Oxus Treasure shows a figure holding a barsom or bundle of sticks, an object typically associated with piety in Zoroastrian religious art.


Many classical authors refer to the great wealth of the Persian Imperial treasuries, as it was known the wealthiest Empire under the sun. Two shallow bowls-one of gold and the other of silver-suggest the kind of luxury tableware that was available to the Persian elite.


Education programs have been organized to complement the exhibition. These include a How Did They Do That? weekend program for all ages on Mesopotamian seals and a lecture on June 20 by John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects, The British Museum; a program that will include talks by Irving Finkel, The British Museum; Robert Faulkner, Boston College; and Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, University of Toronto, on July 11; a documentary film on Cyrus' palace and gardens at Pasargadae, to be introduced by David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, on June 28; and a series of gallery talks. All programs are free with Museum admission.


The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, published by the British Museum. It will be available in the Metropolitan Museum's book shops. A special feature about the exhibition will appear on the Metropolitan Museum's website ( Essays relevant to the exhibition will be posted by members of the Ancient Near East Department on the Museum's blog Now at the Met.

A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder is also kept at the United Nation Headquarters in New York on the second floor hallway between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council chambers.



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Original news bulletin published by Art Broadway World  rectified and edited by CAIS [*]




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