Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

(c. 600-530 b.c.)

One of history’s greatest warlords, Cyrus was born in what is the southern part of pres¬ ent-day Iran. Many stories have circulated regarding his parentage, but it seems most likely he was the son and grandson of men who ruled the region known as Anshan.

Cyrus inherited the throne of Anshan and gathered the other tribes of the region called Persis (a present-day province of Fars, Iran). He led a revolt against his overlord, the Median king, Astyages. Joined by forces from the city of Babylon, Cyrus and his Persian warriors defeated the Medes. Cyrus entered the Median capital of Ecbatana (present-day Hamadan) and took the throne as king of Persia.

Two years after his entry to Ecbatana, Cyrus went to war against Croesus, the king of Lydia (present-day Turkey). Lydia had established the first known coinage system, and Croesus was reputed to be fabulously wealthy (hence, the old expression, “rich as Croesus”). The Lydian king consulted the Greek oracle at Delphi, which prophesied that if he attacked the Persians, a great empire would be destroyed.

Never thinking that the empire the Oracle spoke of might well be his own, Croesus fought Cyrus. The Persians pre¬ vailed; Cyrus took Croesus prisoner and took the kingdom of Lydia and all its wealth for himself. In the following year, 546 B.C., the Ionian cities on the eastern coast of Asia Minor (Turkey) revolted against the Persians. Cyrus swiftly captured the cities, further expanding his empire.

Cyrus turned eastward in 545 B.C., taking his hard-riding Persian warriors all the way to the Indus River and the foothills of the Hindu Kush Mountains. He returned to Ecbatana and moved against Babylon, which had remained independent of his control. Cyrus captured the city, ending the Babylonian dynasty.

The Persian king now controlled a vast empire stretching from the Indus River to the eastern shores of Asia Minor. He then cast an eager eye toward Egypt. Cyrus was prevented from marching eastward by attacks on the northern section of his empire. He marched north instead and met the nomadic Massagetai tribes in central Asia. There he was defeated and killed.

His concept of a world state lasted long after his death. The Persian cities of Susa and Persepolis stood at the center of the empire. The lands were connected by express riders who traveled on well-paved roads to carry news throughout the empire. Cyrus was buried at Pasargadae in a relatively simple tomb. A fierce warrior, but a benevolent and wise ruler, he was called “Father” by the Persians.