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The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: Charting a New Empire

The Cyrus Cylinder. Baked clay. Achaemenid, 539–538 B.C. Excavated in Babylon, Iraq, in 1879. British Museum 90920. © Trustees of the British Museum


The exhibition was organized by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The exhibition's presentation at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is made possible with the support of the Ansary Foundation, Akbar A. Lari, Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, Nowruz Commission and Omid and Kimya Kamshad. Additional support provided by the NoRuz at the Met Fund.

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The Cyrus Cylinder from Ancient Babylon and the Beginning of the Persian Empire

Program information

This lecture by Dr. John E. Curtis, OBE, FBA, Keeper of Special Middle East Projects, The British Museum, is presented in conjunction with the exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: Charting a New Empire, on view June 20–August 4, 2013.

Recorded June 20, 2013

The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia

Charting a New Empire

June 20–August 4, 2013

See Now at the Met for articles related to the exhibition.

See a slideshow of works on view.

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous surviving icons from the ancient world. Excavated at Babylon in 1879, the Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform on the orders of the Persian king Cyrus the Great after he captured Babylon in 539 B.C. It marks the establishment of Persian rule and records how Cyrus restored shrines and allowed deported peoples to return home. Although not mentioned, it is thought to be at this time that the Jews returned to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple, as recorded in the Bible. The Cylinder and sixteen related works, all on loan from the British Museum, reflect the innovations initiated by Persian rule in the ancient Near East (550–331 B.C.) and chart a new path for this empire, the largest the world had known.

A unique aspect of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum will be its display within the galleries of Ancient Near Eastern Art, where objects from the permanent collection—including the famous lions from Babylon—will provide a stunning backdrop. Also on display will be works of art from the Metropolitan's Department of Drawings and Prints and Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts that celebrate Cyrus and his legacy as a liberal and enlightened ruler.