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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site

 

Cyrus Cylinder

28 November 2012:
The Cyrus Cylinder travels to the US

The British Museum today announces that one of its most iconic objects, the Cyrus Cylinder, will tour to five major museum venues in the United States in 2013. This will be the first time this object has been seen in the US and the tour is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation.

Read the full press release 


18 April 2011:
Cyrus Cylinder back on display in London

The Cyrus Cylinder has returned to the British Museum from a successful seven month loan to the National Museum of Iran. The Cylinder will go back on display in the The Rahim Irvani Gallery of Ancient Iran on Monday 18 April.

The loan was warmly received in Iran; we understand that over half a million Iranians visited the Museum to see the cylinder. The original loan period of three months was extended to allow the widest possible audience in Iran to view this important object.

At the closing ceremony for the loan on Saturday 16 April Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said ‘I am delighted that the British Museum has been able collaborate with the National Museum of Iran for this wonderful exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder in Tehran. The Cyrus Cylinder is a key document of the history of the world.... it is an extraordinary document of the enduring significance of tolerance and the need to respect different faiths and different peoples, which is as important now as ever. Despite political difficulties and conflicting national interests what museums, like the British Museum and the National Museum of Tehran, can show is that these objects are part of a shared inheritance which belongs to everyone. These cultural exchanges are especially important in the complex, often hostile, world we live in today’.

The British Museum hopes to continue the mutual loans programme with Iran and to continue to collaborate on training programmes and joint publication projects.


4 January 2011:
Extension of Cyrus Cylinder loan

Following a request from the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Organization (ICHHTO), the Trustees of the British Museum have agreed to extend the loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran until 15 April 2011.

This decision has been taken in recognition of the fact that the exhibition has proved to be very popular to date, and the extension will give an opportunity for people from the provinces including school groups to visit the exhibition during the Norouz (New Year) holidays around 20 March 2011.

The Trustees are delighted that the loan has been such a success and look forward to continuing the Museum’s collaboration with colleagues in Iran in the future.


30 November 2010:
Statement on the conservation of the Cyrus Cylinder

The exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder opened at the National Museum in Tehran on 12 September 2010. It has proved to be very popular, and 77,366 visitors saw the exhibition between 12 September and 22 October.

In view of the great success of the exhibition, it is very much to be regretted that reports have been circulating on the internet that it is a copy of the Cyrus Cylinder that has been sent to Tehran. The Trustees of the British Museum would like to deny this in the strongest possible terms. Before the exhibition opened, a panel of Iranian experts was invited to inspect the Cylinder and they confirmed its authenticity.

The misunderstanding has arisen because of recent conservation work on the cylinder, which has led to the ends of the cylinder looking different in various photographs. Conservation work on this and other pieces in the British Museum is an ongoing process, designed to make objects as stable as possible and render them fit for to travel.

The Cyrus Cylinder, on display at the National Museum of Iran, Tehran

The Cyrus Cylinder, on display at the National Museum of Iran, Tehran. © ISNA / Photo: Saman Aghvami


10 September 2010:
The British Museum lends the Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran

The British Museum is lending the Cyrus Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran for an exhibition that will open for four months in Tehran on 12 September. Together with two fragments of contemporary cuneiform tablets, it will be the centrepiece of an exhibition that celebrates a great moment in the history of the Middle East. The loan reciprocates the generous loans made by the National Museum of Iran to the Forgotten Empire and Shah Abbas exhibitions in 2005 and 2009 at the British Museum.

The Cylinder was found during a British Museum excavation at Babylon in Iraq in 1879, and has been in the British Museum since that time. It was originally inscribed and buried in the foundations of a wall after Cyrus the Great, the Persian Emperor, captured Babylon in 539 BC. The Cylinder is written in Babylonian cuneiform by a Babylonian scribe. It records that aided by the god Marduk Cyrus captured Babylon without a struggle, restored shrines dedicated to different gods, and repatriated deported peoples who had been brought to Babylon. It was this decree that allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild The Temple. Because of these enlightened acts, which were rare in antiquity, the Cylinder has acquired a special resonance, and is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths. These are the qualities for which Cyrus is revered in the Hebrew Bible. The two fragments of tablet were also found in nineteenth century British Museum excavations in or near Babylon. These fragments were identified by experts at the Museum earlier this year as being inscribed with parts of the same text as the Cylinder but do not belong to it. They show that the text of the Cylinder was probably a proclamation that was widely distributed across the Persian Empire.

As Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum has said: “You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is A History of the Middle East in one object and it is a link to a past which we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us.  Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”

In recognition of the fact that the Cyrus Cylinder is truly a part of the world’s cultural heritage, the Trustees of the British Museum are eager that as many people as possible should have an opportunity to see it, particularly in Iran where Cyrus the Great is held in special reverence.  Although political relations between Iran and the UK  are at the moment difficult,  the Trustees take the view that it is all the more  important to maintain the cultural links which have been so carefully built up over a period of years and which could in themselves lead to a better relationship based on dialogue, tolerance and understanding. Colleagues in Iran’s museums are part of a world-wide scholarly community in which the British Museum plays a
leading role.

Read full press release 


23 June 2010

A workshop jointly organised by the British Museum and the Iran Heritage Foundation is to be held at the British Museum on 23–24 June 2010 to discuss the significance of two newly identified fragments of cuneiform tablet in the context of the Cyrus Cylinder. Experts from around the world, including from Iran, have been invited to participate and there will be a public presentation of the findings at 18.00 on 24 June in the BP Lecture Theatre. Following the postponement of the proposed loan of the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran in January, discussions are now ongoing with the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization about lending the Cylinder for a special exhibition in the National Museum in Iran starting at the end of July.

The British Museum has a long standing policy of lending its unparalleled collection as widely as possible across the world to benefit the greatest number of world publics. This cultural exchange is a vital part of the Museum's commitment to being a Museum for the world. The Trustees reaffirmed their view that exchanges of this sort were an essential part of the Museum's international role, allowing valuable dialogues to develop independently of political considerations.


7 February 2010

At a special meeting on Tuesday 2 February 2010 the Trustees of the British Museum confirmed their intention to lend the Cyrus Cylinder plus recently-discovered associated fragments of clay tablet to the National Museum in Tehran in the second half of July 2010. This decision was conveyed in a telephone conversation to the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation on the same day, and was confirmed in a letter, sent by fax and email, to Mr Hamid Baghaei, the Vice President of Iran, on Friday 5 February 2010. The new announcement from Mr Baghaei therefore comes as a great surprise. The British Museum has acted throughout in good faith, and values highly its hitherto good relations with Iran. It is to be hoped that this matter can be resolved as soon as possible.

The British Museum has a long standing policy of lending its unparalleled collection as widely as possible across the world to benefit the greatest number of world publics. This cultural exchange is a vital part of the Museum's commitment to being a Museum for the world. The Trustees reaffirmed their view that exchanges of this sort were an essential part of the Museum's international role, allowing valuable dialogues to develop independently of political considerations.


20 January 2010

An important discovery has very recently been made at the British Museum in the form of two pieces of cuneiform tablet that cast light on the famous Cyrus Cylinder that is sometimes described as the first Declaration of Human Rights.

The Cylinder was discovered in an 1879 excavation at Babylon (now in Iraq, then in the Ottoman Empire), directed by Hormuzd Rassam on behalf of the British Museum. It was written in Babylonian cuneiform on the orders of the Persian king Cyrus the Great after his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. It has acquired iconic status because it authorises the return of deported peoples to their homelands and implies that there will be freedom of religious expression throughout the Persian Empire. This is consistent with the Biblical tradition which portrays Cyrus as a tolerant and enlightened ruler.

The two new pieces of cuneiform tablet come from the small site of Dailem near Babylon and also in Iraq. They have been in the British Museum since 1881, but their significance has not previously been recognized. It has now been discovered, by Professor Wilfred Lambert formerly of the University of Birmingham and by Dr Irving Finkel of the Department of Middle East in the British Museum, that the pieces come from a cuneiform tablet that was inscribed with the same text as the Cyrus Cylinder.

The British Museum has a vast collection of 130,000 cuneiform tablets and fragments from Mesopotamia that were acquired in the 19th century. This collection is an incomparable resource for researchers from around the world, and the ongoing process of scholarship and study results in a steady stream of new and important discoveries. Recent finds have included a tablet giving new information about Nebuchadnezzar’s sack of Jerusalem and an addition to the Babylonian Map of the World. Many of the pieces are small, barely more than an inch across as in the present case, and it is an extraordinary achievement to recognise that these small pieces belong to the same text as on the Cyrus Cylinder. Remarkably, the new pieces assist with the reading of passages in the Cylinder that are either missing or are obscure, and therefore help to improve our understanding of this iconic document. In addition, they show that the ‘declaration’ on the Cylinder is much more than a standard Babylonian building inscription. It was probably an imperial decree that was distributed around the Persian Empire, and it may have been pronouncements of this sort that the author of the Biblical book of Ezra was able to draw upon when writing about Cyrus.

The proposed exhibition of the Cyrus Cylinder in the National Museum in Tehran seems the ideal place to present the new fragments with the Cylinder itself. Although written in Babylonian and made in Iraq, the Cylinder has great significance for modern Iranians, as a document of Iran’s long history. First, though, the new texts must be properly studied, and it is proposed that there should be an international workshop at the British Museum in June, to study and assess the new pieces. Scholars from Iran will also be involved in the study and evaluation of the new pieces. In the meantime, there will be an exhaustive search in the British Museum collection for more pieces of this new tablet.

For further information contact Olivia Rickman, Press and PR Manager:
Email: orickman@britishmuseum.org
Telephone: +44 (0)207 323 8583