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.
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. Rassam's excavations went on until 1882. The cylinder was announced to the public by Sir Henry Rawlinson at a meeting of the Royal Asiatic Society on 17 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 originally kept in the Babylonian Collection of Yale University, but was identified as a fragment of the cylinder by P.-R. Berger in 1970. It was subsequently transferred to the British Museum in 1971 to be rejoined to the "A" fragment. 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).
The text begins by listing the alleged crimes of Nabonidus, charging him with desecration of the temples of the gods and the imposition of forced labor upon the populace. Marduk is highly displeased by Nabonidus' cruelties, and so the god calls upon a foreign king, Cyrus of the Persians, to conquer Babylon and become its new king 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."
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 was supplanted by a much more complete transcription after the identification of the "B" fragment; this is now available in German and in English.
Old Testament studies
|“||The Cyrus Cylinder, historys first true human rights proclamation that transcended the concepts of race, language, or religion. A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder now stands at the entrance of the United Nations Building in New York City||”|
|“||...,the final verion of the text follows fundamentally the same pattern as that reflected in the other major example of Achamenid propaganda the Cyrus Cylinder.||”|
T. C. Mitchell:
|“||The cylinder has sometimes been described as the "first charter of human rights", but this reflects a misunderstanding. From as aearly as the third millennium BC kings in Mesopotemia often began their reigns with declarations of reforms, and this document simply follows in this long tradition.||”|
- Cultural Heritage News Agency, Cyrus Cylinder to be returned to Iran, Tehran, June 25, 2008, .
- 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
- Clifford M. Jones, Cambridge Bible commentary: Old Testament illustrations, p. 94. Cambridge University Press, 1971. ISBN 052108007X
- "Royal Asiatic Society", The Times, 18 November 1879
- 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.
- John Curtis, Nigel Tallis, Béatrice André-Salvini, Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, p. 59. University of California Press, 2005. ISBN 0520247310
- Josef Wiesehofer trans. Azizeh Azodi, Ancient Persia: From 550 BC to 650 AD, pp. 44-45. I.B.Tauris, 2001. ISBN 1860646751
- Weissbach, F.H., Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden (Vorderasiatische Bibliotek, 3; Leipzig; J.C. Hinrichs) (reprinted Leipzig: Zentral-Antiquariat der DDR, 1968)
- 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
- "The Ancient Near East, Volume I: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures". Vol. 1. Ed. James B. Pritchard. Princeton University Press, 1973.
- Hallo, William W. (ed). The Context of Scripture, I-III (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997-2002)
- Kaveh Farrokh, Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, p. 44. Osprey Publishing, 2007. ISBN 1846031087
- 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
- See e.g. T.C. Mitchell, Biblical Archaeology: Documents from the British Museum, p. 83. Cambridge University Press, 1988. ISBN 0521368677
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)
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)
- Brosius, Maria (ed.): The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I (2000, London Association of Classical Teachers (LACT) 16, London.