Thursday, 29 November 2012

Cyrus Cylinder on Tour

The Cyrus cylinder was excavated in Babylon in 1879 and is now in the collections of the British Museum, "who legally acquired it from the Ottomans".  It bears a lengthy cuneiform inscription and was made shortly after Cyrus of Persia captured Babylon in 539BC:
the Cyrus cylinder records how the ruler allowed deported peoples to return to their homelands and ushered in an era of religious tolerance in his new, multiethnic empire. For Jews and Christians, it is the object that – along with passages of Isaiah – records the end of Jewish exile in Babylon. In Iran, it has by turns been used as a symbol of the shah's power and, most recently, when the cylinder toured to Tehran in 2010, was adopted as a rallying cry for Palestinian freedom by the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. For others, it is the first declaration of human rights, and an international symbol of religious tolerance. For Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, to which it belongs, it is the "first press release".
The cylinder will be going on tour in the United States next year accompanied by other artefacts from the ancient Near East. The exhibition's tour will begin with the Smithsonian in Washington in March, then it travels (among other places) to the Metropolitan in New York and the J Paul Getty in Los Angeles. The Guardian points out the political implications of the tour:
When relations between the US and Iran are at best fragile, the interpretation of this evidence of Persia's historic tolerance is an intriguing prospect. For MacGregor the point is about the "reasserting of the importance of the historical perspective. It is a reminder that the problems in the Middle East can be understood only in the context of the long historical framework". According to John Curtis, keeper of special Middle East projects at the museum, "the Cyrus cylinder is important for the expatriate Iranian community in America, and it is important for the Jewish community". In its role as early human-rights declaration, a replica of the Cyrus cylinder is displayed in the UN headquarters, he pointed out.[...]
"Our role is to represent this as an object in the history of culture," said MacGregor, "but what is fascinating is the reading of the objects by others". Curtis added: "In a way, it doesn't matter so much what the document actually says, so much as what people think it says."
The touring exhibit is part of the British Museum's policy of making the collection available as widely as possible "either online or on loan", said MacGregor. An exhibition of Egyptian artefacts recently opened in Mumbai; the museum is also working with institutions in China, Hong Kong and Australia. After its tour to the US, the Cyrus cylinder will itself head to Mumbai. The museum also supports permanent displays and touring exhibitions in regional institutions in Britain. 

Photo: The 'Cyrus Cylinder'. 

, 'Babylonian relic to visit US with historic message of tolerance', The Guardian  27 November 2012. 

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