February 24, 2013 - 14:27 PST | Last Edited: February 24, 2013 - 14:32 PST
Neil McGregor on TED: A 2,600-year-old icon of freedom comes to the United States
Editor's note: Neil MacGregor is the director of the
British Museum and author of "A History of the World in 100 Objects" based on his BBC radio series. He spoke at TEDGlobal 2011. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading" which it makes available through talks posted on its website.
-- The Cyrus Cylinder is a small unprepossessing barrel-shaped clay cylinder inscribed in enigmatic-looking cuneiform, and yet is one of the most iconic objects in the unparalleled world collection housed at the British Museum.
It is an object with many meanings and provides a link to a past that we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us.
As such it is an object of international significance and is about to start a tour of five major U.S. museums, debuting at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington in March 2013. The tour is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation.
The Cylinder was buried under the walls of Babylon around 539 B.C. after the Persian king Cyrus had captured the city. It describes how Cyrus was able to defeat the Babylonian king Nabonidus with the aid of the Babylonian god Marduk, who had run out of patience with Nabonidus and his shortcomings.
Once he had entered the city, Cyrus did not burn it to the ground (as usually happened with conquered cities at this period) but he freed the population from forced labor obligations, sent back to various shrines statues of gods, 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 unmolested their own religious practices.
TED.com: The history of our world in 18 minutes
After it had been buried, the cylinder lay undisturbed for more than 2,400 years until it was dug up in 1879 by a British Museum excavation led by Hormuzd Rassam. When the Babylonian cuneiform was translated, it was immediately realized that the cylinder had a very special significance.
Here was corroboration of one of the best-known stories in the Hebrew Bible, the liberation by Cyrus of the Jews deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar and their return to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple. Although the Jews are not mentioned by name in the cylinder, they clearly must have been among the people allowed to return home at this time, with their temple goods.
Read the rest here: http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/24/opinion/macgregor-cyrus-cylinder/index.html