The Cyrus Cylinder is to tour five major American museums next year in its first visit to the USA, the British Museum has announced.

Supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation, the cylinder will travel as part of an exhibition called ‘The Cyrus Cylinder in Ancient Persia’, which explores the innovations developed under Persian rule between 550 BC and 331 BC – then the largest empire the world had ever known.

Bearing a proclamation in Babylonian cuneiform, the baked clay cylinder was created on the orders of Cyrus the Great (559-530BC) after he captured Babylon in 539BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands. It was found in Babylon in modern Iraq in 1879 during a excavation by archaeologists from the British Museum, where it has been on display ever since.

The tour will debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC in March 2013 before travelling to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and will conclude at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa Los Angeles in October (full dates below).

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said: ‘You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is A History of the Middle East in one object and it is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us.  Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible. I am delighted that it will travel to the US and am hugely grateful to both our US partners and the Iran Heritage Foundation for making this possible.’

Exhibition curator John Curtis, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum, added: ‘The Cyrus Cylinder and associated objects represent a new beginning for the Ancient Near East. The Persian period, commencing in 550 BC, was not just a change of dynasty but a time of change in the ancient world. Some of these changes and innovations are highlighted in the exhibition.’


Tour Dates

Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC: 9 March – 28 April 2013

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, 3 May – 14 June 2013

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,  20 June – 4 August 2013

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California, 9 August – 22 September 2013

J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles, California, 2 October – 2 December 2013