Also Known As: Cyrus II Of Persia, Cyrus The Elder
Famous As: Founder Of First Persian Empire
Died At Age: 60
Born In: Anshan
Father: Cambyses I
Mother: Mandane Of Media
Spouses/Partners: Cassandane, Neithiyti
Children: Atossa, Cambyses II, Artystone, Bardiya, Roxane
Died On: 530 BC
Place Of Death: Syr Darya
Cyrus the Great (ca.600 – 529 BCE) was a towering figure in the history of mankind.
As the “father of the Iranian nation”, he was the first world leader to be referred to as “The Great”.
Cyrus founded the first world empire – and the second Iranian dynastic empire (the Achaemenids) – after defeating the Median dynasty
and uniting the Medes with the other major Iranian tribe, the Persians.
The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted c. 30 years.
Cyrus built his empire by first conquering the Median Empire, then theLydian Empire, and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Either before or after Babylon,
he led an expedition into Central Asia,
which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought “into subjection every nation without exception”.
Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, and was alleged to have died in battle, fighting theMassagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BC.
He was succeeded by his son,Cambyses II,
who managed to add to the empire by conquering Egypt, Nubia, andCyrenaica during his short rule.
In the 1970s, the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi identified his famous proclamation inscribed onto the Cyrus Cylinder as the oldest known declaration ofhuman rights,
and the Cylinder has since been popularized as such.
This view has been criticized by some historians as a misunderstanding of the Cylinder’s generic nature as a traditional statement that new monarchs make at the beginning of their reign.
Almost nothing is known about Cyrus’ personal beliefs,
but Xenophon reports to us that in religious matters he followed the guidance of the Magians at his court.
Although this is not universally agreed, Mary Boyce has argued that Cyrus was indeed a Zoroastrian
and that he thus followed in the footsteps of his ancestors, from when they were Median vassals in Anshan.
She has pointed out that the fire altars and the mausoleum at Pasargadae demonstrate Zoroastrian practices, and has cited Greek texts as evidence that Zoroastrian priests held positions of authority at Cyrus’ court
Expressions like “king of the Persian kingdom” and “the Median kingdom” are a bit misleading.
The Medes and the Persians were coalitions of Iranian nomad tribes;
in the fifth century, this was still remembered and the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassuswrote:
The achievement of Deioces […] was to unite under his rules the peoples of Media – Busae, Parataceni, Struchates, Arizanti, Budii, Magi.
The Persian nation contains a number of tribes […]:
the Pasargadae, Maraphii, and Maspii, upon which all the other tribes are dependent.
Of these, the Pasargadae are the most distinguished; they contain the clan of the Achaemenids from which spring the Perseid kings.
Other tribes are the Panthialaei, Derusiaei, Germanii,
all of which are attached to the soil, the remainder – the Dai, Mardi, Dropici, Sagarti, being nomadic.note
The exact date and place of Cyrus’s birth is not known.
However, he was born somewhere in the Median empire, sometime between 590 and 580 BCE.
His father was Cambyses I, the King of Anshan and his mother was Mandane, daughter of Astyages,
the last king of the Median Empire.
A mythological account of Cyrus’s early life was presented by Herodotus, according to which, his grandfather Astyages had a prophetic dream, in which he saw flood as well as fruit bearing vines emerging from his daughter’s pelvis.
This was interpreted negatively by his advisers who told him that his daughter’s son would be a rebel who would try to replace him to become the new ruler.
As his daughter was pregnant at that time, Astyages, under the influence of his advisors,
made the decision to get the baby killed as soon as it was born.
The task of killing the baby was given to his chief adviser Harpagus.
Harpagus was reluctant to perform the gruesome task and he gave the job to a shepherd named Mithradates.
The shepherd, however, decided to raise Cyrus as his own son, and pass off his own stillborn son as the dead baby Cyrus.
Cyrus grew up in secrecy.
However, after he beat up the son of a nobleman during a game,
he was summoned to Astyages’ court along with his adoptive father.
The shepherd confessed the truth, after which Astyages decided to send Cyrus to live with his biological parents.
Cuneiform records from Babylon suggest that Cyrus died on 4 December 530BCE.
However, according to Herodotus, Cyrus was killed near the Aral Sea in July
or August 529BCE during a campaign to protect the northeastern borders of his empire from incursions by the Massagetae.
Tomyris, the queen of the Massagetae, had assumed control of her nation’s forces after Cyrus had defeated and killed her son Spargapises.
She led the attack on the Iranian forces, who suffered heavy casualties as well as losing their leader, Cyrus. After the battle,
Tomyris apparently ordered the body of Cyrus to be found so that she could avenge the death of her son.
She then dipped Cyrus’ head in blood or by some accounts ordered his head to be put into a wine-skin filled with human blood.
At Cyrus’ death, his son Cambyses II succeeded him. He attacked the Massagetae to recover Cyrus’s ravaged body, before burying it at Pasargadae