The Cyrus Cylinder in the US tour
‘First declaration of human rights’ to tour five cities in the United States
The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) after he captured Babylon in 539 BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands. It was found in Babylon in modern Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display ever since.
The Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king in Iraq and seen and studied for over 130 years in the British Museum. It is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths, so much so that a copy of the cylinder is on display in the United Nations building in New York. The Museum has previously lent the Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran in 2010 – 2011 where it was seen by over one million people. This tour will provide the first opportunity for a wide US audience to engage with this unique object of world importance.
The Cylinder will travel with an exhibition of 16 objects under the title ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia’. The exhibition shows the innovations initiated by Persian rule in the Ancient Near East (550 BC-331 BC). The Persian Empire was then the largest the world had known. It had a huge impact on the ancient world, introducing changes in terms of ethical behavior as witnessed in the proclamation on the Cyrus Cylinder. A gold plaque from the Oxus Treasure with the representation of a priest shows the spread of the Zoroastrian religion at this time. Persian kings also introduced a new writing system, Old Persian cuneiform, as seen on part of a column base from Hamadan, and on the famous seal of Darius (522-486 BC). They also developed new forms of luxury goods including beautifully decorated gold and silver bowls and sumptuous gold bracelets featuring fantastic animal shapes, some of them from the Oxus Treasure.
This tour had begun from the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC in March 2013 before travelling to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and will conclude at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa Los Angeles in October (full dates below). The exhibition is curated by John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum and curatorial colleagues at each of the venues.
Many believe «The Cyrus Cylinder is A History of the Middle East in one object and it is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us. Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible. I am delighted that it will travel to the US and am hugely grateful to both our US partners and the Iran Heritage Foundation for making this possible.”
John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum said “The Cyrus Cylinder and associated objects represent a new beginning for the Ancient Near East. The Persian period, commencing in 550 BC, was not just a change of dynasty but a time of change in the ancient world. Some of these changes and innovations are highlighted in the exhibition.»
Alireza Rastegar, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Iran Heritage Foundation America, said «Iran Heritage Foundation is proud to be partners with the British Museum and leading US venues in bringing this magnificent exhibition to the United States. The Cyrus Cylinder and its message of respect for diversity and universal human rights carries a timely message about tolerance for all of us today. We are very grateful to the Iranian American community who have supported us in this endeavor and are looking forward to a positive reception as the Cylinder tours the US.»
«The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most important artefacts to have survived from the ancient world, and this declaration by King Cyrus of the return of conquered nations to their settlements, has a continuing relevance to the peoples of the Middle East and indeed throughout the world. As home to the largest community of Iranian Americans in the United States, we have no doubt that all Iranians were thrilled by this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.»
We wish peace for the people all around the world .