The Cyrus Cylinder
Artifact: Clay cylinder
Period: Achaemenid (547-331 BC)
Current location: British Museum, London
Text genre, language: Royal inscription; Akkadian
Description: This royal inscription of Persian King Cyrus the Great commemorates his conquest of Babylon, portraying it as a peaceful event guided by Marduk himself. Cyrus was chosen by the Babylonian god to deliver the land from Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus, portrayed as a failed, oppressive, impious tyrant. The inscription incorporates elements of the classic Mesopotamian royal inscription genre but rejects boast of violence, instead highlighting Cyrus' merciful and pious treatment of Babylon: restoring cult centres, returning displaced Mesopotamians to their homes, instituting correct religious practice. Although the document has been used as evidence of the Persian policy towards conquered peoples, it must be remembered that it is a work of royal propaganda and its claims should be taken with a heavy grain of salt.
While the text is often admired by modern readers for its 'kindly' outlook, it should be noted that the themes of mercy and piety had been an element of Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions before Cyrus, as had the motif of a god choosing his own people's conqueror. (Eva Miller, University of Oxford)
Lineart: Arfaee on CDLI
Edition(s): Rawlinson H C & Pinches T G 1884. Selection from the Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia no. 35 (Cyrus cylinder).