Asian Art Museum presents the Cyrus Cylinder—sometimes called the first bill of human rights—in U.S. tour

Modest in size and appearance and made more than 2,500 years ago, the Cyrus Cylinder continues to be hailed as an international symbol of tolerance and justice. In its first U.S. tour on loan from the British Museum, the Cylinder will travel to the Asian Art Museum (along with four other venues) as part of the intimate exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning. On view Aug. 9–Sept. 22, 2013, the exhibition also includes 16 rare artworks from ancient Persia (Iran) during the Achaemenid period (550–330 BCE), providing a context for understanding the Cylinder’s cultural and historical significance.

Dating to 539 BCE, the Cyrus Cylinder—one of the most famous surviving icons from the ancient world—was uncovered in 1879 at Babylon (in modern Iraq) during a British Museum excavation. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform script on the orders of the Persian king, Cyrus the Great (ruled 559–530 BCE), after he captured Babylon in 539 BCE. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights, as it mentions Cyrus’s return from Babylon of deported peoples to their homelands and his encouragement of freedom of religious practice.

The Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king in Iraq and seen and studied for more than 130 years in the British Museum. The values of freedom from captivity and freedom of religious practice proclaimed by Cyrus the Great are the enduring ideas underlying ethical governance that have made the Cylinder a universal icon. Today, a copy of the Cylinder is on display in the United Nations building in New York City. The Cylinder appears on postage stamps issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it was seen firsthand by about half a million people at the 2010–2011 exhibition in Tehran.

More information on the exhibition can be found here:

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