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The cylinder of Cyrus the Great
The Cyrus cylinder was discovered in 1878CE at the site of Babylon. It is inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform. Now housed in the British Museum, it includes a detailed account by Cyrus of his conquest of Babylon in 539BCE and his subsequent humane treatment of his conquered subjects. It has been hailed as the world's first declaration of human rights. The (incomplete) inscription on the cylinder starts by describing the criminal deeds of the Babylonian king Nabonidus; as well as how Marduk, the Babylonian god, had looked for a new king and chosen Cyrus. It continues with the famous: "I am Cyrus, king of the world, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world" After a description of Cyrus' ancestry and of royal protocol, it goes on to explain how Cyrus established peace and abolished forced labour: "The people of Babylon . . . the shameful yoke was removed from them" The inscription continues by detailing reparative building activities in Babylon as well as asking for prayers for Cyrus. It makes specific reference to the Jews, who have been brought to Babylon - and who Cyrus supported in leaving for their homeland. Further demonstrating his religious tolerance, Cyrus restored the local cults by allowing the gods to return to their shrines. The cylinder describes the Great King not as a conqueror, but as a liberator and the legitimate successor to the crown of Mesopotamia. The same text has also been found, in a more complete version, in an inscription discovered in the ancient city of Ur, in Mesopotamia. Both documents corroborate many of the details in Ezra 1:1-5 describing Cyrus supporting the Jews in returning to Judea from captivity to rebuild the Temple in 537BCE. Isaiah 45:1-13 also backs up the idea of Cyrus as a benign and chosen ruler. Before the discovery of the cylinder, many sceptical historians believed that the idea of a Zoroastrian emperor like Cyrus the Great allowing a conquered people like the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their Temple was simply not credible and could only be Persian propaganda. Nevertheless, the Cyrus Cylinder, alongside the Biblical and other historical statements, seems to substantiate the idea that Cyrus not only allowed many of the nations he conquered to practice their various religious beliefs - an unprecedented tolerance - but that he even actively assisted captive peoples, including the Jews, to return to their lands of origin. This support was not only political but even financial - as he gave grants both from the Imperial treasury and also from his own personal fortune. The Cylinder has especial resonance for the Iranian peoples and is an integral part of Iran's cultural heritage and national identity. Antedating the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizenby more than two millennia, it can also be considered as a world treasure - and the first international declaration of human rights. The text was translated into all the United Nations' official languages in 1971.
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