Subject: The "Father" of the Iranian nation visits United States
The Father of the Iranian nation visits the United States
‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia’
08 March 2013
The 'Cyrus Cylinder' of ancient Iran, a landmark in social and
religious freedom, a potent symbol of Iranian national identity, will begin its
first U.S. tour with an exhibit that opens Saturday in Washington.
Shimon D. Cohen - CAIS
(Click to enlarge)
-- The Exhibition of ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia’
opens Saturday 9th March, marking the first U.S. appearance of one of the most
celebrated objects from antiquity known as the Cyrus Cylinder, declared by many
as the ‘World’s First Charter of Human Rights’, an American
football-shaped artefact inscribed with orders issued by Cyrus the Great after
his conquest of Babylon in 539 BCE.
"is about understanding the way Iranians see themselves in the world, and
that's obviously important at the moment," said Neil MacGregor, director
of the British Museum, which loaned the priceless artefact.
Although it is the first time that the ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ is going to
the US, the cylinder’s principle message, which is the Cyrus the Great
doctrine is no stranger to Americans, particularly to one of the U.S. Founding
When the third U.S. president Thomas Jefferson was in need of guidance for drafting
the US Constitution, he turned to "Cyropaedia", the biography of the
ancient Persian Emperor Cyrus the Great, written by the 4th century BCE
Athenian historian Xenophon.
What attracted Jefferson to the ancient Emperor was not his military prowess but
his enlightened approach to government, and he admired the book so much he
owned two copies. Cyropaedia(Kyropaideia)
meaning "The Education of Cyrus", told the story of the great
Zoroastrian Emperor, the founder of the second Iranian dynastic Empire, the
Achaemenids (550-330 BCE), which portrays both his virtue and skills as a
soldier and a just leader, a paragon of every conceivable moral virtue. His
benevolent character was also confirmed in the Bible, who was chosen as the
‘anointed of the God’.
The Empire that Cyrus founded was not only the world’s first superpower,
but also the only Empire that was based on tolerance, justice, respect and
equality for its subjects. It stretched into three continents, and covered
portions of current-day Greece and all of the Near and Middle East to the
southern shores of the Persian Gulf, central Asia, caucuses, North Africa and
Indian subcontinent. The Imperial dynasty brought such innovations as an annual
budget, monitory, legal and postal systems, a network of roads stretched
throughout the empire, a standing professional army and navy and civil service
before collapsing in 330 BCE.
After it had been buried, the cylinder lay undisturbed for more than 2,400
years until it was dug up by Assyrian Archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in 1879.
When the text was translated, “it was
immediately realised that the cylinder had a very special significance”,
The Cylinder in the shape of American football is about nine inches long and
four inches wide and inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform. Evidently, the cylinder
was created sometime after the inclusion of Babylon into the Persian Empire, while
copies were made and dispatched to different parts of his realm. In 1940 a
portion of the Cylinder text was discovered in China, which was written on
Cyrus is regarded by Iranians as the
his Cylinder is prized by them as an emblem of their
civilisationand it is the most famously referred to and the most internationally recognised
as the early human rights charter in the world, said Pardis Minuchehr, director
of the Persian program at George Washington University. “It has a message
that resonates over centuries and is very inspirational”, he added.
“Once he had entered the city, Cyrus [the Great] did not burn it to the
ground (as usually happened with conquered cities in this period) but he freed
the population from forced labour obligations and allowed the people who had
been brought to Babylon by the Babylonian kings to return to their homes. By
this act, he was effectively allowing people to pursue their own religious
practices”, eloquently described by Neil MacGregor.
Dr John Curtis, Keeper of the Middle East collections at the British Museum,
adds "one of the most iconic objects in the museum," it is a small,
unremarkable oblong of clay almost 9 inches long and 4 inches in circumference.
It is battered and broken—and almost half of it is missing—but on
the cylinder, densely carved, is the new king's manifesto. It offers the
abolishment of Babylonian slavery and promotes religious freedom.
Curtis emphasised "no conqueror had ever spoken like this before, so to
that extent it is the first step toward a declaration of human rights."
At a gala dinner on Tuesday March 5th, honouring the cylinder’s arrival
at Washington’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Neil MacGregor emphasised on
the importance of the ancient Persian artefact saying “more important now
than ever” for the light it sheds on Iranian history and the guidance it
provides for dealing with “the great diversity in our
The charter inscribed on the cylinder is, he said, “the first attempt we
know about running a society, a state with different nationalities and faiths
— a new kind of statecraft.”
This was a revolutionary approach, totally unheard of and a completely new idea
to the world some twenty six centuries ago – and was not heard again in
the history of mankind until the establishment of the twentieth century
democratic societies in Europe and elsewhere.
Perhaps today the only country in the world that echoes the past and practices
Cyrus’s ideas is the United Kingdom – where justice and tolerance
govern the land, which could be a role model for future Iran.
Among the many tribes permitted to return to their settlements were the Jews,
who were allowed to take their statues and ceremonial vessels back to
Jerusalem, where they were allowed to rebuild their temple. It is a defining
moment in their history. In the Bible's 2 Chronicles 36:23, which was probably
composed between 350 and 300 BCE, we are told: "Thus saith Cyrus king of
Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me; and
he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem. . ." That was
written some 200 years after the proclamation by Cyrus the Great, but it was
not until a British Museum team in 1879 discovered the cylinder under the walls
of Babylon that the Jewish account was corroborated.
Pahlavi II delivers his speech at the 2500 anniversary of the Iranian monarchy at the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great in 1971.
Cyrus Cylinder depicted on a postage stamps issued on 12 October 1971 to celebrate the 2,500-year anniversary of the Imperial government in Iran
Sadeq Khalkhali and his mentor Ruhollah Khomeini, who shared the same view regarding Cyrus the Great and the ancient Iranian civilisation
Friends and Foes of Cyrus the Great and his Cylinder
the Great has been hailed as one of the world’s greatest liberators and
humanitarians and therefore many have basked in his lustre; His declarations of
tolerance, justice and religious freedom inspired philosophers and policymakers
“Just as Cyrus has long been a role model, the cylinder itself has now
acquired iconic status for people around the world”, according to Neil
In Iran, the eulogies heaped upon him at the 2500th commemorative celebrations
in Iran in 1971, inaugurated by the late Shah if Iran, held in the ancient
ruins of Persepolis. And in 2010, hoping to regain a measure of legitimacy in
the wake of a rigged election in 2009, the Islamic Republic’s President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, tried to recast himself as a nationalist leading a
struggle against foreign foes. More than a million Iranians visited the
cylinder, in one of the most-viewed exhibits in the Iran's history.
Since Cyrus the Great freed Jews and encouraged them to return and rebuild
their temple at Jerusalem, his Cylinder has played a role. It has been
favourably viewed by many Jewish writers, such as Maurice Leory of
Brussels’s who described the Cyrus Cylinder as introducing a new and humanitarian
tone in the world; while, King George V referred to Cyrus in approving the
Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British government said it viewed with
“favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish
people.” David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, in the
context of the foundation of the state of Israel, called the Persian Emperor a
"Zionist hero." Former US President Harry Truman in consequence have
exclaimed “I am Cyrus” when he went against the Washington
establishment consensus and recognised the state of Israel.
A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder is also kept at the United Nation Headquarters
in New York on the second floor hallway between the Security Council and the
Economic and Social Council chambers. But it is for the first time the real
‘Cyrus Cylinder’, travels to the U.S. for a five months tour in
five major museums, before returning to his home and case at the British Museum
But not all have basked
in his lustre, as many have committed to a crusade to tarnish Cyrus’s
image, by forming a coalition of the Muslim-fundamentalists in Iran and
Eurocentrics and Neo-Nazis (anti-Semitics) alike in Europe. These extremists,
which have become to be known as the "the Axis of Prejudice" directly
or indirectly subscribe to the thoughts of Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali regarding
Cyrus the Great. Khalkhali was one of the most notorious clerics in Iran who
was renowned for his brutality and mass executions in post-revolutionary Iran
that claimed the tile of ‘the hanging judge’ for himself.
Khalkahali, who was a devoted anti-Semitic, in his book "Cyrus the Despot
and Liar" published in 1971, called Cyrus the Great "a liar, tyrant
and a homosexual-Jew Lover". He describes that “Cyrus freeing the
Jews and rebuilding the temples in Jerusalem as a hoax story, propagated by
Zionists in order to legitimise the existence of the state of Israel. And if he
done that, he did it for propaganda." Not surprisingly, Eurocentrics and
Anti-Semitics in the West are also use the same terminology like the hardliner
Ayatollah to describe Cyrus – apart from the ‘a Homosexual and a
Jew-lover’ for the obvious reasons, which would set them in collision
with the law.
Since 1979 and the rise of the clerics to power in Iran, the grime has also
commissioned a number of books to be written by newly and over-night-created
‘scholars’, such as Nasser Pourpirar, Abbas Salimi Namin and Hassan
Abbassi, denouncing Cyrus the Great and pre-Islamic Iranian civilisation
– a few of them have gone as far as claiming Cyrus the Great is a
fictional character created by the Israelis and Persepolis was created like
theatre stage by the Americans.
In addition, outside Iran, the regime has also hired a number of foreigners to
attack Cyrus the Great’ historical figure – some of which claim
Cyrus was not even a Persian. It is alleged, that a well known among them is a
pseudo-historian who calls himself Jona Lendering, and runs a blog
that provides the most biased and inaccurate information about pre-Islamic
Iran. It is believed that the majority of the Wikipedia articles concerning the
Achaemenid history, particularly those referenced to Cyrus the Great, has been
edited by Lendering. To back his propaganda, he references all the entries
– majority back to his blog ‘Livius.org’, or other likeminded
blogs and websites. It was also alleged a few years ago that the Islamic
republic has opened an office for him in Central Tehran and put him on their
pay list for his supererogatory services. To promote himself as a
‘historian’, one of his friends even created a page in Wikipedia.
He also began a hate campaign against those Iranian academics not favoured by
the Islamic Republic, who are living outside Iran and are expert in Pre-Islamic
Iranian history, in particular Dr Kaveh Farrokh. Lendering also
succeeded to influence two prominent European newspapers; Der Spiegeland the Daily Telegraphwhich have fallen
for his propaganda and began a hate campaign against Cyrus the Great and
A Persian Rabbi in 2008
accused Der Spiegelof inciting anti-Semitism and called for a legal action against the editor.
Rabbi Yohanna Hamadani described the article as a “dark coalition of
anti-Semitic-Neo-Nazis, [Muslim] fundamentalists and Eurocentrics embodied in
What will U.S. audiences draw from the Exhibition of “The Cyrus
Cylinder and Ancient Persia”?
Those bringing the Cyrus Cylinder to America for the first time, hope some
of that cultural diplomacy breaks down contemporary barriers, where political
diplomacy has not.
Julian Raby, the director of the Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the
Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, said the show was small in terms of
numbers of objects but had a big potential impact.
“One of the goals of this exhibition is to encourage us to reflect that
relations between Persians and Jews have not always been marked with the
discord that disfigures the political map of the Near East today,” said
"We're at a very, very tough moment in terms of how we view Iran and how
we view Israeli-Iranian relationships. Anything that gets us to reflect on
these things is, I think, a good thing," he said.
He noted the Bible refers to Cyrus as “the anointed” of the Lord
and that philosophers for thousands of years viewed the king as the model of a
“This must be one of the chief tasks of our time: to build the global
community where people of all persuasions, all ethnicities, can look with
respect at one another’s most sacred traditions and learn to
co-exist,” said Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar, at the British
Museum during the send-off of the cylinder to the US.
Dr Curtis says: "It will be interesting for expatriate Iranians, who hold
it in special reverence, and also for Jewish groups. Above all, it is helpful
that Americans should be informed about the very rich cultural legacy of Iran
and its contribution to the development of world civilisation. People tend to
think that Iran and other countries in the Middle East don't have any ancient
history—that it is all intertwined with religious fanaticism. It's good
to set the record straight."
It is expected large number of American and Iranian audiences will flock to see
the cylinder during the US visit, where it will inevitably provoke comparisons
with the Bill of Rights.
The British Museum Director Neil MacGregor said in a recent lecture at TEDGlobal 2011: "It bears
comparison with the American Constitution, in spite of the [twenty five]
centuries that divide them, as an historic statement of how a disparate polity
may be humanely governed."
He continues, “The cylinder may still have a role to play on the
international stage today. It advocates -- or can be argued to advocate --
religious tolerance and acceptance of diversity.”
The exhibit ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia,’ features
architectural fragments, carvings and plaques showing the spread of the
Zoroastrian religion, and luxury objects such as bracelets and gold and silver
bowls. The show is debuting in D.C. at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler
Gallery in Washington in March 9 through till April 28. After the display at
the Sackler gallery, the Cyrus Cylinder will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts
in Houston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Asian Art Museum in
San Francisco and will conclude at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa
in Los Angeles in October.
The Exhibition is backed by the British museum and is sponsored by members of
the Iranian diaspora — in particular, the Iran Heritage Foundation.