British Museum to Lend Iran the Cyrus Cylinder for Four Months

Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder, an ancient Iranian artifact dated about 539-530 B.C. Source: British Museum via Bloomberg

The British Museum said it will lend Iran an ancient artifact known as the Cyrus Cylinder for a period of four months, allowing the treasure to be featured in an exhibition opening Sept. 12 at the National Museum of Iran.

“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object,” said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, in an e-mailed media release. “Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space, and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”

The Cylinder, a 539-530 B.C. artifact dating back to the reign of Cyrus the Great, is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform, and has been described as the world’s earliest charter of human rights. It has been at the core of a dispute with Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization, which cut ties with the museum in February for delaying the loan.

The British Museum originally promised to loan the Cylinder to Iran after its 2005-6 exhibition, “Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia.” In October 2009, following widespread protests in June 2009 against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the museum said that it was monitoring the Iranian political situation to make sure the loan was made in the best possible circumstances.

The loan was further delayed in January 2010 when the British Museum said it discovered, in its own collections, inscriptions similar to the Cylinder’s on two pieces of cuneiform tablets from Babylonia.

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