‘First declaration of human rights’ to tour five cities in the
The British Museum announces that one of its most iconic objects, the Cyrus Cylinder, will tour to five major museum venues in the United States in 2013. This will be the first
time this object has been seen in the US and the tour is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation.
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 behaviour 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.
Further information on the Cyrus Cylinder:
The Cylinder is 22.86cm in length, is barrel-shaped and is made of baked clay. It is inscribed all the way round with a proclamation in cuneiform script. Originally it was inscribed and buried in the foundations of a wall after Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, captured Babylon in 539 BC. The cylinder is written in Babylonian cuneiform by a Babylonian scribe. It records that aided by the god Marduk Cyrus captured Babylon without a struggle, restored shrines dedicated to different gods, and repatriated deported peoples who had been brought to Babylon. The text does not mention specific religious groups but it is thought that the Jews were amongst the peoples deported by Nebuchadnezzar (the previous ruler of Babylon) who were now allowed to return home. The Bible reports that the deported Jews returned from Babylon at this time and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. Indeed Cyrus is revered in the Hebrew Bible because of the qualities of tolerance and respect enshrined in the cylinder proclamation. These were enlightened acts, rare in antiquity.
In 2010 the British Museum discovered two fragments of tablet in its extensive collection of cuneiform tablets which had also been found in 19th century British Museum excavations in or near Babylon. These fragments were identified by experts at the Museum as being inscribed with parts of the same text as the Cylinder but do not belong to it. They show that the text of the Cylinder was probably a proclamation that was widely distributed across the Persian Empire.
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Notes to editors
Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.,
9 March – 28 April 2013
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
3 May – 14 June 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
20 June – 4 August 2013
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco,
9 August – 22 September 2013
J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles,
2 October – 2 December 2013
US press contacts:
Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington D.C: Allison Peck, Acting Head, Public Affairs and Marketing, PeckA@si.edu, 202.633.0447
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Mary Haus, Marketing and Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org Amy Lowman, Publicist, email@example.com. 713.639.7554
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Elyse Topalian Vice President for Communications. Elyse.Topalian@metmuseum.org 212-570-3951
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco: Tim Hallman, Director of Communications firstname.lastname@example.org, 415.581.3712
J.Paul Getty Museum: John A. Giurini, Assistant Director for Public Affairs. email@example.com 310.440.6573
Iran Heritage Foundation is the leading supporter of Iranian studies in the UK. It promotes academic research through fellowships, grants, scholarships and publications. In association with museums and leading institutions, the IHF organises exhibitions and convenes conferences on the history and contemporary culture of Iran. IHF America, launched in 2012 as a US based non-profit organisation, administers a number of grants to North American institutions and is the core funder of the tour of the Cyrus Cylinder.
Courtesy : Behram Pastakia