Cyrus and Babylon

...without fighting or battle. The Nabonidus Chronicle, a Babylonian document, mentions a battle on the banks of the Tigris where Cyrus defeated the people of Akkad, and slaughtered them - and two days later Nabonidus, king of Babylon fled. Cyrus captured him when he entered Babylon unopposed.

More on Babylon here: http://www.the-persians.co.uk/babylon.htm. See also Assyria: http://www.the-persians.co.uk/assyria.htm

The Cylinder and "human rights"

Generally thought as "an exaggeration and a misrepresentation" to claim it as any "declaration of rights". It differs markedly in tone from proclamations by other rulers of the time. Compare the boasts of the Assyrian Sennacherib (689 BC) on the "Taylor Prism":

 “In my third campaign I marched against Hatti. Luli, king of Sidon, whom the terror-inspiring glamour of my lordship had overwhelmed, fled far overseas and perished.... As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to his strong cities, walled forts, and countless small villages, and conquered them by means of well-stamped earth-ramps and battering-rams brought near the walls with an attack by foot soldiers, using mines, breeches as well as trenches. I drove out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered them slaves. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were his city's gate. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the presents to me as overlord which I imposed upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually. Hezekiah himself, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches inlaid with ivory, chairs inlaid with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, boxwood and all kinds of valuable treasures, his own daughters and concubines. . .”

 

The restoration of Jews deported by Nebuchadnezzar after his capture of Jerusalem, and repairing of the Temple which are referred to in Bible cannot be deduced from the cylinder. All the cities mentioned (not listed in the text) are east of the Tigris. In the Assyrian/Babylonian world every conqueror undertook to reverse acts of his predecessor, and restore the things he'd ruined/neglected! (Compare Trump/Obama or any newly-installed regime. Remember Harold Wilson's "13 years of Tory misrule" - and how the 2010 Conservative government blamed Labour for economic problems caused by a collapse in the world banking system.) There are many inaccurate and dubious translations of the cylinder in circulation - Reza Shah may well have used one. Old Persian is a a very niche subject - our translation is by Irving Finkel of the British Museum, the world's foremost expert.

Recent fragments of other cylinders have recently come to light (they were in BM all the time unrecognised) - showing that the cylinder was not a unique message to the future buried in the wall like a time-capsule - but part of a PR exercise aimed at contemporary Babylonians.

 

Activities

1.Imagine you are a young Jew, born in Babylon. Write a letter to your cousin in Palestine saying what's been happening.

2. Design a 'cylinder' like Cyrus' for a historical , fictional or contemporary figure, detailing your achievements. Or maybe a 'prism' like Sennacherib's if you choose someone really evil!

3. The Ishtar Gate in Babylon was built by Nebuchadnezzar in around 575 BC. It was very new when Cyrus entered Babylon. He explains his building plan in an inscription:

Both gate entrances of the (city walls) Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower. (Therefore,) I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars lengthwise over them. I fixed doors of cedar wood adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that Mankind might gaze on them in wonderment

Rectangular glazed tiles:

Students might have fun given a tile each to paint and reconstruct one of the fabulous beasts. The whole gate (as in the picture) was taken to Berlin in the 1930s and rebuilt in the Pergamon Museum.