The Cyrus Cylinder And A Dream For The Middle East


March 7, 2012

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Recently we pointed to the TED Talk about The Cyrus Cylinder.

Today we come across Jacob L. Wright’s commentary and reaction to that TED talk, and in a larger scenario: The Cyrus Cylinder And A Dream For The Middle East

In a recent TED lecture that is well on its way to becoming one of the most popular in a distinguished series, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, narrated the fascinating history of a 2,600-year-old clay object known as the Cyrus Cylinder. The ancient artifact is unremarkable in appearance. It resembles thousands of cuneiform-inscribed tablets and objects from Mesopotamia housed in museums all over the world.

So why is a replica of this object displayed prominently at the U.N. Headquarters in New York? Why did more than a million people come out to catch a glimpse of the Cylinder when the British Museum loaned it for a three-month exhibit last year in Tehran? And why does the Cylinder continue to arouse so much excitement in the media?

MacGregor’s captivating TED lecture seeks to identify the reason. The Cylinder bears one of the “great declarations of a human aspiration,” comparable to the American Constitution and Magna Carta. Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire he established (ca. 550-330 B.C.E.) bequeathed to history “a dream of the Middle East as a unit, and a unit where people of different faiths could live together.”

We can applaud McGregor’s eloquent appreciation of the religious and cultural tolerance that the Cyrus Cylinder symbolizes. But did Cyrus and his court that produced this impressive artifact really share the dream MacGregor ascribes to them? Can we rightfully call the empire promoted by the Cylinder a model of “a great multinational, multifaith, multicultural society”?

As most historians who specialize in early Persian history would readily point out, the chief objective of Cyrus and his successors was no different than that of other imperial powers: to maintain control of their vast empire and to exploit the wealth of its subjects. Palace reliefs at Persepolis and Susa express this “vision of peace” in dramatic visual form: Delegations from various peoples are shown solemnly bearing precious gifts up to the enthroned king.

Continue reading at Huffington Post