The British Museum's iconic Cyrus Cylinder — widely considered to be the first declaration of human rights — will make its way to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston this spring during a rare five-venue United States tour that includes the Smithsonian Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Inscribed in cuneiform on orders from Persian emperor Cyrus the Great following his defeat of Babylon in 539 BCE, the ancient clay charter introduces the new king as a reformer bringing peace throughout Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). The document extols Cyrus' efforts to rebuild temples destroyed by his Babylonian predecessors and to repatriate those displaced and captured by the old regime.
“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object."
“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object," British Museum director Neil MacGregor said in a statement.
"It is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us. Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible."
Judeo-Christian scholars long have viewed the Cylinder as archeological evidence of the king's campaign to construct the Second Jewish Temple, the first of which was demolished when the Jewish population was exiled from the Babylonian Empire half a century earlier.
Since the early 1970s, the United Nations has featured a detailed copy of the cylinder at its New York headquarters.
The late 20th century has seen political leaders across the globe touting the nine-inch artifact as an symbol of cultural tolerance. Since the early 1970s, the United Nations has featured a detailed copy of the cylinder at its New York headquarters. The original cylinder traveled to the National Museum of Iran in 2010 where it was viewed by more than a million visitors.
“The Cyrus Cylinder tells a great story of human history,” MFAH director Gary Tinterow said in a statement. “We are thrilled to be able to bring this touchstone of ancient civilization to Houston, and to present the Cyrus Cylinder and related objects in the context of our collections.”
For its trip through the United States — which begins at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery this March — the 2,500-year-old script will be accompanied by 16 additional objects from the Persian Empire, highlighting innovations in writing, religious philosophy and metal working that emerged between 550 and 331 BCE.
The Cyrus Cylinder will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston from May 3 to June 14, 2013.