The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform on the orders of the Persian king Cyrus the Great after he captured Babylon in 539 BCE. It records how Cyrus restored shrines and allowed displaced peoples to return home. Although they are not mentioned in the Cylinder, it is thought to be at this time that the Jews returned to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple, as recorded in the Bible. Because of these enlightened acts the Cylinder has come to be regarded as a special and innovative document.
The Cylinder marks the foundation of the Persian Empire that reached its greatest size under Darius the Great (522–486 BCE) when it stretched from Egypt to India and from Arabia to the Aral Sea. This was the largest empire the world had seen up until that time, and to administer such a large area effectively it was necessary to introduce new practices and different ways of doing things. There were also technological advances during this time, as well as artistic and architectural developments. From many points of view the Persian period may be described as a new beginning for the region. The objects that accompany the Cylinder have been chosen to reflect this. The exhibition shows that the two centuries of Persian rule were a period of change and progress.