Courtesy British Museum
WASHINGTON — The 2,600-year-old Cyrus Cylinder, considered by historians as the first declaration of human rights, is on a tour of five major museums in the United States. It is the first time the historic object, on loan from the British Museum, has been seen in the United States.
The cylinder — a football-sized, barrel-shaped clay object covered in Babylonian cuneiform, one of the earliest written languages — traces its origins to Persian king Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.
It announced Cyrus’ victory and his intention to allow freedom of worship to communities displaced by the defeated ruler Nabonidus 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 there ever since.
“The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia” also includes 16 objects from the Persian Empire, the largest the world had known as the time, including a gold plaque from the Oxus Treasure, decorated gold and silver bowls and gold bracelets featuring animal shapes.
The cylinder is at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington through April 28. It will be at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, May 3-June 14; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, June 20-Aug. 4; the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Aug. 9-Sept. 22; and the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, Oct. 2-Dec. 2.
“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object, creating a link to a past that we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us,” said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. “Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space, and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”