On loan from the British Museum, this will be its final stop in the U.S., so I am grateful for the opportunity. Discovered at Babylon in 1879 in the Esagila (the Marduk temple of Babylon), the Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous artifacts from the ancient world. It records the conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.E. by the Persian king, Cyrus the Great (ruled 559–530 B.C.E.) and is often described as "the first charter of human rights."
Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, the largest empire by geographical extent in ancient times. During his reign, he tried to uphold diverse traditions by encouraging freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire, restoring previously outlawed religious traditions, and allowing deported people to return to their homelands. He claims to have achieved his success through the help of Marduk, the god of Babylon.
For more information on the Cyrus Cylinder, check out this short presentation from art historian and Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor.