Biblical Archaeology

Cyrus Cylinder BM 90920

  This clay cylinder in cuneiform writing was found by the British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in March 1879 and is preserved in the British Museum in London.

  It records some facts of the Persian King Cyrus (559-530 BC), and relates the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC and the capture of Nabonidus, its last king, who tainted the worship of the gods and imposed forced labor on the population, which complained to their deities. It says that the gods of Babylon had left them, but the guardian deity of the city sought who could restore the old order and elected Cyrus, king of Anshan (Persia), declaring him sovereign of the world.

  Interestingly, some 200 years before this happened, the prophet Isaiah wrote under inspiration: Yahuh, the maker of all, he who stretched out the heavens and shaped the earth Says about Cyrus: He is my shepherd and shall perform all I want and says of Jerusalem: It will be rebuilt and the temple will be established.

  This is what Yahuh says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he will take by his right hand to subdue before him the nations and the strength of the kings: I will loosen the doors to be open, and no access will be closed (Isaiah 44:24, 28 and 45:1)


  The register goes on informing that Cyrus expanded his power over the tribes of Persia (Guti and Ummanmanda), and reigned over them with justice and moderation. God had ordered him to march against Babylon, and he entered the land without meeting any resistance. From here, the document is written as by Cyrus himself, it says: I, Cyrus, king of the world ... and presents himself as the peacemaker of Babylon and the deliverer of its population, reporting that the inhabitants of the neighboring countries brought him tribute and gifts. Cyrus declares that he has restored the temples and the religious cults, allowing the return of images to their place of origin and the formerly deported peoples to their own lands.


  This document that has been regarded as the first human rights treaty (see image below), became known because of its relationship with the biblical account about the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.


  The Bible account says:


  At that time, King Darius gave the command to search the house of the scrolls, in which the treasures of Babylon were kept, and on the fortress of Ecbatana in the province of Media, was found a roll thus written: In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued this decree concerning the house of God in Jerusalem: Let the house be rebuilt as a place to offer sacrifices. The foundations to be placed must be solid, of sixty cubits height by sixty cubits width; three rows of large stone blocks and one made of new wood. The real treasure will pay the expenses.

  As to the gold and silver utensils of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, must be returned and taken to the temple in Jerusalem where they were before, to be relocated inside the house of God. (Ezra 6: 2..5)


  In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of Yahuh through Jeremiah, Yahuh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, who made to proclaim throughout the kingdom by voice and writing: Cyrus king of Persia says: Yahuh, the God of the heavens, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He commanded me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who belong to his people, let his God be with him and depart! (2Chronicles 36:22..23)


  The text of the cylinder ends with a reference to the banquet offered in the temples of Babylon and the discovery of the inscription of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria (668-627 BC), during the reconstruction of the wall.


Description and content


  The fragment A (BM 90920) is about 23 x 8 cm. And comprises 35 lines, while the fragment B is about 8.6 x 5.6 cm. and comprises 9 lines.


Its contents can be summarized as follows:


1      Lines 1-19:

  A description of the guilty actions of Nabonidus, last king of Babylon, and indirectly, a reference to his son Belshazzar; and a relation of the search conducted by the main god of Babylon in order to find a new king, and the subsequent election of Cyrus.

2      Lines 20-22:

  Titles and Genealogy of Cyrus until his great grandfather Teispes.

3      Lines 22-34:

  Cyrus himself tells how he established peace, restored the worship and allowed to the people exiled in Babylon, the return to their own lands.

4      Lines 34-35:

  Prayer of Cyrus to the god of Babylon, asking his favor for himself and for his son Cambyses.

5      Lines 36-45:

  Cyrus describes the rebuilding of the walls of Babylon and the discovery of the inscription of Assurbanipal.


At the bottom of the page we have the cuneiform transliteration in Latin characters and their translation into English.


Cuneiform text of Cyrus Cylinder: Transliteration



Text of Fragment A


1 [-nu x x x] /x\-ni-u

2 [x x x ki-i]b-ra-a-t

3 [x x x] /x x\ GAL ma-tu- i-ak-na a-na e-nu-tu ma-ti-

4 /?\ [x x x]-i-li -a--ki-na se-ru-u-un

5 ta-am-i-li -SAG-L i-te-[pu-u-ma x x x t]? a-na RIki si-it-ta-a-t ma-ha-za

6 pa-ra-as la si-ma-a-ti-u-nu ta-[ak-li-im la-me-si x x x la] pa-lih u4-mi--am-ma id-de-n-eb-bu-ub /ana ma-ag\-ri-t

7 sat-tuk-ku -ab-ti-li -l[a-ap-pi-it pl-lu-de-e x x x i]-tak-ka-an q-reb ma-ha-zi pa-la-ha dAMAR.UTU LUGAL DINGIRme i[g-m]ur kar-u-u-u

8 le-mu-ut-ti URU-u [i-t]e-n-ep-pu-/u\ u4-mi-a-am-/ma x x\ [x x x G]me- i-na ab-a-a-ni la ta-ap-u-h-t -hal-li-iq kul-lat-si-in

9 a-na ta-zi-im-ti-i-na dEN.LL DINGIRme ez-zi-i i-gu-ug-m[a x x x] ki-su-r-u-un DINGIRme a-i-ib -bi-u-nu i-zi-bu at-/ma\-an-u-un

10 i-na ug-ga-ti-a -e-ri-bi a-na q-reb U.AN.NAki dAMAR.UTU t[i-iz-qa-rudEN.LL DINGIRm]e us-sa-ah-ra a-na nap-har da-d-mi in-na-du- u-bat-su-un

11 Gme KUR u-me-ri URIki a i-mu- a-lam-ta- -sa-/ah\-hi-ir ka-/bat\-[ta-] ir-ta-i ta-a-a-ra kul-lat ma-ta-a-ta ka-li-i-na i-hi-it ib-re-e-ma

12 i-te-'e-e-ma ma-al-ki i--ru bi-bil -bi-a it-ta-ma-ah qa-tu-u-u mKu-ra- LUGAL URU an-a-an it-ta-bi ni-bi-it-su a-na ma-li-ku-t kul-la-ta nap-har iz-zak-ra u-/um-\

13 kurqu-ti-i gi-mir um-man-man-da -ka-an-ni-a a-na e-pi-u Gme sal-mat SAG.DU a -a-ak-i-du qa-ta-a-

14 i-na ki-it-t mi--ru i-te-n-'e-e-i-na-a-t dAMAR.UTU EN GAL ta-ru- Gme- ep-e-e-ti-a dam-qa-a-ta -ba-u i-a-ra ha-di-i ip-pa-li-i[s]

15 a-na URU-u K.DINGIRme ki a-la-ak-u iq-bi -a-as-bi-it-su-ma har-ra-nu TIN.TIRki ki-ma ib-ri tap-pe-e it-tal-la-ka i-da-a-u

16 um-ma-ni-u rap-a-a-t a ki-ma me-e D la -ta-ad-du- ni-ba-u-un giTUKULme-u-nu sa-an-du-ma i-a-ad-di-ha i-da-a-u

17 ba-lu qab-li ta-ha-zi -e-ri-ba- q-reb U.AN.NAki URU-u K.DINGIRme ki i-ti-ir i-na ap-a-q, mdN.N.TUKU LUGAL la pa-li-hi-u -ma-al-la-a qa-tu-u-

18 Gme TIN.TIRkika-li-u-nu nap-har KUR u-me-ri u URIki ru-b-e ak-ka-nak-ka a-pal-u ik-mi-sa -na--i-qu e-pu-u-u ih-du- a-na LUGAL--ti- im-mi-ru pa-nu-u--un

19 be-lu a i-na tu-kul-ti-a -bal-li-tu mi-tu-ta-an i-na pu-u-qu -de-e ig-mi-lu kul-la-ta-an ta-bi-i ik-ta-ar-ra-bu-u i-tam-ma-ru zi-ki-ir-u

20 a-na-ku mKu-ra- LUGAL ki-at LUGAL GAL LUGAL dan-nu LUGAL TIN.TIRki LUGAL KUR u-me-ri ak-ka-di-i LUGAL kib-ra-a-ti er-b-et-t

21 DUMU mKa-am-bu-zi-ia LUGAL GAL LUGAL URU an-a-an DUMU DUMU mKu-ra- LUGAL GAL LUGA[L U]RU an-a-an .BAL.BAL mi-i-pi-i LUGAL GAL LUGAL URU an--an

22 NUMUN da-ru- a LUGAL--tu a dEN u dN ir-a-mu pa-la-a-u a-na tu-ub -bi--nu ih-i-ha L[UGA]L-ut-su e-nu-ma a-n[a q]-reb TIN.TIRkie-ru-bu sa-li-mi-i

23 i-na ul-si ri-a-a-t i-na .GAL ma-al-ki ar-ma-a u-bat be-lu-tdAMAR.UTU EN GAL -bi ri-it-pa-u a ra-/im\ TIN.TIRki i-m[a]/a-ti\ /i-ku?-na\-an-ni-ma u4-mi-am a-e-'a-a pa-la-/ah\-

24 um-ma-ni-ia rap-a-t i-na q-reb TIN.TIRki i-a-ad-di-ha -ul-ma-ni nap-har KU[R u-me-ri] /\ URIki mu-gal-[l]i-t ul -ar-i

25 /URUki\ K.DINGIR.RAki kul-lat ma-ha-zi-u i-na a-li-im-t -te-'e-e DUMUme TIN.TIR[ki x x x ]a ki-ma la -[bi DING]IR-ma ab--a-ni la si-ma-ti--nu u-ziz-/zu!\

26 an-hu-ut-su-un -pa--i-ha -a-ap-ti-ir sa-ar-ma-u-nu a-na ep-e-e-ti-[ia dam-qa-a-ti] dAMAR.UTU EN GA[L]- ih-de-e-ma

27 a-na ia-a-ti mKu-ra- LUGAL pa-li-ih-u mKa-am-bu-zi-ia DUMU si-it -bi-[ia a-n]a nap-h[ar] um-ma-ni-ia

28 da-am-q- ik-ru-ub-ma i-na -lim-t ma-har-a ta-bi-i ni-it-t[a-al-la-ak i-na q-bi-ti-] sir-ti nap-har LUGAL a-i-ib BRAme

29 a ka-li-i kib-ra-a-ta i-tu tam-t e-li-t a-di tam-t ap-li-t a-i-ib n[a-gi-i n-su-t] LUGALme KUR a-mur-ri-i a-i-ib ku-ta-ri ka-li--un

30 bi-lat-su-nu ka-bi-it-t -bi-lu-nim-ma q-er-ba U.AN.NAki -na--i-qu e-pu--a i-tu [U.AN.NAk]i a-di URU a-urki Mي-ERENki

31 a-k-dki KUR -nu-nak URU za-am-ba-an URU me-tr-nu BD.DINGIRki a-di pa-at kurqu-ti-i ma-ha-z[a e-be]r-ti dIDIGNA a i-tu pa!-na-ma na-du- u-bat-su-un

32 DINGIRme a-i-ib -bi--nu a-na -ri-u-nu -tir-ma -ar-ma-a u-bat da-r-a-ta kul-lat Gme--nu -pa-ah-hi-ra-am-ma -te-er da-d-mi--un

33 DINGIRme KUR u-me-ri URIki a mdN.N.TUKU a-na ug-ga-t EN DINGIRme -e-ri-bi a-na q-reb U.AN.NAki i-na q-bi-ti dAMAR.UTU EN GAL i-na a-li-im-t

34 i-na ma-ta-ki-u-nu -e-i-ib -ba-at tu-ub -bi {ut} kul-la-ta DINGIRme a -e-ri-bi a-na q-er-bi ma-ha-zi-u-un

35 u4-mi-a-am ma-har dEN dN a a-ra-ku U4me-ia li-ta-mu- lit-taz-ka-ru a-ma-a-ta du-un-q-ia a-na dAMAR.UTU EN-ia li-iq-bu- a mKu-ra- {-} LUGAL pa-li-hi-ka u mKa-am-bu-zi-ia DUMU-


Text of Fragment B


36 /x\ [x x x- i]b u-nu lu- /x x x x x x x x\ Gme TIN.TIRki /ik-tar-ra-bu\ LUGAL--tu KUR.KUR ka-li-i-na u-ub-ti n-eh-t -e-i-ib

37 [x x x KUR.]GImuen 2 UZ.TURmuen 10 e-li KUR.GImuen

38 [x x x u4-m]i-am -ta-ah-hi-id BD im-gur-dEN.LL BD GAL-a a TIN.TIRk[i ma-as-s]ar-/ta\- du-un-nu-n -te-'e-e-ma

39 [x x x] ka-a-ri a-gur-ru G ha-ri-si a LUGAL mah-ri i-p[u-u-ma la -a]k-/li-lu\ i-pi-ir-u

40 [x x x la -a-as-hi-ru URU] /a\-na ki-da-a-ni a LUGAL ma-ah-ra la i-pu-u um-man-ni-u di-ku-u[t ma-ti-u i-na (or: a-na) q]-/reb\ U.AN.NAki

41 [x x x i-na ESIR.HD.R]/A\ SIG4.AL.R.RA e-i-i e-pu-u-ma [-ak-lil i-pir-i]-in

42 [x x x giIGme giEREN MAH]me ta-ah-lu-up-t ZABAR as-ku-up-pu nu-ku-[e-e pi-ti-iq e-ri-i e-ma Kme-]i-na

43 [-ra-at-ti x x x ]i-ti-ir u-mu mAN.R-D-IBILA LUGAL a-lik mah-ri-[ia qer-ba-u ap-pa-a]l-sa!

44 [x x x]/x x x\[x x x]-x-t

45 [x x x]/x x x\[x x a-na d]a-r-a-t



British Museum

Translation by Irving Finkel Assistant Keeper

Department of the Middle East



Text of Fragment A


1 [When ... Mar]duk, king of the whole of heaven and earth, the ....... who, in his ..., lays waste his .......

2 [............]broad ? in intelligence, ...... who inspects} (?) the wor]ld quarters (regions)

3 [...........]his [first]born (=Belshazzar), a low person was put in charge of his country,

4 but [...........] he set [a () counter]feit over them.

5 He ma[de] a counterfeit of Esagil, [and .....]... for Ur and the rest of the cult-cities.

6 Rites inappropriate to them, [impure] fo[od- offerings.......]disrespectful [] were daily gabbled, and, as an insult,

7 he brought the daily offerings to a halt; he inter[fered with the rites and] instituted [....] within the sanctuaries. In his mind, reverential fear of Marduk, king of the gods, came to an end.

8 He did yet more evil to his city every day; his [people ..........], he brought ruin on them all by a yoke without relief.

9 Enlil-of-the-gods became extremely angry at their complaints, and [] their territory. The gods who lived within them left their shrines,

10 angry that he had made (them) enter into Shuanna (Babylon). Ex[alted Marduk, Enlil-of-the-Go]ds, relented. He changed his mind about all the settlements whose sanctuaries were in ruins,

11 and the population of the land of Sumer and Akkad who had become like corpses, and took pity on them. He inspected and checked all the countries,

12 seeking for the upright king of his choice. He took the hand of Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan, and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.

13 He made the land of Guti and all the Median troops prostrate themselves at his feet, while he shepherded in justice and righteousness the black-headed people

14 whom he had put under his care. Marduk, the great lord, who nurtures his people, saw with pleasure his fine deeds and true heart,

15 and ordered that he should go to Babylon He had him take the road to Tintir (Babylon), and, like a friend and companion, he walked at his side.

16 His vast troops whose number, like the water in a river, could not be counted, were marching fully-armed at his side.

17 He had him enter without fighting or battle right into Shuanna; he saved his city Babylon from hardship. He handed over to him Nabonidus, the king who did not fear him.

18 All the people of Tintir, of all Sumer and Akkad, nobles and governors, bowed down before him and kissed his feet, rejoicing over his kingship and their faces shone.

19 The lord through whose help all were rescued from death and who saved them all from distress and hardship, they blessed him sweetly and praised his name

20 I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world,

21 son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, ki[ng of the ci]ty of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, the great king, king of the city of Anshan,

22 the perpetual seed of kingship, whose reign Bel (Marduk)and Nabu love, and with whose kingship, to their joy, they concern themselves. When I went as harbinger of peace i[nt]o Babylon

23 I founded my sovereign residence within the palace amid celebration and rejoicing. Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe.

24 My vast troops were marching peaceably in Babylon, and the whole of [Sumer] and Akkad had nothing to fear.

25 I sought the safety of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon [., w]ho as if without div[ine intention] had endured a yoke not decreed for them,

26 I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds(?). Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at [my good] deeds,

27 and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops,

28 that we might live happily in his presence, in well-being. At his exalted command, all kings who sit on thrones,

29 from every quarter, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, those who inhabit [remote distric]ts (and) the kings of the land of Amurru who live in tents, all of them,

30 brought their weighty tribute into Shuanna, and kissed my feet. From [Shuanna] I sent back to their places to the city of Ashur and Susa,

31 Akkad, the land of Eshnunna, the city of Zamban, the city of Meturnu, Der, as far as the border of the land of Guti - the sanctuaries across the river Tigris - whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated,

32 the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements,

33 and the gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad which Nabonidus to the fury of the lord of the gods had brought into Shuanna, at the command of Marduk, the great lord,

34 I returned them unharmed to their cells, in the sanctuaries that make them happy. May all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries,

35 every day before Bel and Nabu, ask for a long life for me, and mention my good deeds, and say to Marduk, my lord, this: Cyrus, the king who fears you, and Cambyses his son,


Text of Fragment B


36 may they be the provisioners of our shrines until distant (?) days, and the population of Babylon call blessings on my kingship. I have enabled all the lands to live in peace.

37 Every day I increased by [ ge]ese, two ducks and ten pigeons the [former offerings] of geese, ducks and pigeons.

38 I strove to strengthen the defences of the wall Imgur-Enlil, the great wall of Babylon,

39 and [I completed] the quay of baked brick on the bank of the moat which an earlier king had bu[ilt but not com]pleted its work.

40 [I which did not surround the city] outside, which no earlier king had built, his workforce, the levee [from his land, in/int]o Shuanna.

41 [..........with bitum]en and baked brick I built anew, and [completed] its [work].

42 [.........]great [doors of cedarwood] with bronze cladding,

43 [and I installed] all their doors, threshold slabs and door fittings with copper parts. [..............]I saw within it an inscription of Ashurbanipal, a king who preceded me;

44 [...........]his Marduk, the great lord, creator (?) of [ ... ]

45 [..............] my [ I presented] as a gift.....................] your pleasure forever.