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people all around the globe, so much so that a replica is kept at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Most recently, the Cylinder visited Mumbai, where it is ideologically linked to the first Indian evidence of proclamation of human values in the Ashokan Edicts of 300 BCE, given by king Ashoka the Great. The 32 key objects that accompany the Cylinder on its current travels include a gold plaque from the Oxus Treasure, associated with Zoroastrianism, the principle faith of ancient Iran. The gold and silver coins on display came into Achaemenid Persian circulation after Cyrus had conquered Sardis in 547 or 546 BCE. Persia was favoured with an abundance of natural resources, and became famous for its splendid metalwork, especially in gold and silver, characterised by artistic and technical excellence. For the wealthy, it was a highly sophisticated world of portable luxury goods such as elaborate tableware and dazzling jewellery. Tributes from what was the first great world empire, vast and diverse, brought in more precious items like gemstones. Gold drinking vessels and jewellery, often decorated with royal imagery, functioned as diplomatic gifts to impress foreign trading partners and local rulers in far-flung corners of the empire – impressive reminders of Persian royal authority, controlled by an efficient administrative system and backed, of course, by military might. Asked about the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder for Asia, and India in particular, Dr John Curtis, keeper of Special Middle East Projects at the British Museum and curator of this exhibition, replied during the exhibition’s visit to the sub continent: “It has immense importance Below: modern gold coin showing the Cyrus Cylinder here in Mumbai for Parsees, as Cyrus was a Persian king and it’s an intrinsic part of their religious history. We’ll also get to witness the first Indian evidence of proclamation of human values – the Ashokan Edicts of 300 BCE, promoted by Ashoka the Great.” King Ashoka has come to be regarded as one of the most exemplary rulers in world history. Initially, he was a cruel and ruthless Arena Arts tyrant who had many of his brothers killed in order to seize the throne. In 262 BCE, Ashoka’s armies conquered Kalinga. The suffering and loss of life, reprisals and general turmoil of war so horrified Ashoka that it brought about a complete change in his personality. Formerly a lukewarm Buddhist, he dedicated the rest of his life to applying Buddhist principles to the administration of his vast empire, and ruled wisely and justly. Inscribed on pillars and rocks, the Ashokan Edicts proclaim the reforms he instituted, his ethical policies and the moral principles he recommended to his subjects. Although it’s clear that Ashoka saw his reforms as being part of his duties as a Buddhist, and he became a devout follower, he was not partisan towards his own religion or intolerant of other faiths. So the purpose of the edicts, like his reforms, was to create a just, humane and more spiritually inclined society. The Ashokan state renounced its predatory foreign policy, replacing it with peaceful co-existence. The judicial system was reformed, making it fairer and less harsh, and state resources were targeted at useful public works. So almost 2,600 years after the Cyrus Cylinder, the remarkable legacy of both Persian and Indian tolerance and respect are parallel and of continuing relevance to contemporary politics and philosophy. The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning is back at the British Museum, having visited the USA and India in 2013 and early 2014. The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same name: ISBN 978-0-7141-1187-2 Gold chariot with characters wearing clothing c. fourth to fifth century BCE Gold jug from the Oxus Treasure global second quar ter 2014 www.global -br ief ing.org l 53


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