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The Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder, 539–538 BCE. Iraq, Achaemenid period (550–330 BCE). Baked clay. © Trustees of the British Museum.

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The Cyrus Cylinder is inscribed in the Babylonian language in cuneiform script. It was written after Cyrus captured Babylon in 539 BCE and buried as a foundation deposit beneath the inner city wall during the rebuilding program undertaken by Cyrus. The Cylinder, which was broken at the time of its discovery or soon thereafter, is made of several pieces that have been adhered together. Approximately one-third of the Cylinder is still missing.

The Cylinder’s text records that because the last king of Babylon, Nabonidus (reigned 555–539 BCE), had not adequately supported the followers of the Babylonian gods and had imposed forced labor on its population, Babylon’s principal god, Marduk, chose Cyrus, king of Anshan (in Persia), to liberate the city. With the god’s help, Cyrus entered the city without a battle, Nabonidus was delivered into his hands, and the people of Babylon joyfully accepted Cyrus’s kingship, according to the Cylinder’s text. From there on, the document is written as if Cyrus is speaking: “I, Cyrus, king of the world….” He presents himself as a worshipper of Marduk and the leader who abolished the population’s forced labor. The people of neighboring countries brought tribute to Cyrus in Babylon; he restored their temples and religious cults, and returned previously banished gods and peoples. The text ends with a note of food offerings in the temples and an account of the city wall’s reconstruction, during the course of which an earlier building inscription of Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria (reigned 668–627 BCE), was found.