THE CYLINDER OF CYRUS - the first Human Rights Convention

This clay cylinder with cuneiform writing, was found by a british archaeologist, Hormuzd Rassam, in 1879. It is nowadays kept in the British Museum of London. The text illustrates the enterprises of Cyrus king of Anshan (Persia from 559 to 530 b.C.) and the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC.

It explains how Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, was captured, as he spoiled the gods cult and increased the forced labour to which he had subjected the population. Is said that the complains or the slaves were so loud that they reached the gods; the gods abandoned Babylon, but the protector god of the city sought someone who could restore the old order, he chose Cyrus and declared him the king of the world.

The same prophet Isaiah wrote of him in the Bible about 200 years before:

28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd 

   and will accomplish all that I please; 

he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” 

   and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, 
   to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of 
to subdue nations before him 
   and to strip kings of their armor, 
to open doors before him 
   so that gates will not be shut. (Isaiah 44:28-45:1)

In one of the passages of the cylinder there is the famous Declaration of Cyrus that allowed this document to be considered the first Convention of Human Rights; an extract reads as follows:

1. I declare that I will respect the tradition, customs, and religion of the nations of my empire and never let any of the governors to look down or insult the inhabitants of my nations.

2. I hereby abolish slavery; my governors are ordered to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their ruling domains. Such a tradition should be exterminated the world over.

3. If anyone oppresses others, should it happen, I will take his/her right back and penalize the oppressors.

4. Today I declare Freedom of Religion. All are free to choose any religion, live in all regions and take up any job provided that they never violate other’s rights.