Persia’s Cyrus Cylinder inspires Americans

The Cyrus Cylinder, the ancient clay artifact excavated from Babylon in the 19th century, is revered as the world’s first declaration of human rights. Now it’s also the inspiration for a new artwork in the heart of Los Angeles, the Freedom Sculpture.

The Farhang Foundation, a Los Angeles nonprofit that promotes Iranian art and culture, commissioned artist Cecil Balmond to create the glittering, silver-and-gold replica of the cylinder named for the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great.

The city dedicated the $2.2-million sculpture with fireworks and festivities last July 4 — America’s Independence Day. Farhad Mohit, the foundation’s vice chairman, voiced the hope that the Freedom Sculpture will be for Los Angeles what the Statue of Liberty is for New York.

The clay cylinder, excavated in 1879, bears an inscription celebrating Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. It reads in part:

My vast troops marched peaceably in Babylon. … I sought the welfare of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon, who as if without divine intention had endured a yoke not decreed for them, I soothed their weariness, I freed them from their bonds.

Cyrus freed the Jews from Babylon, united the ancient people of Medea and the Persians, founded the Achaemenid Dynasty and ruled a vast empire, from the Indus River to the Mediterranean. Today he’s regarded as a pioneer in human rights for respecting all religions and condemning forced labor.

Cylindrical artifact on display (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)
The original Cyrus Cylinder at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. (© Vahid Salemi/AP Images)

At the dedication of the Freedom Sculpture in a Santa Monica Boulevard plaza, speakers made special note of Cyrus the Great’s influence on American political history. Thomas Jefferson kept two copies of the Cyropaedia, the classical biography of Cyrus the Great, in his library, and notes in the margins indicate he studied the Persian ruler’s example while drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Iranian Americans celebrate Cyrus the Great Day each October on the date of the conquest of Babylon, and his name lives on in other ways. Cyrus is the 427th most popular name in the United States for baby boys, according to government records.