Monday, December 10, 2012

LID: Cyrus The Great: The First #HumanRights Leader

human rights by Sean McEntee

December 10
International Human Rights

Today is a very important day for the entire world. International Human Rights Day. Webster's dictionary defines Human Rights as "rights (as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons." The idea of the sancity of human life is prevalent in many religions and has roots in ancient times. The oldest Charter of Human Rights dates to the 6th century. Known as the Cyrus Cylinder it was discovered in 1879 among the Babylon ruins of Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam in the foundations of the Esagila (the Marduk temple of Babylon). It is housed in the British Museum in London.  

Who Was Cyrus?
Cyrus the Great was born in 576BC in Anshan to Cambyses I and Mandane. Cambyses was King of Ashan during the early 6th century. Mandane was the daughter of the daughter of King Astyages, who was the last emperor of the Median dynastic empire (728-550BCE). 

According to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, King Astyages had a dream that his daughter, Mandane, would give birth to a son that would destroy his empire. In response, he gave Mandane to Cambyses. After Cyrus' birth, King Astyages once again had a dream foretelling the destruction of his empire at the hands of Mandane's son. He hired one of his followers, Harpagus, to kill the newborn. Harpagus couldn't do it. Instead he gave Cyrus to Mitridates, a shepard. Mitridates and his wife, Spako, had just lost their newborn. Mitridates took the newborn prince home. When Cyrus was ten years old, King Astyages learned of the Harpagus' deception and was so outraged that he has Harpagu's son killed then served as the main course in a feast. He ordered Cyrus to his courts. King Astyages had planned to kill Cyrus but at the advice of his Magi, who had interpreted the dreams before and told the king to eliminate the threat, he allowed Cyrus to return to his parents. Cyrus was educated as a prince. After Cambyses' death in 559 AD, Cyrus took his father's throne. In 553 AD, at the advice of an eager Harpagus, who wanted revenge for his son's horrible death, Cyrus rebelled against his grandfather. The battle between them took three years. In the third year of battle, King Astyages troops mutinied at the Battle of Pasargadae. Cyrus captured his grandfather, conquered his kingdom but never killed him. King Astyages lived in Cyrus' palace for the rest of his life. He was constantly harassed by Harpagus. 

By conquering his grandfather's empire, Cyrus united the Persian and the Medes under one rule. He began to build his own empire by appointing both Persian and Median officials, thus creating unity between the two groups. Cyrus' empire was called the Achaemenid Empire. We know it as the Persian Empire. After the then set his eyes upon expanding his own empire. Prior to his control Cyrus world looked like this:
Public Domain

By the end of his campaigns, Cyrus had transformed his empire and changed the map:

The Achaemenid Empire during the reign of Cyrus the Great (superimposed on modern borders). Created by User:SG, released as GFDL @

Cyrus created the largest empire the world has ever known. As Cyrus conquered the world he did not eliminate any culture or force his own beliefs upon them but accepted people for who they are. He only demanded on thing from them: To accept him as his emperor. In biblical history, after he conquered Babylon, Cyrus allowed the Jews that were living in exile to return to their homelands. In response, the Jews declared Cyrus an honorable and righteous king. 

Cyrus managed his vast empire by establishing four capitals. These being  Pasargadae, Babylon, Susa and Ekbatana. He allowed each of them to maintain their autonomy over their regions and had set them up as vassals. He maintained control over his vast empire by working with the capitals and not against them. He would adjust their borders periodically making certain to keep the peace between the four regions. 

Cyrus' had an everlasting effect on the human rights throughout the world.  In 2003, after being awarded the Noble Peace Prize Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, said this about Cyrus the Great, "I am an Iranian, a descendant of Cyrus the Great. This emperor proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2,500 years ago that he 'would not reign over the people if they did not wish it.' He promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus the Great should be studied in the history of human rights."

Cyrus' Private Life
Cyrus was deeply in love with his wife, Cassandane. Cassandane was the daughter of Pharnaspes. She bore Cyrus four children; Cambyses II, Bardiya (Smerdis), Atossa, and another daughter whose name is not attested in the ancient sources. A fifth child, a daughter named Artystone, may not be Cassandane's daughter. Artystone married Darius the Great and gave birth to Xerxes I.

 Cassandane was so in love with Cyrus that on her death bed she was bitter that would soon be departed from her husband. The Nabonidus Chronicle, an ancient Babylonian text, states after Cassandane passed the entire empire mourned publicly for six days from 21–26 March 538 BC. She was buried at Cyrus' capital of Pasargadae. After her death, Cyrus married once more to a noble Persian woman. 

London 016 Cyrus Cylinder British museum by David Holt

The Cyrus Cylinder
The Cyrus Cylinder is considered to be the first Charter of Human Rights and was translated in six languages by the United Nations in 1971.  The cylinder is made of baked clay in the shape of a barrel cylinder measuring 22.5 centimetres (8.9 in) by 10 centimetres (3.9 in) at its maximum diameter.

 The inscription is written in Akkadian cuneiform and is broken down into six parts. 

  • Lines 1–19: an introduction revealing Nabonidus and associating Cyrus with the god Marduk; it declares the crimes against the deposed Babylonian king, Nabonidus. It charges him with desecrating the temples and imposing force labor upon his subjects. As such the Babylonian god, Marduk, had searched for a new king. Marduk had chosen Cyrus the Great to rule over his people. 
  • Lines 20–22: details Cyrus's royal titles and genealogy, and his peaceful entry to Babylon; Cyrus' army had entered Babylon peacefully on October 12, 539 BC. Cyrus entered the city on October 29, 539.
  • Lines 22–34: a commendation of Cyrus's policy of restoring Babylon;
  • Lines 34–35: a prayer to Marduk on behalf of Cyrus and his son Cambyses;
The above part of the text are in third person. After line 35, the narrative changes to first person. Here Cyrus the Great address the reader as if he is personally speaking to them. It says:
  • Lines 36–37: a declaration that Cyrus has enabled the people to live in peace and has increased the offerings made to the gods;
Now that I put the crown of kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of (Ahura) Mazda, I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them until I am alive. From now on, till (Ahura) Mazda grants me the kingdom favor, I will impose my monarchy on no nation. Each is free to accept it , and if any one of them rejects it , I never resolve on war to reign. Until I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs , I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor. And until I am the monarch, I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. Until I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. To day, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other's rights. No one could be penalized for his or her relatives' faults. I prevent slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a traditions should be exterminated the world over. I implore to (Ahura) Mazda to make me succeed in fulfilling my obligations to the nations of Iran (Persia), Babylon, and the ones of the four directions.

  • Lines 38–45: details of the building activities ordered by Cyrus in Babylon

A Worldwide Declaration 
On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can read the entire declaration on their site at
In honor of this momentous event, people throughout the world celebrate International Human Rights Day. 

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