The leader of Persians, Cyrus II, created a powerful empire due to his military force and ability to find allies among the subdued people. It is known that Cyrus was able to inspire army with the faith in victory despite the fact that the enemy usually was superior in force and number. The king was able to manage both own and captured lands. His policy pacified the defeated people. Thanks to Cyrus II, the empire of Persians had prospered for other two centuries, even despite the fact that their greatest leader and commander was killed. It is still unclear whether the Persian Empire would have reached such sizes and power without the contribution of Cyrus the Great. These and other facts indicate his absolute greatness; however, they have to be studied in more detail in terms of his biography in order to prove and estimate the role of the king Cyrus II in the formation of the great state of Persia.
Cyrus II the Great was born in about 593 BC; he was a son of Cambyses I from the Achaemenid clan, the ruling clan of the Persian tribe, which was called the Pasargadae. In his appeal to the Babylonians, Cyrus named his ancestors (Teispes, Cyrus I, and Cambyses I), the kings of Anshan. However, the Biblical sources state that one of the regions of Anshan underwent a conquest in 596 BC, and it is possible that the Teispes’ Pasargadae dynasty captured Anshan the same year. The Pasargadae kings of Anshan were the vassals of the Median Empire until the revolt of Cyrus, who probably became a king in 558. It is known according to the data provided by Herodotus, who claimed that the reign of Cyrus had lasted for 29 years. The revolt began in 553 and ended with the capture of the king of the Medes, Astyages, and the occupation of Ecbatana, the Median capital. Since then, Cyrus had begun to name himself the king of Persians.
There were some contradictory certificates about an origin, childhood, and youth of the founder of the great Persian state, Cyrus II. For example, Herodotus knew four versions of Cyrus’ eminence. Other Greek historian, Xenophon, wrote that in the fifth century BC, Cyrus’ life story was interpreted differently. According to the most widespread version, he was a son of the Persian king, Cambyses I, and Mandane, the daughter of the Median king, Astyages, who ruled Persians at that time.
According to Herodotus, once, Astyages had a dream; the court sorcerer-priests interpreted that it was a sign that his grandson, Cyrus, would become a king in his stead. Therefore, Astyages summoned pregnant Mandane from Persia; after a while, when her son was born, he decided to kill him. He assigned this task to his dignitary, Harpagos. In turn, Harpagos gave the child to a shepherd, Mithridates, one of Astyages’ slaves, and ordered to leave it in the mountains, which were full of wild animals. Nonetheless, when Mithridates brought the baby to his hut in the mountains, he found out that his wife just gave birth to the dead child. The parents decided to bring up the imperial son as their own and named it Cyrus; their dead child was dressed in the magnificent clothes of Astyages’ grandson and left in a lonely place in the mountains,. After that event, Mithridates reported to Harpagos that he executed his order. The dignitary sent faithful people to examine a corpse of the baby and bury it; thus, he was convinced the death was true.
In such a way, Cyrus’ spent his childhood among the imperial slaves. When being a ten-years-old boy, Cyrus was elected the king while playing with the other children. However, a son of one noble Mede refused to obey him, and Cyrus punished him with beatings. The boy’s father complained to Astyages that his slave beat children of the imperial dignitaries. Cyrus was brought for the punishment to the king, who immediately suspected that it was his grandson in front of him since he notices the features of the family likeness. Indeed, under the threat of tortures, Mithradates revealed the truth to Astyages. The king brutally punished Harpagos: he invited him to a lunch and secretly treated the man with the meat of his own son, Cyrus’ peer. Then, Astyages asked the magicians again on whether he still faced the danger from the grandson. They answered that the dream already came true since Cyrus was elected the king during a game with the children; therefore, it was not necessary to be afraid anymore. Therefore, Astyages calmed down and sent grandson to his parents to Persia.
Becoming a King
In 558 BC, Cyrus became the king of the Persian sedentary tribes, among which the leading role was played by Pasargadae. Except them, the union also included Maraphioi and Bactria. All of them were governed by the Median king. The center of the Persian state of that time was settled down around the city of Pasargadae, the intensive construction of which started at the very beginning of Cyrus’ reign. The Kirti, Mardy, Sagartia, and some other nomadic tribes were subdued by Cyrus later, apparently, after the war with Media.
When Cyrus became the king of Persia, there were four large powers in the Middle East: Lydia, Media, Egypt, and Babylonia. In the future, all of them were destined to join the Achaemenid power, the foundation of which began in 553 after the revolt of Persians against Media. According to Herodotus, a conspiracy of noble Mede Harpagos, which, as mentioned above, suffered from a severe offense because of Astyages, became the reason for the war between these two kingdoms. He managed to win over many noble Medes that were dissatisfied with the harsh rule of Astyages, and then instigated Cyrus to raise a revolt.
The outcome of the war was determined in three battles. Astyages did not participate in the first battle, and his commander, Harpagos, with most of the troops defected to the Persians. Then, Astyages created a new army and himself led it into the battle. The second fight had lasted for two days, and the Medes won it. The last battle took place in the city of Pasargadae, Persia. It had also lasted for two days. On the first day, the Medes succeeded, but on the second day, the Persians began to battle more resolutely. Eventually, the army of Cyrus managed to win a victory and capture the camp of the Medes. Without support from the citizens, Astyages fled to Ecbatana; however, soon afterward, he was forced to surrender to Cyrus and renounce the throne in his favor in 550 BC. Therefore, in the middle of the sixth century BC, Persia, which used to be an unpopular peripheral area of Asia, entered the world history as the state that would play a leading role for the next two centuries.
The Conquered Lands
Right after the victory over Astyages in 549, Cyrus conquered Elam and made its main city, Susa, his capital. Next year, the countries, which were a part of the former Median state, were subdued, including Parthia, Hyrcania, and Armenia. Then, Lydia was captured. At that time, Lydia united all Asia Minor. Its king, Croesus, was considered one of the richest and most powerful rulers of the East. In 547, being confident of his force, he invaded Cappadocia, which was formerly owned by the Medes and later passed under the power of the Persians.
The bloody battle between the opponents took place on the Galis River and ended without result. Croesus, however, suggested that it would be better to recede to his capital of Sardis in order to prepare for the war more carefully. He assumed to come back to Cappadocia soon, but Cyrus did not allow him to get the strength and suddenly entered Sardis with all his army. Croesus recalled his army consisting mostly of the cavalry armed with copies to Cyrus. Despite a desperate resistance, they eventually were broken and fled to Sardy. The siege of this unapproachable fortress had lasted for only fourteen days. The Persians managed to find a secret track in order to sweep the walls of the acropolis. This unexpected assault determined the outcome of the war; the Lydians were conquered, and their king Croesus was captured by Cyrus. Soon after these events, Harpagos, who received Lydia in control, conquered all the coastal Asia Minor, as well as the cities of the Greeks in Ionia and Aeolis. Then, the Carians, Lycians, and Kaunos were also subdued.
After the Lydian campaign, Cyrus proceeded to conquer the areas of Eastern Iran and Central Asia. Further, the turn of Babylonia came; the campaign covered almost all Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Palestine, a part of the Arabian Peninsula, and East Cilicia. In the spring of 539 BC, the Persian army engaged in a campaign and began to move down the Diyala River Valley. The ultimate battle between the Persians and Babylonians took place in August of 539 BC near Opis on the Tigris. In October, Cyrus’ army captured well-fortified Sippar; two days later, on October 12, the king captured Babylon without a fight.
After the fall of Babylon, all the states located to the West from it and up to the borders with Egypt voluntary obeyed to Persians. At the same time, the Persians established the control over a part of the Arabian Peninsula. The last campaign was undertaken by Cyrus in about 530 BC against the Massagets, the nomads living in the steppes between the Caspian and Aral seas on the northeast borders of his powers. During the battle, on the east bank of the Amu Darya, Cyrus suffered a complete defeat and was killed. Herodotus wrote that the triumphant enemies had cut off the king’s head and thrown it in a bag with blood. However, since it is certainly known that Cyrus was buried in Pasargadae, where even Alexander the Great saw his body, this episode is considered unreliable.
Family Status and the Greatness of the King
Cyrus married Cassandane, who was a daughter of Pharnaspes and belonged to the Achaemenians. Cyrus and Cassandane had four children: Bardiya, Cambyses II, Atossa, and another daughter, whose name was not mentioned in the ancient writings. Besides, the king had one more daughter, Arystone, who was not Cassandane’s daughter. Cyrus and Cassandane were in a great love for each other. Nevertheless, the other sources asserted that the king had a wife named Amytis, who was a daughter of Astyages, the Median king. However, this fact can be controversial. Immediately after the death of his father, Cambyses executed his brother, Bardiya, and many of his supporters. After that, Cambyses II became the king of Persia. Cyrus’ daughter, Atossa married Darius the Great and gave birth to Xerxes I.
Cyrus is still considered a great monarch, who took the royal title of the king of Babylon and the king of the countries. He won the sympathy of the inhabitants with his attempts to restore the economic activity of the conquered countries and his decision to maintain the local administration in Babylon. He allowed the Jews, who were in captivity in Babylon, to return home. The religious preferences of Cyrus are unknown, but according to the Babylon and Jewish sources, he followed the policy of providing a considerable freedom of any cult. In the conquered territories, Cyrus II encouraged the development of the crafts and trade, as well as built the cities, fortresses, and roads. In the fortresses, he had constant military garrisons and gave them the value of the strong points of the Persian dominion.
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Taking into account all the information mentioned above, it should be noted that the Persian king, Cyrus II the Great, left a noticeable mark in the world history. The huge power created by him has existed and prospered for the two centuries after his death on the battlefield. Only Alexander the Great managed to crush its power. Cyrus created his Empire not only by the means of the military force but also the rare ability to find faithful allies among the defeated nations. He was a talented statesman concerned about the prosperity of Persia and the subdued people and tolerantly treated their religion and customs. The image of Cyrus left a deep mark in the ancient and classical literature. In a short time, the leader of a small and little-known tribe founded a mighty empire spreading from the Indus and Jaxartes to the Aegean Sea and the borders of Egypt. Cyrus was a great warrior and statesman, who not only was distinguished by the great political intelligence and diplomatic foresight but also enjoyed a good fortune, which gave into his hands Media and Babylonia. They suffered from the internal strife and, therefore, considered him not an alien conqueror but a liberator.