Cyrus was the king of what was then the biggest empire in history. In the Hebrew Bible he is told to have been commanded by God to return the Jews from exile and build the second temple, and thus he gave his Cyrus Declaration. His story returns several times including as the closing chapter of the Bible. He is the only non-Jew to be considered as a Messiah. In 1879 an ancient stone Cylinder was found with a first person account by Cyrus of his rule. Though discovered in Iraq the Cylinder is kept in London. It does not mention Jews or Jerusalem, but does portray Cyrus as allowing all people to return to their lands and build their temples. Though arguably a standard declaration from a ruler, Cyrus and his Cylinder have been central in many histories including the Zionist and the National-Iranian narratives. The Shah of Iran dubbed the Cylinder as the first declaration of human rights and King George V referred to Cyrus in approving the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British Empire viewed with “favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.
I am Cyrus (2020) explores these dense relations of empire and narrative.
Listen to an extract played by Loadbang in a workshop at the University of Southampton.