Cyrus cylinder

Cyrus cylinder

The Cyrus cylinder, also known as the Cyrus the Great cylinder, is a document issued by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform. The cylinder was created following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian king Nabonidus and replaced him as ruler, ending the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The text of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious Cyrus as pleasing to the chief god Marduk. It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries.

The cylinder had been placed under the walls of Babylon as a foundation deposit. It was discovered in 1879 by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila (i.e., the Marduk temple of Babylon) and is kept today in the British Museum in London. There have been reports of attempts by the directors of the British Museum and the National Museum of Iran in Tehran to arrange a loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to be temporarily displayed in the National Museum of Iran for a special exhibition. [Cultural Heritage News Agency, "Cyrus Cylinder to be returned to Iran", Tehran, June 25, 2008, [] .]

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." [ British Museum Website,The Cyrus Cylinder] ] It is composed in a form that broadly matches long-standing Babylonian styles and themes, although the use of the first person marks a striking departure from this pattern. cite book | title=The Cambridge History of Iran: The Land of Iran Vol.2| last=Ilya Gershevitch| first=Max Mallowan| date=1993| pages=549-553| publisher=Cambridge University Press] The cylinder may be seen as an example of Cyrus seeking the loyalty of his new Babylonian subjects by stressing his legitimacy as king, and showing his respect for the religious and political traditions of Babylonia. It has been regarded for over a century as an instrument of ancient Mesopotamian propaganda.British Museum explanatory notes, "Cyrus Cylinder": "For almost 100 years the cylinder was regarded as ancient Mesopotamian propaganda. This changed in 1971 when the Shah of Iran used it as a central image in his own propaganda celebrating 2500 years of Iranian monarchy. In Iran, the cylinder has appeared on coins, banknotes and stamps. Despite being a Babylonian document it has become part of Iran's cultural identity."] [See also Amélie Kuhrt, "Babylonia from Cyrus to Xerxes", in "The Cambridge Ancient History: Vol IV - Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean", p. 124. Ed. John Boardman. Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0521228042] In the early 1970s, the Shah of Iran adopted it as a symbol of his reign and celebrating 2,500 years of Iranian monarchy, asserting that it was "the first human rights charter in history",Neil MacGregor, "The whole world in our hands", in "Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy, and Practice", p. 383-4, ed. Barbara T. Hoffman. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521857643] Kaveh Farrokh, "Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War", p. 44. Osprey Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1846031087] an interpretation which is also advocated by some, [Arthur Henry Robertson, J. G. Merrills, "Human Rights in the World: An Introduction to the Study of the International Protection of Human Rights", p.7. ManchesterUniversity Press, 1996. ISBN 0719049237] although criticized by others as "anachronistic and erroneous". See e.g. T.C. Mitchell, "Biblical Archaeology: Documents from the British Museum", p. 82. Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 0521368677] The cylinder has also attracted attention in the context of the repatriation of the Jews to Jerusalem following their Babylonian captivity [ [ British Museum Website,The Cyrus Cylinder: "Although the Jews are not mentioned in this document, their return to Palestine following their deportation by Nebuchadnezzar II, was part of this policy."] ; it has generally been viewed as corroboration of the Biblical account in the Book of Ezra (see: "Ezra" 1.1-6, 6.1-5; "Isaiah" 44.23-45.8; "2 Chronicles" 36.22-23), though the extent to which this is the case remains unclear.


The cylinder was discovered following an earlier, fruitless excavation by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard. In 1850 Layard dug into three mounds on the site of the ruined city of Babylon but found little of importance and concluded that it was not worth his time continuing there. His assistant Hormuzd Rassam, a controversial figure remembered as much for his brutal tactics as his discoveries, returned to the mounds in 1879 on behalf of the British Museum. He uncovered a number of important buildings, most notably the Esagila - a major temple to Marduk, though it was not identified as such until Robert Koldewey's excavation of 1900. Rassam's excavations found a large quantity of business documents and, buried in the temple's foundations, the Cyrus Cylinder. [H.F. Vos, "Archaeology of Mesopotamia", p. 267 in "The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia", ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995. ISBN 0802837816] Rassam's excavations went on until 1882. [Clifford M. Jones, "Cambridge Bible commentary: Old Testament illustrations", p. 94. Cambridge University Press, 1971. ISBN 052108007X] The cylinder was announced to the public by Sir Henry Rawlinson at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society on 17 November 1879. ["Royal Asiatic Society", "The Times", 18 November 1879] Rawlinson's paper on "A newly discovered Cylinder of Cyrus the Great" was published in the society's journal the following year.

Description and content

The text consists of two fragments, known as "A" (lines: 1-35, measures: 23 x 8 cm) and "B" (36-45, 8.6 x 5.6 cm). "A" has always been in the British Museum. "B" was reunited with the main fragment in 1971, after being identified as a fragment of the cylinder by P.-R. Berger in 1970. [Berger, P.-R., "Das Neujahrsfest nach den Königsinschriften des ausgehenden babylonischen Reiches", in: A. Finet (ed.), Actes de la XVIIe Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 30 juin – 4 juillet 1969 (Comité belge de recherches en Mésopotamie, Ham-sur-Heure, 1970 [= Publications du Comité belge de recherches historiques, épigraphiques et archéologiques en Mésopotamie, nr. 1] ), pp. 155-159.] It was originally kept in the Babylonian Collection of Yale University, which acquired it from an antiquities dealer. [John Curtis, Nigel Tallis, Béatrice André-Salvini, "Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia", p. 59. University of California Press, 2005. ISBN 0520247310] The inscription has six distinct parts in its 45 lines: first, a introduction reviling Nabonidus, the previous king of Babylon, and associating Cyrus with the god Marduk (lines 1-19); second, a royal protocol and genealogy (lines 20-22); third, a commendation of Cyrus's policy of restoring Babylon (lines 22-34); fourth, a prayer to Marduk by Cyrus on behalf of himself and his son Cambyses (lines 34-35); fifth, a declaration about the good condition of the Persian Empire (lines 36-37); and finally, details of the building activities ordered by Cyrus in Babylon (lines 38-45).Josef Wiesehofer trans. Azizeh Azodi, "Ancient Persia: From 550 BC to 650 AD", pp. 44-45. I.B.Tauris, 2001. ISBN 1860646751]

The start of the text is partly broken but from the surviving content, it appears to begin with an attack on the character of Nabonidus; it lists his alleged crimes, charging him with desecration of the temples of the gods and the imposition of forced labor upon the populace. Because of these offences, the writer declares, the god Marduk has withdrawn his support from the Babylonian king. Marduk thus calls upon a foreign king, Cyrus of the Persians, to enter Babylon and become its new ruler with the god's divine blessing:

:"The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [Nabonidus] [chang] ed into abomination. Daily he used to do evil against his city [Babylon] ... He [Marduk] scanned and looked [through] all the countries, searching for a righteous ruler willing to lead [him] [in the annual procession] . [Then] he pronounced the name of Cyrus, king of Anshan, declared him to be [come] the ruler of all the world."

Cyrus goes on to call himself "king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters (of the earth), son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, descendent of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of a family (which) always (exercised) kingship; whose rule Bel and Nabu love, whom they want as king to please their hearts." He describes the pious deeds he performed after his conquest: he restored peace to Babylon and the other cities sacred to Marduk, freeing their inhabitants from their "yoke", and he "brought relief to their dilapidated housing (thus) putting an end to their (main) complaints."Max Mallowan, "Cyrus the Great (558-529 B.C.)", in "The Cambridge History of Iran", pp. 409-411, eds. Richard Nelson Frye, William Bayne Fisher. Cambridge University Press, 1968. ISBN 0521200911] He repaired the ruined temples in the cities he conquered, restored their cults, and returned their sacred images as well as their former inhabitants which Narbonidus had taken to Babylon."The Ancient Near East, Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures". Vol. 1. Ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton University Press, 1973.] In the smaller "B" fragment of the cylinder, Cyrus says: "In [the gateway] I saw inscribed the name of my predecessor King Ashurbanipal". The remainder is missing but presumably describes Cyrus's rededication of the gateway mentioned.Request quotation|date=September 2008 [John F. Kutsko, " Divine Presence and Absence in the Book of Ezekiel", p. 123. Eisenbrauns, 2000. ISBN 1575060418]

The fragmentary nature of the inscription meant that the full text of the cylinder was, for a long time, unclear and incomplete. A partial translation by F.H. Weissbach in 1911 [Weissbach, F.H., "Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden" (Vorderasiatische Bibliotek, 3; Leipzig; J.C. Hinrichs) (reprinted Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat der DDR, 1968)] was supplanted by a much more complete transcription after the identification of the "B" fragment; this is now available in German [Schaudig, Hanspeter. "Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros' des Grossen samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstandenen Tendenzschriften: Textausgabe und Grammatik (Alter Orient und Altes Testament)", 2001. Ugarit-Verlag, 2001. ISBN 3927120758] and in English [Hallo, William W. (ed). "The Context of Scripture", I-III (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997-2002)] .


As an instrument of legitimizing royal rule

The type and formulation of the cylinder was typically Babylonian and stands in a Mesopotamian tradition, dating back to the third millennium BC, of kings making similar declarations of their own righteousness when beginning their reigns. [A. Kuhrt "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid imperial policy" in "Journal of Studies of the Old Testament" 25 pp. 83-97; R.J. van der Spek, "Did Cyrus the Great introduce a new policy towards subdued nations? Cyrus in Assyrian perspective" in "Persica" 10 pp. 273-285; M. Dandamaev "A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire", pp. 52-53 (with previous bibliography); P.-A. Beaulieu, "An Episode in the Fall of Babylon to the Persians", JNES vol. 52 n. 4 Oct. 1993. p. 243.; J. Wiesehöfer, "Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD", 2006 1996 , p. 82; P. Briant, "From Cyrus to Alexander", pp. 43-43.] [ [ British Museum, The Cyrus Cylinder] ] cite web | last = Lendering | first = Jona | authorlink = Jona Lendering | title = The Cyrus Cylinder | publisher = | date = 2007-01-28 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-30 ] The cylinder is an example of a specific Mesopotamian literary genre, the royal building inscription, which had no equivalent in Old Persian literature. The text illustrates how Cyrus co-opted local traditions and symbols to legitimize his control of Babylon.Mary Joan Winn Leith, "Israel among the Nations: The Persian Period", in "The Oxford History of the Biblical World", pp. 285, ed. Michael David Coogan. Oxford University Press US, 1998. ISBN 0195139372] Many elements of the text were drawn from traditional Mesopotamian themes; Amélie Kuhrt notes that "such pious examples of temple work were part of a standard process of legitimisation in Babylonia, and thus follow conventional forms". These forms included a number of standard tropes, all of which are visible in the Cyrus cylinder: the preceding king is vilified and he is proclaimed to have been abandoned by the gods for his wickedness; the new king has gained power through the divine will of the gods; the new king rights the wrongs of his predecessor, addressing the welfare of the people; the sanctuaries of the gods are rebuilt or restored, offerings to the gods are made or increased and the blessings of the gods are sought; and repairs are made to the whole city, in the manner of earlier rightful kings.Amélie Kuhrt, "The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources of the Achaemenid Period", p. 72. Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0415436281]

Two notable point of comparison are the earlier commemorative cylinder of Marduk-apla-iddina II, who seized the Babylonian throne in 722/1 BC, and the annals of Sargon II of Assyria, who conquered Babylon twelve years later. As a usurper, Marduk-apla-iddina faced many of the same issues of legitimacy that Cyrus was later to face as conqueror of 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, honoring the gods, maintaining their temples and respecting and upholding the privileges of the urban elite. Again, Cyrus's cylinder makes exactly the same points. The text of the cylinder thus indicates a strong continuity with centuries of Babylonian tradition, as part of an established rhetoric advanced by conquerors and usurpers. As Kuhrt puts it, the cylinder

:"reflects the pressure that Babylonian citizens were able to bring to bear on the new royal claimant ... In this context, the reign of the defeated predecessor was automatically described as bad and against the divine will - how else could he have been defeated? By implication, of course, all his acts became, inevitably and retrospectively, tainted." [Amélie Kuhrt, "Cyrus the Great of Persia: Images and Realities", in "Representations of Political Power: Case Histories from Times of Change and Dissolving Order in the Ancient Near East", eds. Marlies Heinz, Marian H. Feldman, pp. 174-175. Eisenbrauns, 2007. ISBN 157506135X]

Kuhrt observes that "the main significance of the text lies in the insight it provides into the mechanism used by Cyrus to legitimize his conquest of Babylon by manipulating local traditions." [Quoted in John F. Kutsko, "Between Heaven and Earth: Divine Presence and Absence in the Book of Ezekiel", p. 123. Eisenbrauns, 2000. ISBN 1575060418] The degree of familiarity with Babylonian tropes suggests that the cylinder was authored not by the Persians but by the Babylonian priests of Marduk, working at the behest of Cyrus. [Jonathan E. Dyck, "The Theocratic Ideology of the Chronicler", pp. 91-94. Brill Academic Publishers, 1998. ISBN 9004111468] The cylinder can be compared with another work of around the same time, the "Verse Account of Nabonidus", in which the former Babylonian ruler is excoriated as the enemy of the priests of Marduk and Cyrus is presented as the liberator of Babylon. [Lester L. Grabbe, "A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period: Yehud, the Persian Province of Judah", p. 267. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0567089983] Both works make a point of stressing Cyrus's qualifications as a king from a line of kings, in contrast to the non-royal ancestry of Nabonidus, who is described by the cylinder as "maţû", "insignificant". [Michael B. Dick, "The "History of David's Rise to Power" and the Neo-Babylonian Succession Apologies", in "David and Zion: Biblical Studies in Honor of J.J.M. Roberts", p. 10. Eds. Bernard Frank Batto, Kathryn L. Roberts, Jimmy Jack McBee Roberts. Eisenbrauns, 2004. ISBN 1575060922] The "Verse Account" is so similar to the cylinder inscription that the two texts have been dubbed an example of "literary dependence" - not a direct dependence of one upon the other, but mutual dependence upon a common source, characterised by Morton Smith as "the propaganda put out in Babylonia by Cyrus' agents, shortly before Cyrus' conquest, to prepare the way of their lord." This viewpoint has been disputed; as Simon J. Sherwin puts it, the cylinder and the "Verse Account" are "ex eventu" compositions which utilise pre-existing Mesopotamian literary themes and do not need to be explained as the product of pre-conquest Persian propaganda.Simon J. Sherwin, "Old Testament monotheism and Zoroastrian influence", in "The God of Israel: Studies of an Inimitable Deity", p. 122. Robert P. Gordon (ed). Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 0521873657]

The cylinder describes Cyrus returning to their original sanctuaries the statues of the gods that Nabonidus had brought to the city before the Persian invasion, thus restoring the normal cultic order to the satisfaction of the priesthood. Where the cylinder speaks of temples being restored and deported groups being returned to their homelands, it does not speak of a general empire-wide program but of activities specifically directed at specific places in the border region between Babylonia and Persia, including sites that had been devastated by earlier Babylonian military campaigns. Such locations were of significant strategic importance within the empire. 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' reign.

In Cyrus' age, contemporary invaders considered the massacre and enslavement of conquered peoples to be standard practice in warfare. Conquering kings proudly recorded in royal inscriptions their brutality in sacking and destroying the lands that they had invaded. Only a century before, the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal had massacred Babylonian rebels after a two-year siege of the city. Massacre and pillaging was thus seen as the natural consequence of defeat. Cyrus' conciliatory treatment of the Babylonians broke with this tradition. Some have argued that the Persians' policy towards their subject peoples, as described by the cylinder, was an expression of tolerance, moderation and generosity; however, most scholars argue that it was driven by the needs of the Persian Empire. cite book | title=The Levitical Authorship of Ezra-Nehemiah| last=Min| first=Kyung-Jin| pages=94| publisher=Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004 | isbn=0567082261] The empire was too large to be centrally directed and Cyrus sought to establish a decentralized system of government, based on existing territorial units. The magnanimity shown by Cyrus won him praise and gratitude from those he spared, as he intended. [Malcolm Evans, "Religious Liberty and International Law in Europe", pp. 12-13. Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 0521550211] The policy of "toleration" described by the cylinder was thus, as Rainer Albertz puts it, "an expression of conservative support for local regions to serve the political interests of the whole [empire] ." [Rainer Albertz trans. David Green, "Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E.", pp. 115-116. Society of Biblical Literature, 2003. ISBN 1589830555] Alberto Soggin comments that it was more "a matter of practicality and economy ... [as] it was simpler, and indeed cost less, to obtain the spontaneous collaboration of their subjects at a local level than to have to impose their sovereignty by force."cite book | title=An Introduction to the History of Israel and Judah| last=Soggin| first=J. Alberto| authorlink=Alberto Soggin| coauthors=John Bowman (trans)| date=1999| pages=295| publisher=SCM-Canterbury Press Ltd | isbn=0334027888]

The cylinder also provides evidence of how Cyrus saw his place as king (or, at least, how he wanted to be seen). In the text, he declares himself to be the king of the world and a king of kings, boasting of how "all the kings of the entire world ... brought their heavy tributes and kissed my feet in Babylon". He emphasizes his pre-eminence as the chosen one of the gods, identifies his son Cambyses as likewise being divinely blessed and implicitly anoints Cambyses as his successor. He restores order in the temples and improves the well-being of the people. He portrays himself as the fulcrum of the Persian empire, highlighting his role as the head of the personal union of Persia and its subject territories. The outcome of Cyrus's conquest is the replacement of tyranny with just rule, of impiety with piety and of suffering with happiness among Marduk's people. [Gene Ralph Garthwaite, "The Persians", p. 43 Blackwell Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1557868603]

Cyrus' conquest of Babylon is presented in the cylinder's text as the culminating moment of his career, leading automatically to the submission of all other rulers. In fact, it is unclear who might have paid homage to Cyrus after his conquest. It is likely that he would have received the submissions of the subject-kings and governors of the overthrown Babylonian Empire, and the cylinder's allusion to kings "who dwell in tents" suggests that he also received the submission of nomadic tribes along the empire's borders. Such groups would have wished to establish good relations with the new regime in order to ensure that their trade routes remained open.

The author of the cylinder is somewhat selective in describing the immediate circumstances of Cyrus's entry into Babylon. The text presents Cyrus as presenting Babylon peacefully and being welcomed by the population as a liberator. While this was technically accurate - the Persians seem to have entered Babylon without serious resistance - the text is careful to avoid mentioning the preceding Battle of Opis, in which Cyrus's forces defeated the army of Nabonidus. As Walton and Hill put it, the claim of a wholly peaceful takeover acclaimed by the people is "standard conqueror's rhetoric and may obscure other facts". [John H. Walton, Andrew E. Hill, "Old Testament Today: A Journey from Original Meaning to Contemporary Significance", p. 172. Zondervan, 2004. ISBN 0310238269]

Julye Bidmead also notes that "the [Persian] propaganda regarding Nabonidus' rule is extensive" and the cylinder's claims about his record are not supported by many of the known facts. In contrast to the vilification expressed by the cylinder, the reign of Nabonidus was 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] ". [Julye Bidmead, "The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity And Royal Legitimation In Mesopotamia", p. 137. Gorgias Press LLC, 2004. ISBN 1593331584] Having said that, Nabonidus seems to have been deeply unpopular with the Babylonian priestly elite for his northern ancestry, his introduction of foreign gods and his self-imposed exile which was said to have prevented the celebration of the vital New Year festival.

Old Testament studies

The Bible records that some Jews returned to their homeland from Babylon, where they had been settled by Nebuchadrezzar, to rebuild the temple following an edict from Cyrus (Ezra 1. 1-4). Many scholars have cited one particular passage from the Cylinder to confirm the Old Testament account:

:(30) ... From [Babylon] [Older translations used to give "Nineveh" instead of " [Babylon] ". The relevant passage is fragmentary, but I. Finkel has recently concluded that it is impossible to interpret it as "Nineveh" (I. Finkel, "No Nineveh in the Cyrus Cylinder", in "NABU" 1997 [] .).] to Aššur and (from) Susa, (31) Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, (32) I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [i.e., in Babylon] , to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings. [ [ Cyrus Cylinder] translation, adapted from Schaudig 2001.]

Although it does not mention Judah or the Jews, the last phrase of line 32 has been interpreted as a reference to Cyrus' policy of allowing deportees to return to their original lands. However, this view has been challenged by Amelie Kuhrt, who argued that the people referred to are not deportees but people associated with the returned god images' cult. [A. Kuhrt, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy", p. 86-87, in "Journal for the Study of the Old Testament" 25 (1983).] Diana Edelman has pointed out chronological difficulties that arise when we accept that the Jews returned during the reign of Cyrus [Diana Edelman, "The Origins of the Second Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem" (2005)] , although it has been argued that she based her conclusions on questionable treatments of genealogical lists and unsubstantiated links between various figures in the early Persian period. [Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 7 (2007) - Review by Mark J. Boda] There is no clear independent evidence to confirm the Biblical claim that Cyrus freed the Jews and that God had "charged him to build a temple in Jerusalem". The Cyrus Cylinder does correspond closely to the "spirit" of the decree described in Ezra, particularly the divinely chosen status of Cyrus. As with other texts from the same period, it credits the god of his intended audience for his success and makes claims of worship, piety and religious tolerance that recall the claims of Ezra. Although it cannot be used to confirm directly the authenticity of the decree cited in Ezra, it suggests that in "restoring" the Temple in Jerusalem, Cyrus acted strategically to grant privileged status to the city to gain the support and cooperation of its people. Israel's sensitive location close to Egypt made it a particularly sensitive area for the Persians, who would have had a strong interest in ensuring that it was firmly in their hands.

As a charter of human rights

The Cyrus cylinder is considered by Iran to be "the first declaration of human rights", [ United Nations Note to Correspondents no. 3699, 13 October 1971] ] a position advocated by some scholars. [Arthur Henry Robertson, J. G. Merrills, "Human Rights in the World: An Introduction to the Study of the International Protection of Human Rights", p. 7. Manchester University Press, 1996. ISBN 0719049237] Kaveh Farrokh, "Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War", p. 44. Osprey Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1846031087] This characterization emerged in the early 1970s at the initiative of the then Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who made Cyrus the Great a key figure in government ideology and associated himself personally with the Achaemenids. In his 1971 Nowruz (New Year) speech, the shah declared that 1971 would be "Cyrus the Great Year", during which a grand commemoration would be held to celebrate 2,500 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, identifying the shah with the famous monarchs of Persia's past, and with Cyrus the Great in particular.Ali Ansari, "Modern Iran: The Pahlavis and After", pp. 218-19. Longman, 2007. ISBN 1405840846] The shah looked to the Achaemenid period as "a moment from the national past that could best serve as a model and a slogan for the imperial society he hoped to create." [Bruce Lincoln, "Discourse and the Construction of Society: Comparative Studies of Myth, Ritual, and Classification", p. 32. Oxford University Press US, 1992. ISBN 0195079094] The government made a concerted effort to present the Achaemenid king as a humane and enlightened figure, a theme addressed in the 1971 budget speech of Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveida:

:"Since the beginning of its glorious history, our country has been famous for peace, friendship and humanity, and this can clearly be proved by studying the methods and measures of the great kings such as Cyrus the Great, whose efforts made possible our celebration next year of the 2500th anniversary of the Iranian monarchy."

The cylinder was adopted as the symbol for the commemoration, and Iranian magazines and journals published numerous articles about ancient Persian history. The British Museum loaned the original cylinder to the Iranian government for the duration of the festivities; it was put on display at the Shahyad Monument (now the Azadi Tower) in Tehran, [David Housego, "Pique and peacocks in Persepolis", "The Times", 15 October 1971] where a replica of the cylinder is still on display. The 2,500 year celebrations commenced on October 12, 1971 and culminated a week later with a spectacular parade at the tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae. On October 14, the shah's sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, presented the United Nations Secretary General U Thant with a replica of the cylinder. The princess asserted that "the heritage of Cyrus was the heritage of human understanding, tolerance, courage, compassion and, above all, human liberty". The Secretary General accepted the gift, linking the cylinder with the efforts of the United Nations General Assembly to address "the question of Respect for Human Rights in Armed Conflict". Since then the replica cylinder has been kept at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on the second floor hallway, [United Nations Press Release 14 October 1971 ( [ SG/SM/1553/HQ263] )] and the text has been translated into all six official U.N. languages.Xenophon trans. Larry Hedrick, "Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War", p. xiii. Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 0312364695]

The notion of the cylinder as a "charter of human rights" has been criticized by a number of scholars and characterized as political propaganda on the part of the Pahlavi regime. [Amélie Kuhrt, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid imperial policy" in "Journal of Studies of the Old Testament" 25, p. 84; cite web | last = Lendering | first = Jona | authorlink = Jona Lendering |title = The Cyrus Cylinder | publisher = | date = 2007-01-28 | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-30 ] Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, argues that the cylinder was used by the Shah as "a mantra of his newly constructed national identity" and remarks that the assertion that Iran was the birthplace of human rights "must have startled many who had tried to assert their human rights under his regime." He comments that the cylinder is "in no real sense an Iranian document, but is part of a much larger history of the ancient Near East, of Mesopotamian kingship, and of the Jewish diaspora."Neil MacGregor, "The whole world in our hands", in "Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy, and Practice", p. 383-4, ed. Barbara T. Hoffman. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521857643] C.B.F. Walker, writing in the immediate aftermath of the shah's commemorations, comments that the cylinder "is a normal building inscription within the Assyrian-Babylonian tradition, and can certainly not be regarded as some declaration of human rights". [Walker, C.B.F., 1972, "A recently identified fragment of the Cyrus Cylinder", "Iran" 10, pp. 159-159] Bill T. Arnold and Piotr Michalowski comment: "Generically, it belongs with other foundation deposit inscriptions; it is not an edict of any kind, nor does it provide any unusual human rights proclamation as is sometimes claimed." [Arnold, Bill T.; Michalowski, Piotr. "Achaemenid Period Historical Texts Concerning Mesopotamia", in "The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation", p. 426-430. Chavelas, Mark W. (ed). WileyBlackwell, 2006. ISBN 0631235817]

It has also been argued that the concept of human rights is an anachronism alien to the historical context. Elton L. Daniel criticizes the interpretation of the cylinder as a charter of human rights as being both anachronistic and tendentious. [Elton L. Daniel, "The History of Iran", p. 39. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. ISBN 0313307318] As T.C. Mitchell puts it, the interpretation "reflects a misunderstanding."See e.g. T.C. Mitchell, "Biblical Archaeology: Documents from the British Museum", p. 82. Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 0521368677] MacGregor points out that "Comparison by scholars in the British Museum with other similar texts showed that rulers in ancient Iraq had been making comparable declarations upon succeeding to the [Babylonian] throne for two millennia before Cyrus" and notes "it is one of the museum's tasks to resist the narrowing of the object's meaning and its appropriation to one political agenda". Cyrus has often been depicted as a particularly humane ruler, based on his characterization by ancient sources such as Persian texts, the Old Testament of the Bible and Herodotus,cite book| last = Brown| first = Dale| authorlink =| title = Persians: Masters of Empire |publisher = Time-Life Books| location = | date = 1996| pages = 7-8| isbn = 0-8094-9104-4 ] Arberry, AJ (1953). "The Legacy of Persia" Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1953, p.8] but as M.A. Dandamaev points out, "almost all the texts ... which praise Cyrus have the character of propagandistic writings and demand a very critical approach ... by accepting everything said in the texts which were composed by Babylonian priests, we ourselves become the victims of Cyrus' propaganda." [M. A. Dandamaev trans. W. J. Vogelsang, "A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire", p. 53. BRILL, 1989. ISBN 9004091726]

However, Kaveh Farrokh has also rejected this interpretation, asserting that it is inconsistent with independent Mesopotamian, Greek, and Biblical sources, as well as archaeological findings. cite web| last =Farokh | first = Kaveh| authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Retort to the Daily Telegraph’s article against Cyrus the Great Attack on the Legacy of Cyrus the Great | work = | publisher = International Committee to Save the Archeological Sites of Pasarga| date = 2008-05-07| url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2008-07-24 ] cite web | last =Farokh | first = Kaveh | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Response to Spiegel Magazine's Attack on the Legacy of Cyrus the Great | work = | publisher = International Committee to Save the Archeological Sites of Pasargad| date = 2008-07-24 | url =| format = | doi = | accessdate = 2008-08-11] Reza Shabani similarly argues that the cylinder "discusses human rights in a way unique for the era, dealing with ways to protect the honor, prestige, and religious beliefs of all the nations dependent to Iran in those days."cite book | title=Iranian History at a Glance| last=Shabani| first=Reza| coauthors=Mahmood Farrokhpey (trans)| pages=21| publisher=Alhoda UK | isbn=9644390059]



Editions and translations

The latest edition of the Akkadian language text is:
*Hanspeter Schaudig, "Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros' des Großen, samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstandenen Tendenzschriften. Textausgabe und Grammatik." (2001 Münster, Ugarit-Verlag) ( [ online] with English translation based on Cogan 2003).

Older translations and transliterations:
*Rawlinson, H.G., & Th.G. Pinches, "A Selection from the Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia" (1884, 1909 London: fragment A only)).
*Rogers, Robert William: "Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament" (1912), New York, Eaton & Mains ( [ Online] : fragment A only).
*Pritchard, James B. (ed.): "Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament" ("ANET") (1950, 1955, 1969). Translation by A. L. Oppenheim. (fragment A and B).
* P.-R. Berger, "Der Kyros-Zylinder mit dem Susatzfragment BIN II Nr.32 und die akkidischen Personennamen im Danielbuch" in: "Zeitschrift für Assyriologie" 65 (1975) 192-234
*Mordechai Cogan's translation, in W.H. Hallo and K.L. Younger, "The Context of Scripture" vol. II, "Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World" (2003, Leiden and Boston) ( [ online] with Schaudig's transliteration)
*Brosius, Maria (ed.): "The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I" (2000, London Association of Classical Teachers (LACT) 16, London.

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