WASHINGTON — A nearly 2,600-year-old clay cylinder described as the world’s first human rights declaration is being shown for the first time in the U.S. The Cyrus Cylinder from ancient Babylon is on display at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery through April 28, on loan from the British Museum. A yearlong U.S. tour will follow.
The cylinder carries an account, written in cuneiform, of how Persian King Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and would allow freedom of worship and abolish forced labor. The account confirms a story from the Old Testament, describing how Cyrus released people held captive to go back to their homes, including the Jews’ return to Jerusalem to build the Temple.
The cylinder was buried under a wall of Babylon. It’s long been held as a model of good governance for a vast, multicultural society. When the cylinder was found on a British expedition in modern-day Iraq in 1879, it was considered the first physical evidence of the biblical account.
It’s being shown with one of Thomas Jefferson’s copies of “Cyropaedia,” a book about the philosophies of Cyrus, to show how the Persian king inspired America’s founding fathers. See cyruscylinder2013.com.
Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Cyropaedia is on display at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. through April 28, 2013. (Tish Wells/MCT)×
The Cyrus Cylinder is on display until April 28, 2013 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C. It will then travel to Houston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. (Tish Wells/MCT)×