The iconic Cyrus Cylinder on display in California’s Bay area

The iconic Cyrus Cylinder on display in California’s Bay area

The Cyrus Cylinder, one of the most iconic objects in world history, is on tour in the US for the first time ever, and residents of the San Francisco Bay Area will be among the lucky few to see it (event details on the (Museum’s official website, and on on’s events calendar). The Cylinder is one of the most iconic objects to have survived from the ancient world—many have called it the first charter of human rights. And now this symbol of international tolerance and justice will be on loan in the US from the British Museum the first time ever.

The Cylinder came to be when King Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in 539 BCE (see Persian empire’s map below). He commissioned this small, baked-clay form with a cuneiform inscription documenting Cyrus’s unprecedented return of enslaved people to their homelands and his support for freedom of worship. These values underlying ethical governance have inspired generations of philosophers, rulers, elected officials, and artists— from ancient Greece to Renaissance European, the United States’ Founding Fathers and leaders in modern day West Asia.

Map of Persian Empire

Cyrus is mentioned in the Bible’s book of Isaiah as people’s shepherd (Isaiah 44:28). Italian historian and politician Niccolo Machiavelli, and author of the world classic The Prince in 1532 also adores Cyrus as a true leader: “But to come to those who, by their own ability and not through fortune, have risen to be princes, I say that Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and such like are the most excellent examples.” Thomas Jefferson, the famed founding father and President of the United States (1801–1809), also admires Cyrus in a letter in October 1820 written to his grandson Francis Wayles Eppes: “I would advise you to undertake a regular course of History and Poetry in both languages. In Greek, go first thro’ the Cyropaedia [The Education of Cyrus], and then read Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenus and Anabasis.”

The Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king in Iraq and seen and studied for more than 130 years in the British Museum. People worldwide celebrate its significance — a copy of the Cylinder is on display in the United Nations building in New York City, and it appears on postage stamps issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2010-11, about a half million people came to see it firsthand during an exhibition in Tehran.

Cyrus The Great: A likeness painting

The US tour debuted at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC in March 2013 (event link). Now the Cylinder is on view at the Asian Art Museum through September 22— one of five stops in the US tour. Don’t miss the opportunity to see this incredible object during its brief appearance in San Francisco. There are free Sundays (first in each month) or discounted admissions for students, Seniors, youth, children, and for everybody on Thursday evenings after 5 PM ($5 only). This is a rare opportunity to see this incredible object during its final weeks in San Francisco.

“The San Francisco Bay Area is home to both the signing of the United Nations Charter and the birth of the Free Speech Movement, major pillars supporting human rights and civil liberties. The Asian Art Museum is proud to partner with the British Museum and our U.S. museum partners to bring the Cyrus Cylinder to San Francisco,” said Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “This important object provides not only a foundation for understanding the ancient world, but also a touchstone for continued efforts to strive for common human freedoms.”