Dr Chris Farrell on ‘Human Rights in Antiquity: the Cyrus Cylinder and Invented Traditions’


5:30 pm - 6:30 pm


A113, Samuel Alexander Building
University of Manchester, Manchester, M13 9PL

Event Type

Dr Chris Farrell of the University of Durham will be speaking to the Branch, giving a talk entitled ‘Human Rights in Antiquity: the Cyrus Cylinder and Invented Traditions’.

Dr Farrell has kindly provided the following abstract:

Before Xerxes and Darius there was Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The story of Cyrus as we know it today reflects the conflation of several distinct traditions. The ancient Greeks and Romans admired Cyrus as an ideal ruler; the Jews regarded Cyrus as a liberator in the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament, and in the 20th century Cyrus came to symbolise the growth of Iranian nationalism and the widespread acceptance of human rights. Today Cyrus is best known thanks to the Cyrus Cylinder, which is prominently displayed in London at the British Museum and in copies across the globe. This paper assesses the evidence underpinning claims that our modern conception of human rights and religious toleration originated with Cyrus and the written record preserved on the Cyrus Cylinder. It examines the origins of this invented tradition in 19th century scholarship and the impact that these academic ideas came to have through 20th century political rhetoric and the celebration of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

There will be refreshments served after the talk and dinner afterwards for those who would like to come along.

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