Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus the Great & Cyrus Cylinder Series:
» Cyrus the Great (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration
» Cyrus the Great - Pasargadae, Capital (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Information Sources
» Cyrus the Great - Xenophon's Cyropaedia (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes
» Cyrus Cylinder
» Cyrus Cylinder & its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery
» Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)
» Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones
» Cyrus Cylinder - Talk by Neil MacGregor

Image Credit: Averain at Flickr
Description
The Cyrus Cylinder is a badly damaged diminutive barrel-shaped cylinder of baked clay that is barely larger than the palms of both hands. It is covered with text written in a small script that is quite extensive when translated and written down. It is quite unbelievable how so much information has been packed onto an object so small - for its size and condition belie its contents. Some writers have called it the 'grande dame' of the British Museum and a star attraction. It is priceless not just for its antiquity but for the ideas it contains - ideas that were revolutionary for their time.

The cylinder measures 21.9 in length and 10 cm in diameter towards the centre. It tapers towards the ends: 7.8 cm at one end and 7.9 cm at the other end.

The cylinder is inscribed in the Babylonian-Akkadian cuneiform script. It commemorates the peaceful taking of Babylon by Cyrus' forces on October 12, 539 BCE, and contains a copy of Cyrus' edict for the humane treatment of its citizens and the restoration of the city. Cyrus' taking of Babylon was more in the nature of a liberation than a conquest and that sentiment is reflected in the text of the cylinder. According to one theory derived from other Babylonian Chronicles, Cyrus formally entered the city on October 29, 539 BCE amid the jubilation of its citizens.

Apparently, the cylinder itself was made to be placed in the foundation of a building being restored by Cyrus - presumed to be ancient Babylon's Marduk Temple otherwise called the Esagila complex - though the edict with local modifications was intended for distribution throughout Cyrus' realm.

We estimate that the cylinder was produced between 539 and 534 BCE.

Construction
The cylinder’s core is made of clay and contains large grey stone inclusions. Additional layers of clay were added to the core. The cylinder was coated with a final fine clay surface slip just prior to its inscription. When the inscription was complete, the cylinder was fired. While the inclusions of stones in the core clay may have contributed to the fragility of the cylinder, it was not intended to be handled after being placed in a building’s foundation.

Condition
The damaged and partially restored main body of the Cyrus Cylinder (#BM 90920) has been in the possession of the British Museum since its recovery from the ruins of Babylon in 1879. According to the museum, their dig team supervised by Hormuzd Rassam found the main body of the Cyrus Cylinder in a broken condition. In a recent book, The Cyrus Cylinder (2013), written by Irving Finkel (p. 49), the shipping documents show that the cylinder was shipped in 1879 but was received in a broken condition. The Cylinder together with other finds were entrusted to a local merchant Baltazar for shipment to England via steamer. They were received by the British Museum in August of that year as documented by the Museum's cuneiform curator, Theophilus Pinches. When the museum assembled the cylinder, they found that pieces of it were missing. The restored Cylinder revealed thirty five lines of finely inscribed text.

Yale Cylinder Fragment
Fortunately, one of the missing pieces of the cylinder (#NBC 2504) measuring 8.6 cm by 5.6 cm, was found amongst Mesopotamian archaeological fragments in the Nies’ collection at Yale University. Dr. J.B. Nies, a clergyman from Brooklyn, had acquired the fragment from an antiquities dealer. We can only speculate how the fragment came to be sold through the antique market. In 1920, he and C.E. Keiser published their finding in Historical, Religious and Economic Texts and Antiquities by James Buchanan Nies and Clarence E. Keiser (Yale, 1920). Upon Nies’ death in 1922, the fragment was bequeathed as part of his collection of tablets and antiquities to Yale University’s Babylonian Collection.

In 1970 Paul-Richard Berger of the University of Munster determined that the text constituted lines 36-45 of the main Cyrus Cylinder’s text. The lines continued the cylinder's proclamation or edict of Cyrus. Without them, some authors had surmised that the cylinder was just another foundation deposit. Berger's discovery changed that perception. His identification was confirmed by R.D. Barnett, the British Museum’s Keeper of the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities in a report to the Museum’s trustees on January 22, 1972. Together with the Yale fragment, the world now had access to lines 1 through 45 of the cylinder's text.

British Museum Tablet Fragment
British Museum tablet fragment
On December 31, 2009, while examining the British Museum’s 130,000 unpublished Mesopotamian fragments and tablets, Wilfred Lambert, a retired professor from Birmingham University, came across the fragment of a tablet that he recognized contained the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder.

Soon afterwards, on January 5, the museum’s curator Irving Finkel, came upon another fragment that contained yet another part of the cylinder’s text.

The two cuneiform fragments had been a part of the museum’s collection since 1881 when they were recovered from a small dig site supervised by Hormuzd Rassam at Dailem near Babylon. One of the fragments clarified a passage in the Cyrus Cylinder’s message, while the other provided a portion of a previously missing piece of text on the cylinder. The text provided by the fragments partially restored lines 1-2 and 44-5 of the cylinder’s text.

The tablet fragments demonstrated that Cyrus proclamation had been reproduced and distributed to other centres in Cyrus' realm.

Changed Perceptions
Prior to the addition of the discovery of the fragments, some author’s had expressed doubts about the significance of the cylinder’s text. Without providing evidence that the Cyrus Cylinder’s text matched text found elsewhere, these sceptics had relegated the cylinder and its text to a standard foundation deposit copied from other Mesopotamian foundation deposits.

However, proponents of the importance of the cylinder’s text had always pointed out the Bible's statement that Cyrus had issued a qôl, proclamation (2 Chr 36:23; Ezr 1:1), or a ṭaϲam, a decree (Ezr 6:3), and that the cylinder was a manifestation of that decree modified to suit the Babylonian context. They had continually stressed that the cylinder was not just another standard foundation deposit. [Also see Associates for Biblical Research].

It was now clear that the restoration of the temple of Marduk was but one example of Cyrus’ unique approach to other cultures. The restoration of the Temple of Jerusalem was yet another example. These restorations were not isolated but the manifestation of Cyrus’ unique governance policy. The norm for other conquerors up to that time had been to loot temples of conquered lands and then to destroy them. The temples' priests were either killed or enslaved – not to mention the raping, killing and enslavement of the rest of the population.

The British Museum for its part also began to change its previous assessment. It now stated, "Remarkably, the new pieces assist with the reading of passages in the Cylinder that are either missing or are obscure, and therefore help improve our understanding of this iconic document. In addition, they show that the ‘declaration’ on the Cylinder is much more than a standard Babylonian building inscription. It was probably an imperial decree that was distributed around the Persian empire, and it may have been pronouncements of this sort that the author of the Biblical book of Ezra was able to draw upon when writing about Cyrus."

We must continue to hope that additional copies await discovery for despite these fortunate finds, the text of Cyrus’ proclamation is still incomplete.

Restoration
The British Museum states, “It was refired in 1961 as part of its museum conservation and a limited amount of plaster filling added in the 1970s before and after the addition of another fragment from the Yale Babylonian Collection and the moulding of the object for the purposes of making a type cast.” The museum adds that the Yale fragment “is joined to the back of the Cylinder.”

Duplicate Castings
According to the British Museum, “The object (Cyrus Cylinder) was first moulded in 1962 following a request for a cast from the Minister of the Imperial Court of the Shah of Iran in 1961 in preparation for the 2500 jubilee originally planned for this period. A second cast was made from the same mould in August/September 1971 following a separate request from the Reverend Norman Sharp who took this cast with him when he attended the 2,500 year celebrations in October 1971: he presented it to his friend Mr Ali Sami, then director of the Persepolis museum.” The museum adds, “Secondary casts re-moulded from one of these which had been sent to Tehran were distributed by the Shah of Iran, including one which is displayed in the fort museum of Umm al-Qaiwain (UAE). They have also been sold commercially by the British Museum, National Museum in Tehran and assorted companies since that period. Those sold by the BM were marketed as part of their "Biblical Archaeology" series (1992 Casts catalogue). On 14 October, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, the sister of the Shah, presented a cast to the United Nations Secretary General, Sithu U Thant. The display was made by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the text translated into the six official languages of the UN. A modified cast was made after the join of the Yale fragment when the object was sent for moulding by Mr A.G. Prescott between 7 May and 13 August 1975.”

Translations
As acknowledged by Hormuzd Rassam, Sir Henry Rawlinson, was the first person to translate the text of the Cyrus Cylinder [cf. a paper to the Royal Asiatic Society by Rawlinson titled A Newly discovered Cylinder of Cyrus the Great]. We also read of the involvement of Theophilus G. Pinches in the translation. Together they wrote A Selection from the Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia, Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia 5 (London, 1884, 1909). Since then, the text has been translated by (the Rogers and Finkel translation listing are also links):

- Robert W. Rogers in Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament (1912);
- A. L. Oppenheim in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET, 1950 pp. 315-16, 1955, 1969), ed. James B. Pritchard;
- P. R. Berger in Der Kyros-Zylinder mit dem Susatzfragment in Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 65 (1975, pp. 192–234);
- R.M. Ghias Abadi in Cylinder of Cyrus (Tehran, 1998, 2001 pp. 35-36);
- Maria Brosius in The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I (2000, London);
- Mordechai Cogan in The Context of Scripture. Vol. II: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (Leiden and Boston, 2003), ed. W.H. Hallo and K.L. Younger;
- Piotr Michalowski in Historical Sources in Translation: The Ancient Near East, (Blackwell, 2006, pp. 428-29), ed. Mark Chavalas;
- Irving Finkel, Curator of Cuneiform Collections at the British Museum/Assistant Keeper, Department of the Middle East (unknown date);
- Shahrokh Razmjou, curator, British Museum, Department of the Middle East (translation into Persian);
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Cyrus the Great & Cyrus Cylinder Series:
» Cyrus the Great (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration
» Cyrus the Great - Pasargadae, Capital (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Information Sources
» Cyrus the Great - Xenophon's Cyropaedia (at Zoroastrian Heritage)
» Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes
» Cyrus Cylinder
» Cyrus Cylinder & its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery
» Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)
» Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones
» Cyrus Cylinder - Talk by Neil MacGregor

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