CYRUS iv. The Cyrus cylinder



iv. The Cyrus cylinder

The Cyrus cylinder (British Museum, no. 90920; Walker, p. 158; Budge, pl. XL; Rawlinson, pl. 35) is a fragmentary clay cylinder with an Akkadian inscription of thirty-five lines discovered in a foundation deposit by A. H. Rassam during his excavations at the site of the Marduk temple in Babylon in 1879 (see Walker, p. 158, citing a letter from Rassam to the British Museum dated 20 November 1879). A second fragment, containing lines 36-45, was identified in the Babylonian collection at Yale University (Nies and Keiser, no. 32) by P.-R. Berger. The total inscription, though incomplete at the end, consists of forty-five lines, the first three almost entirely broken away.

The text contains an account of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.E., beginning with a narrative by the Babylonian god Marduk of the crimes of Nabonidus, the last Chaldean king (lines 4-8). Then follows an account of Marduk’s search for a righteous king, his appointment of Cyrus to rule all the world, and his causing Babylon to fall without a battle (lines 9-19). Cyrus continues in the first person, giving his titles and genealogy (lines 20-22) and declaring that he has guaranteed the peace of the country (lines 22-26), for which he and his son Cambyses have received the blessing of Marduk (lines 26-30). He describes his restoration of the cult, which had been neglected dur­ing the reign of Nabonidus, and his permission to the exiled peoples to return to their homeland (lines 30­-36). Finally, the king records his restoration of the defenses of Babylon (lines 36-43) and reports that in the course of the work he saw an inscription of Aššurbanipal (lines 43-45; cf. Kuhrt, pp. 85-86).

The text was actually composed by priests of Marduk, in an archaizing form inspired by Neo-Assyrian mod­els, particularly inscriptions of Assurbanipal (668-27 B.C.E.) drafted in Babylon (Harmatta). The cylinder thus contains a typical Mesopotamian building in­scription placed as a foundation deposit in the walls of Babylon to commemorate Cyrus’ restorations there (Walker, p. 159).



P.-A. Beaulieu, “Agade in the Late Babylonian Period,” Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires 3, 1989, pp. 44-46.

P.-R. Berger, “Der Kyrus-Zylinder mit dem Zusatzfragment BIN II Nr. 32 und die akkadischen Personennamen im Danielbuch,” ZA 64, 1975, pp. 192-234.

E. A. W. Budge, British Museum. A Guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities, 3rd ed., London, 1922.

W. Eilers, “Der Keilschrifttext des Kyros-Zylinders” in W. Eilers, ed., Festgabe deutscher Iranisten zur 2500 Jahrfeier Irans, Stuttgart, 1971, pp. 156-66.

O. E. Hagen, “Keilschrifturkunden zur Geschichte des Königs Cyrus,” Beiträge zur Assyriologie 2, 1894, pp. 208-14.

J. Harmatta, “Les modèles littéraires de l’édit babylonien de Cyrus,” in Commémoration Cyrus. Hommage universel I, Acta Iranica 1, Tehran and Liège, 1974, pp. 29-44 (= “The Literary Patterns of the Babylonian Edict of Cyrus,” AAASH 19, 1971, pp. 217-31).

A. Kuhrt, “The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25, 1983, pp. 83-97.

J. B. Nies and C. E. Keiser, Historical, Religious and Eco­nomic Texts and Antiquities, Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of J. B. Nies 2, New Haven, Conn., 1932, no. 32.

A. L. Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts,” in J. B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton, 1969, pp. 315-16 (translation of the cylinder text).

Idem, “The Babylonian Evi­dence of Achaemenian Rule in Mesopotamia,” in Camb. Hist. Iran II, pp. 545-51.

H. C. Rawlinson, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia V. A Selection of Miscellaneous Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia, London, 1884; repr. London, 1909.

C. B. F. Walker, “A Recently Identified Fragment of the Cyrus Cylinder,” Iran 10, 1972, pp. 158-59.

F. H. Weissbach, Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden, Vorderasiatische Bibliothek 3, Leipzig, 1911; repr. Leipzig, 1968, pp. 2-8.

(Muhammad A. Dandamayev)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 10, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 521-522