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Cyrus the Great

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Books About Cyrus the Great, Persia.

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia


Cyrus the GreatCyrus II of Persia, widely known as Cyrus the Great, (ca. 576 – July 529 BC) founded the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid Dynasty of Anshan by unifying two Iranian tribes: the Medes and the Persians. He is perhaps best known for having declared the first ever charter of human rights (the Cyrus Cylinder) where he identifies himself as "King of Persia".

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II. Background

The name "Cyrus" (a Latin transliteration of the Greek Κῦρος) is the Greek version of the Old Persian Koroush or Khorvash, [in Persian khour means "sun" and vash is a suffix meaning "like"]. In modern Persian, Cyrus is referred to as Kourosh Bozorg — his Persian name with the Persian-derived "Great").

Cyrus, the son of a Persian noble and a Mede princess, was from the Achaemenid Dynasty, which ruled the kingdom of Anshan, in what is now southwestern Iran. Cyrus had two sons: Cambyses and Smerdis, as well as several daughters, of whom Atossa is significant since she married Darius I of Persia and was mother of Xerxes I of Persia.

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III. The king of Persia

In 559 BC, Cyrus succeeded his father Cambyses the Elder as King of Anshan. He apparently also soon managed to succeed Arsames to the throne of Persia though the latter was still living. Arsames was father of Hystaspes and would live to see his grandson become King Darius I of Persia. However, Cyrus was not yet an independent ruler. Like his predecessors before him, Cyrus had to recognize Median overlordship.

In his Histories, Herodotus gives a detailed description of the rise to power of Cyrus according to the best sources available to him. According to Herodotus, Cyrus was said to be part-Persian (Parsua) and part Mede and his overlord was his own grandfather Astyages who had conquered all Assyrian kingdoms apart from Babylonia. After the birth of Cyrus, Astyages had a dream that his Magi interpreted as a sign of an eventual overthrow by his grandson. He then ordered his steward Harpagus to kill the infant Cyrus. Harpagus, morally unable to kill a newborn, switched the baby with a stillborn child and reported Cyrus dead. Many years later, when Astyages discovered that his grandson was still alive, he ordered that the son of Harpagus be beheaded and served to his father on a dinner platter. Harpagus, seeking vengeance, convinced Cyrus to rally the Persian people -- then in a state of vassalage to the Medes -- to revolt ca. 554 BC–553 BC. Between 550 BC–549 BC, with the help of Harpagus, Cyrus led the Persians and his armies to capture Ecbatana, and effectively conquered Media. While he seems to have accepted the crown of Media, by 546 BC he had officially assumed the title of 'king of Persia'. Thus the Persians gained dominion over the Iranian plateau.

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A. Cyrus' wars

Cyrus' wars were only just beginning. Astyages had been in alliance with his brother-in-law Croesus of Lydia (son of Alyattes), Nabonidus of Babylon, and Amasis II of Egypt. These reportedly intended to unite their armies against Cyrus and his Persians. But before the allies could unite, Cyrus defeated Croesus at Pterium and captured him, and occupied his capital at Sardis -- overthrowing the Lydian kingdom (546 BC). According to Herodotus, Cyrus spared Croesus' life and kept him as an advisor.

In 538 BC, Cyrus defeated Nabonidus at Opis and occupied Babylon. According to the Babylonian inscription, this was probably a bloodless victory. Cyrus assumed the titles of 'king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four sides of the world'. Judging from the countries listed as subject to his successor Darius on the first tablet of the great Behistun Inscription (written before any new conquests could have been made other than Egypt), Cyrus' dominions must have comprised the largest empire the world had yet seen -- stretching from Asia Minor and Judah in the west, as far as the Indus valley in the east.

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B. Administration of the Empire

Cyrus organized the empire into provincial administrations called satrapies. The administrators of these provinces, called satraps, had considerable independence from the emperor, and from many parts of the realm Cyrus demanded no more than tribute and conscripts.

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C. The Cyrus Cylinder: World's first charter of human rights

Cyrus the Great Cylinder: The First Charter of Human RightsUpon his taking of Babylon, Cyrus issued a declaration, inscribed on a clay barrel known as the Cyrus Cylinder, and containing an account of his victories and merciful acts, as well as a documentation of his royal lineage. It was discovered in 1879 in Babylon, and today is kept in the British Museum. Many historians consider it to be the first declaration of human rights.

The royal history given on the cylinder is as follows: The founder of the dynasty was King Achaemenes (ca. 700 BC) who was succeeded by his son Teispes of Anshan. Inscriptions indicate that when the latter died, two of his sons shared the throne as Cyrus I of Anshan and Ariaramnes of Persia. They were succeeded by their respective sons Cambyses I of Anshan and Arsames of Persia. Cambyses is considered by Herodotus and Ctesias to be of humble origin. But they also consider him as being married to Princess Mandane of Media (ماد), a daughter of Astyages, King of the Medes and Princess Aryenis of Lydia. Cyrus II was the result of this union.

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D. Death of Cyrus

Tomb of Cyrus the Great in PasargadaeCyrus died in battle, but the Achaemenid empire was to reach its zenith long after his death. According to Herodotus, Cyrus met his death in a battle with the Massagetae -- a tribe from the southern deserts of Kharesm and Kizilhoum in the southernmost portion of the steppe region. The queen of the Massagetae, Tomyris, prevailed after Cyrus had previously defeated Tomyris' son Spargapises. The Massagetae were related to the Scythians in their dress and mode of living; they fought on horseback and on foot. Ctesias reports only that Cyrus met his death in the year 529 BC, while warring against tribes northeast of the headwaters of the Tigris. He was buried in the town of Pasargadae. Both Strabo and Arrian give descriptions of his tomb, based on reports of men who saw it at the time of Alexander the Great's invasion.Reconstruction of the Tomb of Cyrus the Great

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E. Cyrus' Legacy

Cyrus was distinguished no less as statesman than as a soldier. His statesmanship was particularly evident in his treatment of newly conquered peoples. By pursuing a policy of generosity instead of repression, and by favoring local religions, he was able to make his new subjects into enthusiastic supporters. A good example of this policy is his treatment of the Jews in Babylon. The Bible records that a remnant of the Jewish population returned to the Promised Land from Babylon, following an edict from Cyrus to rebuild the Temple, fully reproduced in the Book of Ezra.

Cyrus II allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild JerusalemCyrus' spectacular conquests continued the age of empire building, established by his predecessors, the Babylonians and Assyrians, and carried out by his successors, including the Greeks and Romans. His exploits, real and legendary, were used as moral instruction or as a source of inspiration for political philosophies.

The Cyropaedia of Xenophon, based on the latter's knowledge of the great king's upbringing, was an influential political treatise in ancient times, and again during the Renaissance.

The English philosopher Sir Thomas Browne named his 1658 discourse after the benevolent ruler. Entitled The Garden of Cyrus, it may well be a Royalist criticism upon the autocratic rule of Cromwell.

Cyrus was still being cited in the twenty-first century. In accepting her 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi said:

I am an Iranian. A descendant of Cyrus The Great. The very emperor who proclaimed at the pinnacle of power 2500 years ago that "... he would not reign over the people if they did not wish it." And [he] promised not to force any person to change his religion and faith and guaranteed freedom for all. The Charter of Cyrus The Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights.

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Books About Cyrus the Great, Persia.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004 © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Cyrus the Great ( 600?-530 bc), king of Persia (550-530 bc). He was the son of Cambyses I, a descendant of Achaemenes (Hakhamanish) (flourished 7th century bc), and a member of the Achaemenid dynasty. When Cyrus became (in about 558 bc) ruler of the Persian district of Anshan, the district was subject to the Medes; five years later he led a rebellion against the Medes that resulted in the capture of King Astyages (reigned about 584 to about 550 bc) and the overthrow (550 bc) of the Median Empire. Thereafter Cyrus called himself king of Persia and ruled a territory extending from the Halys River in Asia Minor, eastern border of Lydia, to the Babylonian Empire on the south and east. Babylon, Egypt, Lydia, and the city-state of Sparta in Greece combined to curb the power of Cyrus, but in about 546 bc the Persians added Lydia to their realm, and in 539 bc the kingdom of Babylon fell to Cyrus.

The Persian Empire was the most powerful state in the world until its conquest two centuries later by Alexander the Great. Cyrus was an able and merciful ruler. Significant among his deeds was his granting of permission to the Jews to return from their exile in Babylon to their native Israel to rebuild the Temple of Solomon. Cyrus died while leading an expedition against the eastern tribe, the Massagetae, and was succeeded by his son, who became Cambyses II.



Books About Cyrus the Great, Persia.


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