CYRUS CYLINDER
THE CYLINDER
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Cyrus Cylinder

We constantly hear of the Cyrus Cylinder and the first Charter of Human Rights declared as way back as the Achemenian (Hakamanush) rule in ancient Persia. Yet most of us have never had the opportunity of reading this charter in a familiar language.

This clay cylinder, housed at the UN Headquarters in USA, is inscribed in Akkadian* cuneiform script used in and

CYRUS CYLINDER
UN CHARTER

around 539 B.C.E. when Cyrus effectively routed the Neo-Babylonian Emperor, Nabonidus (536-539 BCE); thus extinguishing the dynasty. The cylinder was found in 1879 buried at the gate to Babylon, by an expedition under the auspices of the British Museum. The Museum later gifted it to the United Nations.

The cylinder is damaged in parts and parts of the inscription are missing. However, a large part of the cylinder is intact. These inscriptions are to be read in context of the society and beliefs of the relevant time and may in parts seem absurd or implausible today. In the text below, the missing parts are left open; thus “those who dwelt in … … … … …, all the kings of the West Country, who dwelt in tents, brought me their heavy tribute and kissed my feet in Babylon. From … … … … … to the cities….”

 

The first part of the inscription speaks of how and why Cyrus marched on and took Jerusalem. The story that emerges is thus:

Marduk**, the chief God of the Babylon pantheon of that time, is disregarded and demeaned by the rulers of Babylon and finally displaced by a new Godhead. With the destruction of Marduk, his worshippers were oppressed “he brought ruin on them all by a yoke without relief.” %%

In order to protect his worshippers, Marduk “seeks an upright king of his choice. He took the hand of Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan***, and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.” %%

Marduk, then, brings the land of Guti**** and all the Median troops under Cyrus’ rule and finds that Cyrus “shepherded in justice and righteousness the black-headed people… Marduk, saw with pleasure his fine deeds and true heart, and ordered that he should go to Babylon. He had him take the road to Tintir (Babylon), and, like a friend and companion, he walked at his side.” %% So, Cyrus enters Babylon with his troops and all of Tintir, Samaria (Sumeria) and Akkad cede to him and the worship of Marduk is reestablished.

Thus ends the first part of the cylinder. In the second part, the cylinder introduces Cyrus, his ancestors and progeny and speaks of his greatness. In the third part, Cyrus reads his charter. The rights and freedoms he grants can be explained in today’s terms by what we in India enshrine as ‘Fundamental Rights’ in the Indian Constitution — Right to life and limb, Right to follow an occupation of one’s choosing, Right to follow one’s religious beliefs, Right to Property, Right to live in place of one’s choice. He promises to penalize oppressors including his Governors and officers who disrespect ‘traditions, customs and religions of others’, ‘take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation’, ‘who uses unpaid, forced labour’, ‘slavery’ ‘penalizes a person for his or her relatives’ faults’.

CYRUS CYLINDER
CONSTITUTION OF INDIA
(Preamble)

 The text of the Charter forming the third part of the cylinder:

At the coronation:

Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Persia I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them. I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. I will never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights. No one can be penalized for his or her relatives’ faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a tradition should be exterminated the world over”

Post Coronation:

Cyrus read the Charter of Freedom out after he put on the crown:

Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Persia I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them. I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. I will never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights. No one can be penalized for his or her relatives’ faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a tradition should be exterminated the world over. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow anyone to terrorize the land of Sumer and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being. I lifted their unbecoming yoke. Their dilapidated dwellings I restored. I put an end to their misfortunes.

I am Cyrus, King of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, king of

CYRUS CYLINDER
CAMBYSES II

the four quarters, son of Camboujiyah (Cambyases), great king, king of Anshân, grandson of Kourosh (Cyrus), great king, king of Anshân, descendant of Chaish-Pesh# (Teispes), great king, king of Anshân, progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nabu cherish, whose kingship they desire for their hearts, pleasure. When I well -disposed, entered Babylon, I set up a seat of domination in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god, caused the big-hearted inhabitations of Babylon to … … … … … me, I sought daily to worship him.

At my deeds Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced and to me, Kourosh (Cyrus), the king who worshipped him, and to Camboujiyah (Cambyases), my son, the offspring of (my) loins, and to all my troops he graciously gave his blessing, and in good sprit before him we glorified exceedingly his high divinity. All the kings who sat in throne rooms, throughout the four quarters, from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who dwelt in … … … … …, all the kings of the West Country, who dwelt in tents, brought me their heavy tribute and kissed my feet in Babylon. From … … … … … to the cities of Ashur, Susa##, Agade (Akkadian) and Eshnuna###, the cities of Zamban, Meurnu%, Der as far as the region of the land of Gutium, the holy cities beyond the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been in ruins over a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them in lasting abodes.

I gathered together all their inhabitations and restored (to them) their dwellings. The gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabounids had, to the anger of the lord of the gods, brought into Babylon. I, at the bidding of Marduk, the great lord, made to dwell in peace in their habitations, delightful abodes.

May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries address a daily prayer in my favour before Bel and Nabu, that my days may be long, and may they say to Marduk my lord. May Cyrus the King, who reveres thee, and Camboujiyah (Cambyases) my son…

Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Persia, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of Ahura Mazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them until I am alive. From now on, till God grants me the kingdom favor, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Persia, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor.

And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights.

CYRUS CYLINDER
AKKADIAN CUNIFORM

No one could be penalized for his or her relatives’ faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such traditions should be exterminated the world over.

I implore to God to make me succeed in fulfilling my obligations to the nations of Persia, Babylon, and the ones of the four directions.”

 

*Exact location of Akkad is unknown today but is perhaps aps, between Mari and Babylon along the Euphrates).

** Labashi-Marduk was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar born of his daughter and her husband Neriglissar. Marduk was still a child when he became king of Babylon. Within nine months of his coronation he was killed in a conspiracy between Nabonidus and son Belshazzar with the court nobles. The meaning of Marduk as the true ruler is born out also by the text of the cylinder in its first part.

*** Modern city Tall-i-Malyan. Known to Sumerians as Anzan. Ancient Persian city in the Province of Fars (in South-western Iran), north of Shiraz and west of Persepolis. Archaeological finds at Tall-i-Malyan and early Elamite texts place it as one of the earliest, urban states of Mesopotamian region, the earliest capital of Elam (4th century) and Persia (7th century).

**** Guti or Gutians or Quti an ancient nomadic people from near the Zagros mountains. The exact location of these people is not certain (whether south or east of Babylon) and is also possible that the name does not refer to the same set of people in the various texts.  The fall of Akkad is attributed to conflicts with the Guti in the 3rd Millennium BCE. The Guti formed the dynasty of Sumer and ruled over Sumer.

Under Cyrus, his general, Gubaru was made Governor of Guti

# Chaish Pesh: one who reveals light, day break.

## Modern Shush. Susa (Persian&Syriac), Shushan (Book of Esther), Susiane (Greek) in the Khuzistan (Iran) near the Zagros mountains between the rivers Kharkheh Kur and Dez, has witnessed empires grow and destroyed— Proto-elamite, Elamite, 1st Persian, Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian.

### Modern Tell Asmar is in Diyala valley, Iraq. Ancient city-state in central Mesopotamia. Sumerian culture and once its city.

% couldn’t locate.

%%As  more recent translation by Irving Finkel, Assistant Keeper, Department of the Middle East, British Museum

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