CYRUS THE GREAT

Cyrus(Kourosh in Persian; Kouros in Greek) is regarded as one of the mostoutstanding figures in history. His success in creating and maintainingthe Achaemenian Empire was the result of an intelligent blending ofdiplomatic and military skills and his rule was tempered with wisdomand tact. The Persians called him 'father'; the Greeks, whom heconquered, saw him as "A worthy ruler and lawgiver" and the Jewsregarded him as "The Lord's anointed".

His ideals were high, ashe laid down that no man was fit to rule unless, he was more capablethan all of his subjects. As an administrator Cyrus' insight was great,and he showed himself both intelligent and reasonable, and thereby madehis rule easier than that of his previous conquerors.

Hishumanity was equaled by his freedom from pride, which induced him tomeet people on the same level, instead of affecting the remoteness andaloofness, which characterized the great monarchs who preceded andfollowed him.

History has further labeled him as a genius,diplomat, manager, and leader of men, the first great propagandist andable strategist. Cyrus was indeed worthy of the title "Great".
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"Persepolis"

Cyrusthe Great, came to power after deposing the Median king Astyages in 550BC. After a series of victories over the Lydian king, Croesus, in 546BC, and after his successful campaign against the Babylonians in 539BC, Cyrus established a large empire stretching from the Mediterraneanin the west to eastern Iran, and from the Black Sea in the north toArabia.

Whereas security was his main concern in the east, theimmense wealth of the Greek maritime cities of the Ionian coastcomplemented their value as strategic bases in the west.
He was killed in 530 BC during a campaign in the north-eastern part of his empire.
Xenophon in the Cyropaedia wrote:


"Heis able to extend the fear of himself over so great a part of the worldthat he astonished all, and no one attempted anything against him. Hewas able to inspire all with so great a desire of pleasing him thatthey wished to be governed by his opinions".


Legend of The Birth and Rise of Cyrus The Great

Herodotus,the Greek historian of the mid-fourth century BC, best describes thelegend of Cyrus and the myths surrounding his birth. According to him,Astyages was Cyrus' maternal grandfather, who dreamt that his daughterMandane produced so much water that it overran his city and the wholeof Asia. When the holy men (magi) heard of the king's dream, theywarned him of its consequences.

As a result, her father gaveMandane in marriage to a Persian called Cambyses who, although of nobledescent, was considered by Astyages to be "much lower than a Mede ofmiddle estate". Mandane and Cambyses were not married more than a yearwhen Astyages once again had a dream; this time he saw a vine growingfrom inside Mandane's womb, which overshadowed the whole of Asia. Themagi immediately saw a bad omen and told the king that Mandane's sonwould usurp his throne. The king sent for his pregnant daughter andkept her under tight guard until the child was born. Royal instructionswere given to Harpagus, a Median nobleman and confidant of the king,that he should kill and dispose of the newly born child. But Harpagusdecided not to kill the baby himself.

Instead, he called for aroyal herdsman and ordered him to carry out the king's command, addingthat he would be severely punished if the child was allowed to live.However, the herdsman's own wife had given birth to a still-born childduring her husband's absence, and she convinced him to keep the royalbaby and bring it up as their own. They then presented Harpagus withthe corpse of their still-born child, claiming that it was the prince.
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Cyrussoon developed into an outstanding young boy, overshadowing his friendsand showing royal qualities of leadership. One day, during a game withother children, Cyrus was chosen to play king. Promptly assuming thisrole, he punished the son of a distinguished Mede who refused to takeorders from him. The father of the badly beaten boy complained to KingAstyages, who in turn called for Cyrus in order to punish him. Whenasked why he behaved in such a savage manner, Cyrus defended his actionby explaining that, because he was playing the role of king, he hadevery reason to punish someone who did not obey his command.

Astyagesknew immediately that these were not the words of a herdsman's son andrealized that the boy was his own grandson, the son of Mandane. Laterthe story was confirmed by the herdsman, albeit with great reluctance.Astyages then punished Harpagus for his disobedience by serving him thecooked remains of his own son's body at a royal dinner. On the adviceof the magi, the king allowed Cyrus to return to Persia to his realparents.

Harpagus vowed to avenge his son's death and encouragedCyrus to seize his grandfather's throne. Herodotus described howHarpagus wrote his plan on a piece of paper and inserted it into thebelly of a slain hare, which had not yet been skinned. The skin wassewn up and the hare given to a trusted servant who, acting as ahunter, traveled to Persia and presented it to Cyrus, telling him tocut it open. After reading Harpagus' letter, Cyrus began to play withthe idea of seizing power from Astyages. As part of a careful plan, hepersuaded a number of the Persian tribes to side with him to throw offthe yoke of Astyages and the Medes. Cyrus succeeded in overthrowing hisgrandfather and became the ruler of the united Medes and Persians....

Thisfascinating account by Herodotus is still regarded by some as areliable source on Cyrus' birth and coming to power, although it has astrong mythological flavour.

Among later sources, one story isof particular interest. It describes how the baby Cyrus, abandoned inthe woods by a shepherd, is fed by a dog until the shepherd returnswith his wife and takes the infant into their care. This tale issimilar to mythological stories surrounding the infancy of other heroesand rulers (for example, Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome,were saved and raised by a wolf).


Historical Account


Thefounder of the Persian monarchy was Hakhamanish or Achaemenes, Princeof the tribe of Pasargadae; his capital was the city bearing the samename, ruins of which still exist, dating from the era of Cyrus theGreat. No definite acts can be traced to Achaemenes, after whom thedynasty was named; but the fact that his memory was highly reveredtends to prove that he did in truth mold the Persian tribes into anation before they stepped onto the stage of history. His son Chishpishor Teispes took advantage of the defenseless condition of Elam, afterits overthrow by Assurbanipal, and occupied the district of Anshan,assuming the title of "Great King, King of Anshan". Upon his death oneof his sons succeeded to Anshan and the other to Fars.


"There are eight of my race who have been kings before me; I am the ninth. In a double line we have been kings".


Cyrusthe descendant of a long line of kings should actually be called CyrusII, because he was named after his grandfather. He looked upon himselfas the 'king of Anshan' and belonged to the ruling house of Persia, butCyrus also had Median connections through his mother, whose father wassupposedly Astyages, king of the Medes.
According to Herodotus, thelast ruler of Media, Astyages (reigned 585-550 B.C), was defeated byCyrus in 549 BC. Ecbatana, the royal city, was captured in 550 BC.


The famous tablet of the Annals of Nabonidus tells the story:


"[Histroops] he collected, and against Cyrus, king of Anshan,... he marched.As for Astyages, his troops revolted against him and he was seized(and) delivered to Cyrus. Cyrus (marched) to Ecbatana, the royal city.The silver, gold, goods and substance of Ecbatana he took to the landof Anshan..."


Cyrus thus established himself king of the Medes and the Persians.

Weare still not sure when Cyrus succeeded to the Persian throne. He mayhave been asked to accept the throne upon his capture of Ecbatana,which after all was in his family. In any case we know that Hystaspes,father of Darius, never reigned; though he was the son of Arsames.

Afew years later Croesus, the king of Lydia (notorious for his vastwealth), saw an opportunity with the change of regime in Iran to expandhis kingdom. He crossed the river Halys, previously regarded as theboundary between the Lydians to the west and the Medes and Persians tothe east. Cyrus hastened westwards, and after an encounter at Pteriaforced Croesus to retire to his capital city of Sardis. In his retreat,Croesus lay waste the countryside to impede the march of the Persianarmy. He foolishly assumed that Cyrus would not follow as winter wasnearing and he was already far from home. But Cyrus followed him, andin an historic battle in 546 BC on the open plains of Hermus defeatedthe Lydians using the now famous ruse of covering the front of his armywith camels, the smell of which terrified Crosus' cavalry and made themunusable.


Croesusthen retreated to his 'impregnable' capital Sardis, to wait it outuntil his allies assembled. Herodotus tells the story of its capture.


"Whenthe city was blockaded for fourteen days, Cyrus offered a rich rewardto the first man who entered it. A Mardian soldier saw a member of thegarrison descend what looked like from a distance an inaccessiblecliff, pick up his lost helmet and return. He noted the track and witha few comrades surprised the careless garrison, and opened the gates tothe Persian army..."


Croesuswas first taken to Persia as a prisoner but subsequently lived as agreat noble at the royal court. That he was not put to death seemsprobable, for Cyrus also spared the life of Astyages. Croesus and otherIonians were the first of many foreigners, particularly Greeks, toenter the service of the royal household; for the Persians this was ofimmense practical and cultural benefit. The conquest of Asia Minor hadbrought them into contact with a civilization totally different fromtheir own, in government, religion and concepts of life.
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"A Persian Soldier and three Guests"

Cyrusleft his general Harpagus behind to consolidate the Persian position,and shortly afterwards Lycia, Caria and even the Greek cities of AsiaMinor were added to his newly founded Persian empire. The fact that thePersians encountered little initial resistance was partly due to theGreek merchants wishing to expand their commerce as part of a largeempire. Already, much of the trade lay within the empire or in areasabout to be conquered.

About this time Cyrus built himself acapital in keeping with a king of his status, at Pasargadae (the namemay mean - the Persian settlement) in Farsi.

In 540 BC Cyrusturned his attention to Babylon. Nabonidus, who through conspiracy hadtaken the Babylonian throne, failed to maintain internal union andnational security and military affairs had been handed to his son,Belshazzar. Further discontent in Babylonia was provoked by Nabonidus'sreligious policies, and Cyrus was able to take advantage of thisinternal division. The fact that Prince Belshazzar was more interestedin amusement than in safeguarding his people aided Cyrus' entry, whichaccording to Herodotus and Xenophon, was effected by a daring piece ofstrategy.



"...WhileBelshazzar had a great feast, the Euphrates, which flowed throughBabylon, was diverted by the Persians into a great trench constructedoutside the walls. Thus the Persian army, on a night when theBabylonians were engaged in a religious festival, were able to advancealong the dry, or at least passable, riverbed..." Owing to the size ofthe place, states Xenophon, "...the inhabitants of the central parts,long after the outer portions of the town were taken, knew nothing ofwhat had changed, but... continued dancing and reveling until theylearnt of the capture."


Thoughthere is no justification for rejecting this story the real reason forthe weakness in Babylon's defense was probably due to the revolt ofUrbaru.

Babylon reportedly surrendered to Cyrus with scarcely astruggle, and if there was no resistance it was because the city wastaken completely by surprise. Cyrus, however, legitimized hissuccession as king by 'taking the hand of the god Bel' and hispersuasive propaganda convinced the Babylonians that Marmuk, theirsupreme deity, had directed his steps towards the city.

Cyruswas now master of an area stretching from the Mediterranean to easternIran and from the black sea to the borders of Arabia. It was with somejustification, then, that in the so-called 'Cyrus Cylinder' (housed atthe British Museum) - a barrel shaped clay cylinder inscribed inBabylonian cuneiform recording the capture of Babylon - Cyrus describeshimself as the 'ruler of the world.' Cyrus also relates how herepatriated various peoples and restored the 'images' (of the gods) totheir shrines. The Jews are not mentioned by name, but it is clear fromthe Book of Ezra (I, I-3) that the captives deported by Nebuchadnezzarwere at this time allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild theirtemple. This document was part of the doctrine which Cyrus sought toput into practice with a view to bringing peace to mankind, and laterit was hailed as the first Charter of Human Rights. Although sectionsof the cylinder have been destroyed through time, the principal messageof Cyrus' Declaration is readily apparent:
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"The famous clay cylinder of Cyrus the Great, written in Babylonian cuneiform,
recording his capture of Babylon in 539 B.C." [a declaration of good kingship]

"Iam Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon,king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters, son ofCambyses, ...king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, ...descendant ofTeispes, ...progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nabucherish, whose kingship they desire for their hearts' pleasures.
WhenI, well-disposed, entered Babylon, I established the seat of governmentin the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk, the greatGod, caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to come to me. Isought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbedin the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorize the land ofSumer and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all itssanctuaries to promote their well being. The citizens of Babylon...their dilapidated dwellings I restored. I put an end to theirmisfortunes...

...the cities of Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnuna,the cities of Zamban, Meurnu, Der, as far as the region of the land ofGutium, the holy cities beyond the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been inruins over a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them,I returned to the places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gatheredtogether all their inhabitants and restored to them their dwellings..."


Throughouthis reign, Cyrus was continually preoccupied with his easternfrontiers. Nine years after the conquest of Babylon he was killed inbattle, though the circumstances of his death are not clear. Cyrus'body was brought back to Pasargade; his tomb, which still exists,consists of a single chamber built on a foundation course of six steps.According to Arrian (AD c. 96-180), the body was placed in a goldensarcophagus, and the tomb, as Plutarch (AD 46-120) reports bore theinscription.
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"The tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargade"

"O,man, whoever thou art and whenever thou comes, for I know that thouwilt come, I am Cyrus, and I won for the Persians their Empire. Do not,therefore, begrudge me this little earth which covers my body"



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