We tend to think that human rights such as citizenship or religious and racial freedom are modern concepts but that’s far from being true. As some might argue, there’s nothing new under the sun.
More than 2,000 years before the French Revolution took a firm stance toward the emancipation of individuals, the Persian king Cyrus the Great issued the first code establishing human rights. This proclamation was inscribed on the Cyrus Cylinder, discovered among the ruins of the Great Temple of Babylon. The baked clay cylinder engraved in cuneiform text has been dated to the 6th century BC and it describes Cyrus as a protector of the citizens of Babylonia:
I announce that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them while I am alive. From now on…, I never let anyone oppress any others, and if it occurs, I will take his or her right back and penalize the oppressor.
I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of the others by force or without compensation. While I am alive, I prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate other’s rights.”
Under his rule, the Achaemeneid Empire conquered the ancient Near East, Southwest and Central Asia and stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River. Cyrus’ code of laws applied to all citizens of his empire and played a major role in shaping the ancient world.