Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning

Strangely enough, the Cyrus Cylinder never caught my attention, in spite of my repeated visits to the British Museum. It probably was one clay tablet among so many thousands, and even had I been aware of its existence, it is always hard to find that one item among so many in a large museum as this one.

But as the Cyrus Cylinder is being put in the floodlights, I realize what I have missed. Cyrus the Great was raw-model for Alexander the Great and that should be reason enough for me to dig in deeper. Although I was aware of Cyrusgreat heart and his desire to set all conquered peoples free, allowing them to return to their homes and homelands, it did not occur to me that this had been written down on a special cuneiform tablet, in this case in the shape of a cylinder. In today’s context of warring Middle-East and discontent youth worldwide, Cyrusmessage of peace, tolerance and multiculturalism sounds extremely modern. No wonder that the Cyrus Cylinder has been called the first bill of human rights!

This remarkable object is now travelling to several museums in the U.S., together with a number of artifacts adding to a better comprehension of the religions, the cultural and linguistic traditions of the empire founded by Cyrus, that of the Achaemenids (539-331 BC). Their rule ended with the arrival of Alexander the Great and his victory at the famous Battle of Gaugamela.

This travelling exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning has been organized by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and the Arthur M. Sacker Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, where it makes its first appearance. From May 3 through June 14, 2013, the collection will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, followed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY from June 20 till August 4, 2013; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA, from August 9 till September 22, 2013; and the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa in Malibu/Los Angeles, CA from October 2 till December 2, 2013.

This precious cylinder was buried as a foundation object to be tied with Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and is written in Babylonian cuneiform. It claims his victory over the last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, adding that his newly conquered peoples will enjoy religious freedom. Most of the non-Babylonians had been moved from their home countries by force during Assyrians conquests, which included the destruction of Jerusalem. Cyrus now allows the Jews to recover their statues and gods that had been confiscated and taken out of their own temples; they also were allowed to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild their temple. That gesture earned him the title “shepherd of God” and “Lord Anointed” (Messiah) in the Book of Isaiah. Although Cyrus’ ideology was known for centuries, it was only after the discovery of this cylinder in 1879 that his religious tolerance was proven. But even before this, generations of philosophers, kings and statesmen found their inspiration in his words, from ancient Greece to the Renaissance, to the Founding Fathers. It is not surprising that a copy of this cylinder is being kept at the United Nations Headquarters. The text shows a very modern way of ruling, uniting people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. Thomas Jefferson had declared that the book Cyropaedia written by the Greek Xenophon (431-355 BC) should be mandatory reading for every statesman.

No wonder that Cyrus the Great served as an example to Alexander the Great, being very well aware of Xenophon’soeuvre as he must have read most if not all his books. Had Alexander lived long enough to consolidate his huge empire, we would have seen how he implemented the ideas of the Great King of Persia.

Today’s Iranians are proud to be descendants of Cyrus since he was the first Persian King who decided to break the tradition and allowed deported peoples to return to their homes. I find it hard to place this very concept in our modern world, either in the Middle-East or in Europe for that matter. This cylinder may incite us to deep reflection, I hope.

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