King cyrus' cylinder
Yvonne: Hello, I'm Yvonne Archer, this is 6 Minute English and thanks to Alice for joining me today.
Alice: Hi Yvonne.
Yvonne: Hello Alice. Now recently, an artefact — a very old piece of art — which many historians regard as the world's first ever human rights charter was on loan for a while from the British Museum to the National Iranian Museum in Tehran.
Alice: Very interesting.
Yvonne: It is, and it's small, it’s made of clay and is a cylindrical shape. And the Cyrus Cylinder, as it's often called, is two and a half thousand years old!
Alice: That’s very old. Is it still in perfect shape?
Yvonne: I think it is, yes. But before we find out more, you'd better answer today's question, Alice.
Alice: OK — I’m ready and waiting.
Yvonne: Very good. Which country does the British Museum's oldest artefact come from?
b) Iraq or
Alice: I’ve got no idea — so I’m going to guess …Tanzania.
Yvonne: OK. And I’ll tell you whether you’re right or wrong later on in today’s “6 Minute English”. King Cyrus of Persia, now Iran, ordered the cylinder to be inscribed way back in 539 BC. Alice, can you explain how an inscription is different from writing for us, please?
Alice: Sure. When we write, it's usually on the surface of something with ink — or with graphite if we’re using a pencil. But King Cyrus's words were 'inscribed', so they were engraved — or carved — into the surface of the cylinder. And we can actually feel the writing with our fingers if we touch the inscription, not just look at it.
Yvonne: And here's BBC Front Row presenter, John Wilson, to tell us what is inscribed on the Cyrus Cylinder:
Insert 1: John Wilson, BBC Front Row
This object records how he liberated the city of Babylon from tyranny, how he freed and repatriated enslaved people. And how he decreed that all the people of Babylon should be allowed to practice their own religion and culture.
Yvonne: The little clay object records — or tells us — how King Cyrus liberated the city of Babylon from tyranny. Now there's a word we don't hear too often! Alice, can you explain what is 'tyranny' is for us, please?
Alice: Well, 'tyranny' is a type of behaviour that is cruel, oppressive and very unfair. For example, we might hear a dictator described as 'tyrannical'. So freeing the city of Babylon from tyranny is generally thought to have been a good thing.
Yvonne: As we heard, King Cyrus freed the enslaved people and sent them back to their homes — he repatriated them. And what about that word 'decreed' — that's another old fashioned and rather formal word, isn't it?
Alice: Yes, it is. If a ruler decrees something, he or she makes it officially known that it is now law. And King Cyrus of Persia decreed that people should be allowed to practice their own religion and culture.
Yvonne: The cylinder was on display in Tehran for about seven months and during that time, about two million people went to see it. Here's what one exhibition visitor told John Wilson about the artefact:
Insert 2: Woman in National Iranian Museum and John Wilson
Woman: Iran was the centre of the world so many years ago but nowadays, we're left apart. In our schools and universities, they don't talk about these things.
John Wilson: Because it's part of the pre-Islamic history?
Yvonne: The woman says that Iran was the centre of the world many years ago.
Alice: So in her view, at one point, Iran was the most important country in the world.