The article below “Ancient Persian Ruler Influenced Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Democracy” by Lea Terhune was posted on the U.S. Department of State website on March 13, 2013. Kindly note that excepting one image, all other images and accompanying descriptions do not appear in the original U.S. Department of State posting. Two comments by Kaveh Farrokh have also been inserted into the article.
The discovery of the Cyrus Cylinder was a hundred years in the future when Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the United States adopted the progressive ideas of the ancient Persian ruler Cyrus the Great. They knew of Cyrus through classical Greek writers and Biblical accounts.
A copy of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia that belonged to Thomas Jefferson is on display with artifacts on loan from the British Museum in the exhibition The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning, at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington. The exhibition also will tour Houston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Cyropaedia (Picture Source: Angelina Perri Birney). Like many of the founding fathers and those who wrote the US Constitution, President Jefferson regularly consulted the Cyropedia – an encyclopedia written by the ancient Greeks about Cyrus the Great. The two personal copies of Thomas Jefferson’s Cyropaedia are in the US Library of Congress in Washington DC. Thomas Jefferson’s initials “TJ” are seen clearly engraved at the bottom of each page.
The Cyropaedia is a partly fictional portrayal of the life and deeds of Cyrus the Great (c. 580–530 B.C.), who founded the Achaemenid Empire, which continued for nearly 200 years. He created an efficient bureaucracy to oversee disparate cultures within his vast empire and governed with tolerance that evoked admiration in the ancient world. The book was written a century after Cyrus died. It was not meant to be a factual history, but it captured ideas that characterized his rule.
Xenophon (431-355 BC) wrote a compendium of Cyrus, known as the Cyropaedia. The Cyropaedia has been consulted as a standard reference of just statesmanship by a number of prominent western leaders in history.
Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, said before the exhibition’s opening that Jefferson possessed two editions of the Cyropaedia. The one on display, usually kept at the Library of Congress, dates from 1767. It features Greek and Latin parallel texts on facing pages.
President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) of the United States of America.
As noted by Raby:
“What’s extraordinary is that he