The Cyrus Cylinder
by British Museum
The Cyrus Cylinder has returned to the British Museum from a successful seven month loan to the National Museum of Iran.
The Cylinder was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since that time. It was originally 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. It was this decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild The Temple. Because of these enlightened acts, which were rare in antiquity, the Cylinder has acquired a special resonance, and is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths. These are the qualities for which Cyrus is revered in the Hebrew Bible.
The loan was warmly received in Iran; it is understood that over 1 million Iranians visited the Museum to see the cylinder. The original loan period of three months was extended to allow the widest possible audience in Iran to view this important object. At the closing ceremony for the loan on Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said "I am delighted that the British Museum has been able collaborate with the National Museum of Iran for this wonderful exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder in Tehran. The Cyrus Cylinder is a key document of the history of the world… it is an extraordinary document of the enduring significance of tolerance and the need to respect different faiths and different peoples, which is as important now as ever. Despite political difficulties and conflicting national interests what museums, like the British Museum and the National Museum of Tehran, can show is that these objects are part of a shared inheritance that belongs to everyone. These cultural exchanges are especially important in the complex, often hostile, world we live in today".
The British Museum hopes to continue the mutual loans programme with Iran and to continue to collaborate on training programmes and joint publication projects.