Ancient Persian history

This video says about itself:

Feb 20, 2012

A clay cylinder covered in Akkadian cuneiform script, damaged and broken, the Cyrus Cylinder is a powerful symbol of religious tolerance and multi-culturalism. In this enthralling talk Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, traces 2600 years of Middle Eastern history through this single object.

By Michal Boncza in Britain:

The Cyrus Cylinder And Ancient Persia: New Beginning For The Middle East

Tuesday 06 August 2013

John Curtis

(British Museum £25)

Legend has it that during one of the early Iraq-Iran wars between the Babylonian and Persian empires in 539 BC the regent of Babylon Belshazzar held a feast. During it, a mysterious hand spelled out his imminent demise on the wall.

That is the origin of the “writing on the wall” idiom and it is the theme of Rembrandt‘s painting Belshazzar’s Feast at the National Gallery collection in London.

Belshazzar's Feast, by Rembrandt

Belshazzar succeeded Nebuchadnezzar the conqueror of Palestine who, after ransacking Jerusalem, sent Jews and other tribes from the area into exile in Babylon.

By most accounts Babylon, which extended from southern Iraq to the Mediterranean, did not put up much of a resistance to the advancing Persians armies led by Cyrus.

Fast-forward to 1879 when during British Museum-led excavations of the inner city wall of Babylon, the “Imgur-Enlil,” by the ancient bed of the Euphrates a cylinder was found inscribed with cuneiform text.

Made of baked clay roughly the size of a rugby ball, about a third of it was missing.

Once the wholly or partially preserved 45 lines were deciphered their content intrigued archaeologists and historians alike.

Although it was common for kings of the period to order cylinders as foundation deposits for new buildings – as records of their achievements and policy statements – the breadth and scope of Cyrus’s intent was pretty unusual.

As British Museum director Neil MacGregor rather picturesquely puts it, “The cylinder is in effect a press release of a military commander eager to win over the conquered populations.”

Under Cyrus the Persian empire extended from Libya and Turkey in the west to Afghanistan in the east and to Cyrus’s credit he had invented a model of how to run a multilingual, multi-faith, multicultural society – a Marshal Tito of antiquity.

“I have enabled all the lands to live in peace,” the cylinder echoes Cyrus’s voice in line 36 of the cuneiform text.

His vision of the “Middle East as a coherent unit,” based on tolerance of diversity, offered the region 200 years of peace and prosperity that was brought to an abrupt end by the savagery and megalomania of Alexander the Great.

Crucially, line two of the cylinder has also provided archaeological proof that the Jewish Book of Chronicles and the Book of Ezra told the historic truth when praising Cyrus for freeing the Jews and encouraging them to return with all their religious paraphernalia to Jerusalem and restore the Temple: “The gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected all their people and returned them to their settlements.”

Greek historian Xenophon depicted him in Cyropedia as an exemplary ruler of a diverse society and his account affected Renaissance and Enlightment thinking in Europe, and ironically and only temporarily, on the Founding Fathers of the contemporary scourge of the Middle East, the US.

The UN has chosen the cylinder as a symbolic first-ever recorded declaration of human rights with a copy prominently displayed in its headquarters.

Whether there is any merit to such an attribution depends on personal preferences.

Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion was a devotee but learnt zilch from it.

There is no denying its power to puzzle, fascinate and, most important of all, inspire to aspire. Therein, perhaps, lies the Cyrus Cylinder’s value to humanity.

A thoroughly enjoyable, informative and beautifully illustrated read.

3,000 Years of Human History, Described in One Set of Mathematical Equations: here.

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