The "Cyrus Cylinder": The First Declaration of Religious Freedom
Founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, Cyrus (Kurash) the Great rose to the throne of a small kingdom in 559 BCE, and by the
time of his death in 529, had brought virtually the entire Near East under his control. In 539, he conquered Babylon and drove out
Nabonidus, the last of the Neo-Babylonian kings. However, he was hailed as a liberator by the priests of the Babylonian god Marduk,
and he issued a remarkable document, guaranteeing freedom of religion to the subjects whom he had added to his empire. The text was
publicized in Akkadian, an ancient Mesopotamian language, and it is preserved today on a clay cylinder, today called the "Cyrus
Cylinder" and housed in the British Museum.
Why did Cyrus incorporate local deities into his public relations at this time?
How does this document compare with other instances of Persian tolerance in the historical record?
What advantages might Cyrus have reaped from taking this stance?
3. CYRUS (557-529)
(one line destroyed)
.. .[r]ims (of the world).
. .a weakling has been installed as the
of his country; [the correct images of the gods he removed from their
thrones, imitations he ordered to place upon them. A replica of the temple Esagila he has.
. .for Ur and the other sacred cities
. .daily he did blabber [incorrect prayers]. He (furthermore) interrupted in a fiendish way the regular offerings, he
. .he established within the sacred cities. The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [changjed into abomination, daily he
used to do evil against his (i.e. Marduk's) city.
...He [tormented] its [inhabitants with corvee-work (lit.: a yoke) without relief, he
ruined them all.
Upon their complaints the lord of the gods became terribly angry and [he departed from] their region, (also) the (other) gods living
among them left their mansions, wroth that he had brought (them) into Babylon (Su.an.na). (But) Marduk [who does care for] .
account of (the fact that) the sanctuaries of all their settlements were in ruins and the inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad had become like
(living) dead, turned back (his countenance) [his] an[ger] [abated] and he had mercy (upon them). He scanned and looked (through) all
the countries, searching for a righteous ruler willing to lead him (i.e. Marduk) (in the annual procession). (Then) he pronounced the
name of Cyrus
king of Anshan, declared him (lit.: pronounced [his] name) to be(come) the ruler of all the world. He made
the Guti country and all the Manda-hordes bow in submission to his (i.e. Cyrus') feet. And he (Cyrus) did always endeavor to treat
according to justice the black-headed whom he (Marduk) has made him conquer. Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his
people/worshipers, beheld with pleasure his (i.e. Cyrus') good deeds and his upright mind (lit.: heart) (and therefore) ordered him to
march against his city Babylon (Ka.dingir.ra). He made him set out on the road to Babylon (DIN.TIR