British Museum

Belshazzar and his father Nabonidus are named on this clay cylinder found at Babylon. The last king of the Babylonian empire, Nabonidus was ineffectual, spending most of his reign in the Arabian desert while his son Belshazzar served as regent in Babylon. On this cylinder, King Cyrus of Persia, who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C., describes a morally bankrupt Belshazzar: “A weakling has been installed as the [ruler] of his country … He interrupted in a fiendish way the regular offerings … The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he [chang]ed into abomination.”

The cuneiform characters on the nearly four-inch-long cylinder record Cyrus’s defeat of Nabonidus and his capture of Babylon. Cyrus restored the pagan gods to their sanctuaries and returned captive peoples, including the Israelites, to their homelands, all at his own expense. “I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned to them their habitations.”