The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning

Event  |  Reviews  |  Comments
Achaemenid, The Cyrus Cylinder, 539–538 BC Clay © Courtesy of the British Museum
The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning

1001 Bissonnet Street
Houston, Texas 77005
May 3rd, 2013 - June 14th, 2013
Opening: May 3rd, 2013 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM

United States
Tuesday, Wednesday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Thursday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday 10:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m. Sunday 12:15 p.m.–7:00 p.m.


The Cyrus Cylinder—one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world—comes to the MFAH on a limited U.S. tour. A touchstone of civilization, the Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king and seen and studied for more than 130 years in the British Museum.

Valued throughout the world, the Cyrus Cylinder is such a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths that a copy is on display at the United Nations in New York. The Cyrus Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform—the earliest form of writing—on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights because it appears to encourage freedom of worship and to allow deported people to return to their homelands. It was first found in Babylon (now Iraq) in 1879 during a British Museum excavation, and it has been on display at the British Museum ever since.

The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning also features 16 works of art that are testimony to the innovations initiated by Persian rule in the Ancient Near East. A gold plaque from the Oxus Treasure with the representation of a priest shows the spread of the Zoroastrian religion at that time. Persian kings introduced a new writing system, Old Persian cuneiform, as seen on part of a column base from Hamadan and on the renowned seal of Darius. The kings also developed new forms of luxury goods, including beautifully decorated gold and silver bowls and sumptuous gold bracelets featuring fantastic animal shapes, some from the Oxus Treasure.

The Cyropaedia
Written in the early 4th century BC by Xenophon, a student of Socrates, the Cyropaedia describes the life of Cyrus and his development into one of the greatest rulers the world has ever known. Many of the U.S. founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, were inspired by this classic work. Click here to view the Cyropaedia online.

U.S. Exhibition Tour
The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia comes to Houston following the premiere at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC. Next, the exhibition travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.