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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Cyrus the Great

Page 1

Cyrus and the Creation of the Persian Empire

Media and Babylon

Overthrow of Media

Conquest of Lydia

Conquest of Babylon

Clay Cylinder - Cyrus' Liberation of Babylon

Cyrus in the Bible

Cyrus' Ecumenical Approach

Demise & Tomb of Cyrus

Page 2 - Pasargadae, Capital of Cyrus

Site Location & Structures

Palace Complex

Tall-e Takht

Cyrus the Great & Cyrus Cylinder Series

Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration

Cyrus the Great - Information Sources

Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes

Cyrus Cylinder

Cyrus Cylinder - its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam

Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)

Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)

Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)

Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery

Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones

Cyrus Cylinder: Talk by Neil MacGregor, Dir. British Museum

Page 1

» Suggested prior reading: Early Persian History. Formation of Persia and the Achaemenian Dynasty

» Related reading: Cyropaedia by Xenophon

Cyrus and the Creation of the Persian Empire

Cyrus was the son of Kabujiya I / Cambyses I (reigned c. 600-559 BCE) and grandson of Kurush I / Cyrus I (reigned c. 640-600 BCE) founder of the second line of Achaemenian kings. According to Xenophon, Cyrus' mother was Mandane / Mandana, daughter of Astyages / Ishtovigu, King of Media from 585-550 BCE. When Cyrus assumed the Persian throne, he asserted Persian dominance over Media which was at that time an empire - a Median empire he had helped to consolidate - and thereby became an emperor. Some of the kingdoms in the Median empire did not automatically accept Cyrus' rule and Cyrus embarked on a campaign to consolidate the empire - now the first Persian empire. Cyrus' approach to creating this empire was quite different from the approach of any other king before him.

Werner Keller in the Bible as History, writes that Achaemenid king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, "was an enlightened monarch. His unparalleled, swift, and brilliant rise to power was marred by no deed of violence. His able and humane policy made him one of the most attractive figures in the ancient orient. The most repugnant feature of oriental monarchs before him, despotic cruelty, was foreign to this Persian."

Cyrus II (lived c. 600 - August 530 BCE), known to history as Cyrus the Great of Persia (Old Persian Kurush, Modern Persian Kurosh), was son of the early Achaemenian king Kabujiya I (Modern Persian Kambiz, English Cambyses). Cyrus was the founder of the Persian empire, the largest empire the world had ever seen, and a king who introduced the first known charter of rights.

Media and Babylon

At the time when Cyrus came to the throne upon his father's death in 559 BCE, Persia, with its capital at Anshan (which Cyrus later moved to Pasargadae), was a junior partner in an alliance with Media. During the rule of Astyages (Pers. Ishtovigu 585-550 BCE), Cyrus' grandfather, Media had become an empire - an empire that would later during the rule of Astyages' son Cyaxares stretch from Cappadocia (Central Turkey today) in the west, through the Iranian plateau to Bactria (Afghanistan today) in the east (see map below). It was Cyrus who helped his uncle Cyaxares consolidate the Median empire.

The other great power in the region were the Babylonians who formed what the Greeks referred to as the Chaldean kingdom. Seven years after the death of king Nebuchadnezzar II (from Nabu-kudurri-usur)(c 630-562 BCE), Nabonidus ascended the throne of Babylon. The Medes and the Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians as the dominant power in the region, dividing the former Assyrian empire between themselves.

Middle East Empires 600 BCE
Middle East Empires 600 BCE
The Median (including Persian), Lydian, Cilician, Chaldean and Susiana regions became Cyrus' Persian empire

Overthrow of Media

Between the summer of 553 and early 552 BCE, Cyrus, dissatisfied with being a junior partner in a partnership where his uncle, Median king Cyaxares (Cyrus' uncle) was becoming less effective and more indolent, moved to change the nature of the relationship by becoming the senior partner in their alliance. He did so with the cooperation of the Median Harpagus. In 549 BCE, the Median capital of Ecbatana (Old Persian Hangmatana, modern Hamadan) fell to Cyrus. Within the year, all of Media came under Cyrus' rule.

Cyrus' rise to power is a subject of Xenophon's Cyropaedia.

Conquest of Lydia

The kingdom that occupied the western lands of Asia Minor (western Turkey today) was Lydia. Lydia had been an ally of the Medes and Croesus, its king and son of Alyattes II, was the Median king Astyages' brother-in-law.

Croesus decided to confront Cyrus. He first captured and then destroyed the Cappadocian city of Pteria, which was now part of Cyrus' Persian-Median kingdom, in 547 BCE, taking all its citizens as slaves. The harsh treatment of the citizens of Pteria may have been because the citizen's had welcomed Cyrus' rule and resisted the Lydians. A year later, in 546 BCE, Cyrus counteracted, conquering the kingdom of Lydia in the process. In 542 BCE, Greek Ionia, Lycia, Cilicia and Phoenicia succumbed to the advancing Persian armies.

Conquest of Babylon

In 539 BCE, on his march towards Babylon, Cyrus captured the neighbouring city state of Susa (Susiana) with very little resistance. On October 12, 539 BCE, Cyrus' armies entered Babylon without a battle. The taking of Babylon was more in the nature of a liberation than a conquest. On October 29, Cyrus personally visited the city amid the jubilation of its citizens.

Clay Cylinder - Cyrus' Liberation of Babylon

Clay cylinder used to produced tablets containing the law of Cyrus II (the Great)
Clay cylinder used to produced tablets containing the law of Cyrus II (the Great)
Portion of the inscriptions produced by the clay cylinder<
Portion of the inscriptions produced by the clay cylinder

The famous clay cylinder (shown above) was discovered in 1879 as a foundation deposit in the foundation of the Esagila temple by the Assyro-British archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam (also see Cyrus Cylinder & Its Discoverer - Hormuzd Rassam. There are reportedly two parts: The first, BM 90920, is a cylinder about 23 cm wide and 8 cm in diameter, contains lines 1-35. The second, a slab 8.6 cm wide and 5.6 cm high, contains lines 36-45. The slab used to be in the collection of the Yale University (NBC 2504) but is now housed with the cylinder in the British Museum at London. The inscriptions recount the liberation of Babylon.

The part of the cylinder containing the opening words is broken. The initial sentences appear to be a condemnation of the Babylonian king Nabonidus and the reason for welcoming Cyrus' rule. A free translation of the surviving cuneiform text is as follows:

"(King Nabonidus of Babylon) put a low person in charge of the country and constructed false temples in Ur and other cities. He instituted improper rites and brought the daily religious offerings to a halt within the sanctuaries. He no longer feared Marduk, supreme God. He caused evil acts within the city every day, burdened the people without relief thereby bringing ruin.

"The supreme God became furious at these transgressions. Taking pity on all the settlements whose sanctuaries were in ruins, and for the populations who had become like corpses, He sought to find relief. He searched all the countries for a saviour seeking an upright king. He took the hand of Cyrus, king of Anshan, and proclaimed his kingship over all the world. He made the land of the Qutu and all the Median troops prostrate themselves at Cyrus' feet. He looked for justice and righteousness for the black-headed people whom he had put under his care.

"Marduk, the great lord, who nurtures his people, saw with pleasure Cyrus' fine deeds and true heart and ordered that Cyrus go to Babylon. He had Cyrus take the road to Tintir, and, like a friend and companion, walked at his side. Cyrus' vast troops whose number, like the water in a river, could not be counted, marched fully-armed at his side. Marduk had Cyrus enter Shuanna without fighting or battle. He saved Babylon from hardship. He handed over to Cyrus Nabonidus, the king who did not fear him. All the people of Tintir, Sumer and Akkad, nobles and governors, bowed down before Cyrus and kissed his feet, rejoicing over his kingship and their faces shone. The lord through whose trust all were rescued from death and who saved them all from distress and hardship, they blessed him sweetly and praised his name.

"I am Cyrus, emperor, king of kings, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world, son of Cambyses, great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, great king, descendant of Teispes, great king, king of Anshan, of the lineage of kings whose reign is blessed by Bel and Nabu, and whose kingship they are pleased to protect.

"Amid jubilation and rejoicing, I entered Babylon in peace to establish a just government and strive for peace. My troops wandered peacefully throughout Babylon. In all of Sumer and Akkad, I gave no cause for fear and no one was terrorized. I concerned myself with the needs and welfare of the citizens of Babylon, Sumer and Akkad, and with promoting their well-being. I freed them from their improper oppression & bondage. I healed their afflictions and put an end to their misfortune. I restored their dilapidated dwellings. I gathered and assisted the displaced held in bondage, to return to their homes.

"I rebuilt sanctuaries and chapels that lay in ruins. The deities of Sumer and Akkad that Nabonidus had, to the fury of the people, brought to Shuanna, I returned unharmed to their rightful sanctuaries. I have returned all the deities to their sanctuaries and restored their temples.

"All the enthroned kings from every quarter, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, from the city of Ashur and Susa, Akkad, the land of Eshnunna, the city of Zamban, the city of Meturnu, Der, as far as the border of the land of Qutu the kings of Amurru who live in tents, and from remote lands, brought tribute into Shuanna and laid them at my feet. My government has enabled all these lands to live in peace and order.

"For the protection of the citizens, I have strengthened with baked brick and tar, the protecting walls of Imgur-Enlil and the fortifications of the city of Babylon beside the city's moat. I have completed sections of the fortifications that had remained unfinished despite the bondage in which previous kings had placed the people. I have had constructed from cedar, copper cladding and copper hinges and fittings, the large gates of the city. I strengthened all the gates I saw inscribed the name of my predecessor, King Ashurbanipal."

Free translation adapted by K. E. Eduljee

Cyrus in the Bible

Amongst the people that Cyrus freed from forced exile and bondage and were thousands of Jews who had been brought to Babylon according to standard Chaldean practice by Nebuchadnezzar fifty years earlier starting in 597 BCE. Amongst the temples that Cyrus helped to restore was the Jew's Temple of Jerusalem, both the physical structure and the treasures which Nebuchadnezzar had looted.

The Jewish scriptures and the Old Testament remember Cyrus in words very similar to the inscriptions found in the Babylon's Esagila temple:

"Thus said the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two-leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut." (Isaiah 45:1)

"Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia. All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given to me... ." (II Chron. 36:23)

"In the first year of Cyrus the king, the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be built, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits." (Ezra 6:3)

"...let the expenses be given out of the king's house. And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored and brought again unto the temple, which is at Jerusalem, every one to its place, and place them in the house of God." (Ezra 4:5,6)

Cyrus entrusted the carrying out of the decree to Shashbazzar, the governor (Ezra 5:14), prince of Judah and a likely member of the house of David. In the spring on 537 BCE, after lengthy preparations, a caravan consisting of forty two thousand three hundred and sixty Jews, seven thousand three hundred and thirty seven servants, two hundred singers, seven hundred and thirty six horses, two hundred and forty five mules, four hundred and thirty five camels, and six thousand seven hundred and twenty asses, assembled for the one thousand three hundred kilometre journey to Jerusalem.

When Cyrus allowed and financed the exiled Jews to return home, he encouraged them to return to their previous religious practices and worship Yahweh. In doing so, he helped create the Jewish nation that had previously been a kingdom that had all but disappeared. It is said that the Torah was composed and assembled around this time.

Cyrus' Ecumenical Approach

Neither Cyrus, nor the magi priests in his court who acted as advisors, sought to convert the people of the conquered lands to the Mazdayasni Zoroastrian faith. On the contrary, Cyrus went to great lengths to restore the religious practices native to a region and a people. Cyrus was continuing the tradition established by the Persians when the Persians occupied Elamite lands during their migration south into Anshan, and when the coexisted peaceably with the Elamites.

As we can see from the Babylonian and Jewish texts quoted above, the two groups viewed Cyrus as being on a mission from their individual concept of God. Cyrus' ecumenical approach has puzzled historians who have difficulty in accepting that a king who practiced one faith could embrace the right of others to practice their own faith. Zoroastrian Mazdayasnis share this ecumenical tradition with their Hindu cousins. The Zoroastrians, however, take the approach one step further. They believe that a person has a right to their ancestral faith, should the individual desire to follow that tradition, and that this faith is a part of a person's being and heritage. The right to practice one's belief was one of the principles of Cyrus' charter of rights.

The Demise & Tomb of Cyrus

Tomb believed to be that of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae
Tomb believed to be that of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae, Pars, Iran

According to Babylonian inscriptions, Cyrus died in August 530 BCE.

There are four Greek accounts of his death. Three of them state that he died in combat on the eastern borders of his empire. One states that he died peaceably. Herodotus states in Book 1 Cleo, sections 205-214, that Cyrus was killed during his attempt to defeat the Saka Tigrakhauda, known to Herodotus as the Massagetae. Ctesias (5th century BCE) and Berossus (3rd century BC) state that Cyrus died battling a different group of Saka in the environs of the headwaters of the Syr Darya. Xenophon contradicts these accounts and writes in his Cyropaedia that Cyrus died peaceably at his capital Pasargadae (described in Page 2).

The body of Cyrus is believed to have been laid to rest in a mausoleum at Pasargadae, presently in the province of Pars, Iran. Both Strabo and Arrian describe the mausoleum and according to Plutarch, the inscribed epitaph had stated:

"O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who gave the Persians their empire. Do not therefore grudge me this piece of stone that covers my body."

Reconstruction image of the tomb of Cyrus the Great
Reconstruction image of the tomb of Cyrus the Great

» Page 2

» Related reading: Cyropaedia by Xenophon

At our blogsite:
» Cyrus the Great - His Religion & Inspiration
» Cyrus the Great - Information Sources
» Cyrus the Great - Hebrew Bible Quotes
» Cyrus Cylinder
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Discoverer Hormuzd Rassam
» Cyrus Cylinder - Contents (Eduljee)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Rogers)
» Cyrus Cylinder - Translation (Finkel)
» Cyrus Cylinder - its Remarkable Discovery
» Cyrus' Edict & the Chinese Cuneiform Bones
» Cyrus Cylinder: Talk by Neil MacGregor, Dir. British Museum

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