Cyrus The Great – Part-II
– A Champion of Human Rights –
First Bill of Human Rights
The Charter of Cyrus the Great, a baked-clay Aryan language (Old Persian) cuneiform cylinder, was discovered in 1878 in excavation of the site of Babylon. In it, Cyrus the Great described his human treatment of the inhabitants of Babylon after its conquest by the Iranians. The original cylinder is housed at the Museum in London (though often carried around the world, including once to India a few years ago), while a replica is housed at the Headquarters of the United Nations building in New York City.
The document has been hailed as the first charter of human rights, and in 1971 the United Nations published translations of this charter in all the official UN languages. It reads, “…May Ahura Mazda protect this land, this nation, from rancor, from foes, from falsehood, and from drought…”. In his Charter, Cyrus also declares: “…………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. ….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 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, Babylon, and the ones of the four directions.”
The Astodan of Cyrus the Great
The term astodan means ‘place for keeping bones’. In other words, the bones or mortal remains of the Great King were laid to rest here. The beauty of the astodan at Pasargade lies in its simplicity. It is constructed of huge blocks of white limestone, fastened together by metal clamps. It is amazing how, after more than 2,500 years, and with no use of cement (just metal clamps), the structure has remained more or less intact.
The sepulcher is surrounded by seven graded courses which form wide steps on all four sides leading to the mortuary chamber, covered over by a pediment roof and reached by a very low door. The whole structure which has a pyramidal shape, measures about 35 ft. in height from the ground to the top of the roof and about 50 ft. x 40 ft. at the base.
In his day, Cyrus had founded an empire of unprecedented size and power. Because Alexander hoped to surpass the Persian monarch’s achievements, he felt compelled to pause here and pay homage to his acclaimed predecessor.
One of Alexander’s comrades in arms, Aristobulus, gave an account of their visit to the tomb, which later found its way into the writings of the Greek geographer Strabo. It was “a tower of no great size,” Aristobulus reported, “concealed beneath the thicket of trees, in its lower parts massive, but its upper parts having a roof and shrine with a very narrow entrance.” The Macedonians cautiously entered the building, all of 200 years old at the building. They found themselves in the royal burial chamber where, according to Aristobulus, they beheld “a golden couch and table with drinking cups, and a golden coffin.”
The Famous Inscription
There was also an inscription, cited “from memory,” by Aristobulus: “Oh man, I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians and was king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument.”
The Greek historian Plutarch, writing Alexander’s biography in the late first centuruy AD, reported that, as a mark of respect, Alexander had ordered a Greek translation of the Persian text to be carved alongside it. Plutarch also offered a somewhat more melodramatic version of Cyrus’ original text, which may have been taken from a source other than Aristobulus or embellished in its passage through the intervening centuries: “Oh man, whosoever thou art and from whencesoever thou comest, for that thou wilt come I know, I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians. Grudge me not, therefore, this little earth that covers my body.”