Cyrus The Great (Cyrus II of Persia)

A bit of interesting research from my latest book, coming very soon!


Cyrus_II_le_Grand_et_les_HébreuxCyrus was born between 590 and 580 BCE, either in Media or, more probably, in Persis, the modern Fārs province of Iran. During his reign, he founded the Achaemenian Empire, centered on Persia and comprising the Near East from the Aegean Sea eastward to the Indus River.

The figure of Cyrus has survived history as more than a great man who founded an empire. He became the very epitome of the qualities expected of a ruler of his time, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring. His story is one that still fascinates historians today.

After inheriting the empire of the Medes, Cyrus had to first consolidate his power over Iranian tribes on the Iranian plateau before he could expand his empire to the west. Croesus, king of Lydia in Asia Minor, had grown his domains at the expense of the Medes when he heard of the fall of Astyages. Cyrus, as successor of the Median king, then marched against Lydia. Sardis, the Lydian capital, was captured in 547 or 546, and Croesus burned himself to death. The Ionian Greek cities on the Aegean Sea coast, as vassals of the Lydian king, now became subject to Cyrus, and most of them submitted, albeit after short sieges.

With his empire consolidated, Cyrus turned to Babylonia, where the unrest of the people with the ruler Nabonidus gave him a reason to invade the lowlands. The conquest was quick, and the greatest city of the ancient world fell easily to the Persians, but it did not become his sole capital. Cyrus had several capitals. One was the city of Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) former capital of the Medes, and another was a new capital of the empire, Pasargadae, in Persis, said to be on the site where Cyrus had won the battle against Astyages. The ruins today, though few, arouse admiration in the visitor. Cyrus kept Babylon as a winter capital.

As a ruler, he was quick to learn from peoples he conquered. He not only conciliated the Medes but united them with the Persians in a kind of dual monarchy of the Medes and Persians. Cyrus had to borrow the traditions of kingship from the Medes, who had ruled an empire when the Persians were merely their vassals.

shutterstock_78177232When Cyrus defeated Astyages, he also inherited Median possessions in eastern Iran, but he had to engage in much warfare to consolidate his rule in this region. After his conquest of Babylonia, he again turned to the east, and Herodotus tells of his campaign against the nomads who lived east of the Caspian Sea. According to the Greek historian, Cyrus was at first successful in defeating the ruler of the nomads called the Massagetai—who was a woman—and captured her son. On the son’s committing suicide in captivity, his mother swore revenge and defeated and killed Cyrus. Herodotus’ story may be apocryphal, but Cyrus’ conquests in Central Asia were probably genuine, since a city in farthest Sogdiana was called Cyreschata, or Cyropolis, by the Greeks, which seems to prove the extent of his Eastern conquests.

Very little is known of the family life of Cyrus. He had two sons, one of whom, Cambyses, succeeded him; the other, Bardiya, was more than likely put to death by Cambyses after he became ruler. Cyrus had at least one daughter, Atossa, who by all accounts married her brother Cambyses.

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