March 5, 2012, Washington, D.C. – In a riveting TED talk, the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, traces 2600 years of Middle Eastern history through one single object – The Cyrus Cylinder.
The Cyrus Cylinder is an ancient clay cylinder, now broken into several fragments, inscribed with a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of the Persian Achaemenid King, Cyrus the Great. It dates from the 6th century BC and is a powerful symbol of religious tolerance and multi-culturalism within the Persian Empire. The cylinder was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) in 1879 and is currently in the possession of the British Museum, which sponsored the expedition that discovered the cylinder.
In his speech, MacGregor explains how the Cyrus Cylinder is much more than just an artifact of history. “It was the first real press release by a victorious army,” MacGregor explained. Having conquered Babylon, Cyrus declared that he would free all the enslaved people and allow them to return home and worship their faith as they see fit. “This object is the evidence of the fact that the Jews after their exile in Babylon…were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. It is central document in Jewish history. “
MacGregor went on to explain how Cyrus the Great established the first ever multi-racial, multi-faith, and multi-cultural society to have ever existed and that his legacy of religious freedom and tolerance inspired future generation of world leaders, including the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. MacGregor speaks of the Cyrus Cylinder as one of the “great declarations of human aspiration” and that it will continue to inspire future generations and be used in the next narrative of Iran and the region.
TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and TEDTalks cover these topics as well as science, business, development and the arts.