Cyrus Cylinder



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In 1879, British scientists discovered an important, ancient object at an archaeological dig in what is now Iraq. The small, simple clay cylinder is covered in cuneiform writing. Many experts believe the writing is the world’s first declaration of human rights. The cylinder is now on display for the first time in Washington, DC. Jim Tedder has more on this highly valued piece of history.
 
The object called the Cyrus Cylinder is about 2,600 years old. The cylinder was found at the bottom of a religious center in what was the ancient city-state of Babylon. The writings on it are orders declared by King Cyrus the Great of Persia.  
 
Neil McGregor is the director of the British Museum in London.
 
“Why this object is so important is because it’s probably the first time in human history that we have evidence of a ruler thinking about how you manage a society with people of different traditions, different languages, different ethnicities, and, above all, different religions.”
 
King Cyrus captured Babylon more than 25 centuries ago. He controlled the largest empire, or state, in history. John Curtis organized the Cyrus Cylinder exhibit in Washington. He says the clay object provides a look into the moral leadership of King Cyrus.
 
“First of all, Cyrus says that he captured Babylon peacefully – he didn’t burn the city, raze it to the ground, as was the general custom at that time. And he actually says in the Cylinder that he allowed the inhabitants of Babylon to go about their business in peace.”

                                                                          

The cylinder is described in Christianity’s holy book, the Bible. King Cyrus also permitted the newly captured people to practice, or exercise, whatever religion they wished. And he permitted displaced Jews to return to their homeland.
 
Neil McGregor says it is interesting to consider these actions in connection with the current tensions between Israel and Iran.
 
“For Jews through the millennia, Cyrus has always been a hero, and the Persian Empire has always been the great moment in history for the Jews and for the recovery of Jerusalem. So it’s surprising, if you like, that relations are now so difficult. And the same also, of course, with the relations between Iran and the United States because when the founding fathers of the United States are framing the Constitution they opt for the model of Cyrus, who has a view that different faiths should co-exist but government should not endorse any of them.”
             
Thomas Jefferson is said to have owned two copies of a biography of Cyrus by the ancient Greek historian Xenophon. Many historians believe the book influenced Jefferson as he wrote the American Declaration of Independence.
 
The Cyrus Cylinder is a permanent part of the British Museum in London. This is the first time it has been shown in America. It can be seen at the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington. After it leaves the galleries, the cylinder and other ancient objects will travel to four other American cities. Curator John Curtis says the combination helps provide a full picture of ancient Persia.
 

“What I would hope to get out of the exhibition is to show people what a very sophisticated civilization there was in ancient Persia – in ancient Iran – and to give some idea of the strong influence that it had on the development of civilization, not just in the ancient Near East, but, actually in the whole world.”

 
Museum officials hope visitors to the Cyrus Cylinder exhibit will understand that civil rights and religious freedom are deeply rooted in human history

Washington, D.C.


 
A listener recently e-mailed us to ask what Washington, D.C. means. Here’s the answer.
 
Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States. The city is also known simply as Washington. It was named for the country’s first president, George Washington.
 
That story goes back to the beginning of the United States more than two hundred years ago. The states approved a constitution in seventeen eighty-eight. But they could not decide where to build the permanent capital. Northern states did not want the capital in the South because slavery existed there. The southern states did not want the capital in the North.
​Finally, after much negotiation, the United States Congress agreed to build the capital along the Potomac River between the states of Virginia and Maryland. The city would be built in a federal area on land provided by the two states. The city would be called Washington. The larger federal area would be named the District of Columbia.
 
Columbia was another name for the United States, used mostly by poets and other writers. The name came from Christopher Columbus, the explorer. So the city became known as Washington, the District of Columbia or Washington, D.C.
 

Many other places in the United States are named after President George Washington. They include the western state of Washington and the town of Washington, Pennsylvania. In fact, twenty-four different American states have towns named Washington.

Many other townships and counties within states are also called Washington. And at least fifteen mountains in the United States are called Mount Washington. So you can find many places in the United States called Washington, but only one called Washington, D.C.     



Cyrus Cylinder



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