The Cyrus Cylinder: A Message Of Tolerance

The Cyrus Cylinder: A Message Of Tolerance

The historic Cyrus Cylinder plays a fundamental role in reminding us about the importance of acceptance.


Today, with religious and racial prejudice rampant throughout the world, tolerance is slipping from our grip. Ironically, in the United States, a society that has been revered for its successful Civil Rights movements of the late 1950's and early 1960's, we are moving away from acceptance. In this day and age, we have ultimately come to a point in history where tolerance doesn't seem to be a priority for many. Take for instance, Donald Trump, our Republican presidential candidate. Trump has proposed building a wall on the US-Mexico border and banning Muslim immigrants, specifically Syrian refugees, from entering the United States. This has caused many to question the future of the United States. How have we come this far if such bigotry still exists? In order to move forward, we must look back on our previous leaders, ones that we've established as exemplary figures. Specifically, we can look all the way back to 540 BC, the time at which Cyrus the Great was well into his rule as the founder of the Achaemenid Empire.

Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus II of Persia, has been remembered for his tolerant and successful rule. Unlike leaders such as Augustus Caesar of the Roman Empire, who executed thousands in order to secure his power, Cyrus the Great welcomed the former civilized states of the ancient Near East under his rule. Cyrus founded and led the Achaemenid Empire, all the while honoring the religious practices of the states he conquered. As an ancient leader, Cyrus achieved success in military strategy, politics, and the advancement of human rights. Cyrus' message of acceptance became embodied in the Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient clay cylinder that contains a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script.

According to historians, the Cyrus Cylinder is the oldest declaration of human rights. Created after Cyrus's conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, the Cyrus Cylinder gave birth to an ideal society based in religious tolerance. The cylinder contains Cyrus's speech after his conquest of Babylon, in which he states: "Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, 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." Traces of the Babylonian Empire were lost after Alexander the Great captured it, but the discovery of this cylinder provided historians with more evidence of how Babylon came under Cyrus's rule. Since its discovery in the ruins of Babylon in 1879, the Cyrus Cylinder has shaped universal religion and the politics of the Middle East. This cylinder influenced the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the establishment of Israel. It also played a role in the establishment of the Shah of Iran in the 1960’s.

Even though centuries have passed, the Cyrus Cylinder has maintained an integral role in the world. With its undeniable significance, the cylinder was adopted as a national symbol of Iran in the 1970's. The Cyrus Cylinder, apart from being a magnificent work of art, carries a message that should ring in the minds of our leaders and those to come.

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