Cyrus The Great

The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 B.C.) which ultimately ruled over 23 nations spread across approximately 3,000,000 square miles stretching from North Africa to Indus Valley was based on law and order. According to Herodotus, even the kings were not allowed to put a man to death for an offense.  An ideal Persian leader had to be intelligent, decisive, just, and a guarantor of civil order.

Cyrus II the Great (r. 559-530 B.C.), the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, set the tone for its imperial grand strategy.  Tolerance, law, and order were how the Persians were to conquer and rule the known world.  Disruption of order by rebellions and lawlessness were challenges met by the Achaemenid kings through a well-trained, organized army and a centralized bureaucracy.

Cyrus ascended the throne of Persia in 559 B.C., and as his predecessors, recognized the overlord ship of the neighboring Iranian Medes.  During the first decade of his reign, Cyrus was interested in consolidating his authority over the Persian confederation and the sizeable Median Empire.

In 550 B.C., with support from many in the Median army and nobility, he defeated his unpopular grandfather the Median King Astyages, and captured their capital Ecbatana. During the second decade of his reign, Cyrus consolidated all of Iran, as well as eastern lands such as Marv and Samarkand.  In 545, the fall of the powerful and wealthy Lydia to Cyrus sent a shockwave across the ancient world.  Cyrus then turned his attention to Babylon.

On October 10, 539, Cyrus attacked and defeated the Babylonian army stationed at Opis on the Tigris.  Susa fell next.  Sippar was taken without a fight.  Babylon was captured on October 12th, and ten days later Cyrus entered the city.

According to Cyrus’s declaration known as the Cyrus Cylinder, the world’s first known bill of human civil rights, the people held in captivity by Babylonian kings were set free to return to their native lands.  Under this decree, the Jews also returned to their homeland and rebuilt their temple.  Unfortunately, soon thereafter his beloved wife Cassandane died, and Cyrus left for Persia to bury his queen.

It is unclear what his military activities consisted of during the final stages of his reign, but he apparently conducted at least one great march to the eastern frontier before he was mortally wounded in 530 during his campaign against the Iranian nomadic Massagetae tribe.  His eldest son Cambyses II (r. 530-523 B.C.) succeeded him.

Cyrus the Great is considered one of the best conquerors and most admired leaders of all time.  He is the subject of many historical and political studies.  His life was studied and emulated by other “giants” in histories such as Alexander and Caesar.  His partially fictional biography Cyropaedia by Xenophon was a mandatory read for certain degrees in European and early American universities.  Many of the Founding Fathers of America each had at least one copy of this biography.

Tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae

The Tomb of Cyrus is the final resting place of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the ancient Achaemenid Empire. The mausoleum is located in Pasargadae, an archaeological site in the Fars Province of Iran. According to the Father of Modern Political Science, Machiavelli, Cyrus was a notable prince because he became “great” based on personal ability, not fortune.  He created an empire with difficulty but kept it with ease based on his character and leadership.  In his book Power Ambition Glory, internationally-acclaimed American publisher and businessman Steve Forbes begin his parallels between great ancient leadership and today’s global lessons with Cyrus.

For Iranians, Cyrus is a byproduct of their ancient culture, heritage, and upbringing.  They are proud to have presented such a man to world history.  Cyrus the Great is the embodiment of Iranian national identity, and his immortality ensures Iran’s future freedom, greatness, and contribution to the advancement of human civilization.

“Passerby, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire and was king of Asia.  Grudge me not therefore this monument.”

(The inscription on Cyrus’s tomb by Strabo, 1st c. B.C.)

Royal House Achaemenid

Anshan, Persis, Iran

Cambyses I

Cambyses II

Cassandane of Persia

Cambyses II

Father Cambyses I
Mother Mandane of Media
  600 BC?
  Anshan, Persia (Iran)

Died December, 530 BC
Place of death Along the Syr Darya

Reign  530 BC – 559 BC (30 years)