The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 (www.metmuseum.org).
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.
Become a fan of CAIS-SOAS
Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)