Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1217 Words
Date:  2022-05-09


Human rights play a crucial role in promoting democracy and ensuring that equality for all the people. The development of these rights date back in time during the reign of Cyrus the great who apart from concurring many emperors, he also wrote 'The Declaration of Human Rights'. Praised as the first charter of human rights and also predates the Magna Carta by nearly two millenniums, these rights are still used in the modern multicultural society. Cyrus the great had written these human rights on a baked cylinder and in Akkadian language which were later translated into all U.N languages. During his era, Cyrus freed the slaves, established racial equality and asserted that all people have the right to their own religion. The following document focuses on Cyrus the great and the Cyrus Cylinder.

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Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great is recognized as one of the influential figures in history as he set the foundation for the modern human rights that we all enjoy(pg. 15-20). Cyrus's success in maintaining and creating the Achaemenid Persian Empire was due to his military skills and the intelligent blend of diplomacy and wisdom. Different from other rulers, Cyrus respected the language, culture and religion of the subdued states. He viewed all nations as equal in terms of rights and did not make efforts to assimilate them. Cyrus the great was liberal and was the first king to stop dictatorial oppression and slavery.

Cyrus ruled according to the Zoroastrian doctrines but did not impose these doctrines on his subject territories. He set principles that ensured no man was mistreated against their will. As an administrator of one of the largest empires in the ancient world, he established one of the first systems of Federal Government. Even though it was a primitive form of Federal government it ensured that all small states controlled their own affairs , military forces, local languages, together with their own educational systems. The king's respect for the local laws, traditions, languages together with religion set the foundation for a benevolent empire.

Cyrus the great established a policy of equality and tolerance which was the key to creating the largest form of united nations during his time. In 539 B.C.E Cyrus was able to venture into the city of Babylon and liberated an estimate of 50,000 Jews from bondage who were enslaved by the Babylonians(pg.34-40). On top of this, Cyrus also helped in migrating these Jews back to their homes in Palestine and assisted them in reconstructing their temple using funds from his royal treasury. His generosity and edict of building the temple and helping Jews gain their freedom highlighted one of the liberal ideals that Cyrus the Great set during his rule.

From Babylon, the declaration of human rights was able to spread quickly to Greece, India and Rome. The idea of 'natural law' was developed in observation of the idea that many nations tended to follow unwritten laws established by their ancestral rulers together with the Roman laws which were based on the rational concepts derived from the natural world. Cyrus the great was able to note his legacy and the human rights in the Cyrus Cylinder.


The Cyrus Cylinder is an antique clay cylinder also known as Cyrus charter, the Cyrus cylinder dates from the 6thcentury BC and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq in 1879(pg. 20-45). Fragment A of the clay cylinder is about 23cm wide and 8cm in diameter. It is inscribed on all sides and contains lines 1-35. Fragment B contains lines 36-45, that can be joined to the main part. It's currently in the possession of the British Museum which sponsored the expedition that discovered the cylinder, Cyrus cylinder is one of the most famous cuneiform texts, because it was once assumed that it deep-rooted what the Bible says, that in 539 BCE, the Persian conqueror Cyrus the great had allowed the Jews return from their Babylonian captivity.

Text on the cylinder basically praises Cyrus the great, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a king from a line of kings. Nabonidus the form Babylon, who was overpowered and ousted by Cyrus, is criticized as a wicked oppressor of the people of Babylonia and his low-born origins are discreetly juxtaposed to Cyrus' kingly heritage. Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the Babylonian god Marduk to restore peace and order. The manuscript states how Cyrus was received by the Babylonians as their new leader and entered the city in peace(pg.45). It acclaims Cyrus as a benefactor of the citizens of Babylonia who improved their lives repatriated displaced people and restored temples and cult sanctuaries across Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the region. The text ends with a description of how Cyrus restored the city wall of Babylon and found a related inscription placed there by an earlier king.

The cylinder was able to play a crucial role in the imperial propaganda of Shah Mohammad Reza Pavali. In 1971 Reza, used it as an emblem of the celebration of what he called the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy. A copy was given to the united nations in which all another religious reference were let out. Shah tried to demonstrate that the wicked Iran with religious freedom that he wanted to promote existed before and in this context, the Cyrus cylinder was called world's human rights charter. However, the idea that the Cyrus cylinder plays a role in the history of human rights, has turned out to be quite tenacious, and because the text itself does not permit the interpretation, a bogus translation has been made that can still be discovered on some sites of the internet and was for example quoted by Shirin Ebadi when she accepted the Nobel peace prize in 2003(pg. 56-98).


In conclusion, Cyrus the Great was generous, upright, benevolent and a great leader of men. The Hellenes who were under his colony declared him as the 'lawgiver' and on the other hand, the Jews named him as the 'Messiah the anointed of the Lord'. His leadership marked a great change in humanity after he established a Federal government which focused on ensuring equal rights for all the people. His generosity and diplomatic leadership enabled the people to enjoy their rights to worship freely, and freedom to govern themselves under the Persian crown. Different from other Zoroastrian leaders who imposed Zoroastrianism on their colonies, Cyrus opted to let the small kingdoms govern themselves. Before his death, Cyrus the Great acquired a new capital city in Fars at Pasargade together with establishing a Federal government for his people. He then appointed a governor( satrap) to be in charge of each of his provinces. The Satraps were in charge of the legislation, administration and cultural activities in each province. As the first Achaemenid Emperor, Cyrus the Great was able to unite the two original Iranian Tribes, the Persians and the Mendes and founded Persia. His legacy as described in the Cyrus cylinder highlights of the unprecedented magnanimous attitude, tolerance and diplomacy towards his subjects which makes him a significant figure in the history.


Crompton, Samuel Willard. Cyrus the Great. Infobase Publishing, 2008.

Finkel, Irving, ed. The Cyrus cylinder: The King of Persia's proclamation from ancient Babylon. IB Tauris, 2013.

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