CYRUS THE GREAT
The early life of Cyrus, like that of so many heroes of ancient history, us shrouded in legend, as is his demise. The story of how his grandfather had a dream in which he saw a vine growing from his death occurred in a remote eastern land of unknown causes, reflects the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death.
The historical facts, however, are that Cyrus was born from the marriage of cambyses the persian and Mandana the daughter of Astyages, king of Media, and his family's importance was at first increased by the connection with the Median royal family.
The persians , like the Medes an Aryan people, after a long period of migration, had settled in pârsumâsh, dependency of Elam, the region around modern Masjed – e Soleymân. With the gradual decline of the persians succeeded in the father in 550 B.C. consisted not only of Pârsumâsh but also of Anshâ, correspondding to the eastern and south-eastern parts of Mâl-e Amir in the Bakhtiâri region, and parsa, roughly equivalent to the modern province of Fârs ( or pârs). Although he at first paid homage to his grandfather as king of kings, Cyrus styled himself Great King, an Achaemenian. This tile occurs on a table discovered under the foundations of one of the palaces of pasargadae.
Cyrus, who was always trying to expand his sphere of operations and extend his territory, succeeded in his expansionist from the very start. It should, however, be stated that the world was in a realatively troubled state, a fact which contributed to his success.
The brilliant Elamite civilization which had begun some four thousand years B.C had succumbed to Assyrian oppression, and the Assyrians at the height of their power had been overthrown by the babylonians aided by the Medes. The eastern world was divided between these two powers, the Bobylonians and the Meades. At the same time the Median Kingdom had begun to show signs of weakness, which were ultimately to lead to the dowenfall of the ancient word and the emergence of a flourishing new era.
Inevitably, the two great powers were destined one day to clash, with the victor swallowing up the vanquished to become lord of the east.
It was in these circumstances that Cyrus took the bold step of striking out on his own, and as the Medes and Badylonians were preparing for war Cyrus seized the chance to further his own end and with the help of Babylon, overthrew the Medes and seized their throne. In those days the lands to the east and north – east of Iran were among the country’s main provinces and played a major role in politics, culture and civilization. Another branch of the Achaemenian family ruled over them under the overall sovereignty of Cyrus.
The great Achaemenian monarch pursued two political objective in his life. One was to expand his empire westwards to the Mediterranean and Greece, and the other was to win victories in the east until his eastern frontiers reached the natural frontier of transoxiana. Cyrus succeeded in carrying out the major part of this master plan, which was continued by his successors. The persian Empire reached its peak when the plan was fully executed and its frontiers stretched from the Mediterranean, Egypt and Abyssinia, in the west, to the river Jaxartes ( Syr-Daryâ, seyhun) in the east.
Of Asia Minor, which took place in 546 B.C. formed part of his general strategy, and from then on Lvida was an integral part of his empire and had a persian governor. Once Lydia became part of the Persian empire roads were opened to give access to the Greek settlements of Asia Minor, and finally lonia fell to the persian armies, thus opening a gateway to the Mediterranean. This was a vital step towards the ultimate objective of penetrating this important sea, whereby rich and prosperous Greece could be reached.In the years 546 to 530 B.C. Cyrus devoted his attention to the eastern front.
To the north-east of the central desert of the Iranian plateau lay fertile Hyrcania (modoerr Gorgân ) and the Caspian Gates, and further east the mountainous highlands of parthia, both of which were ruled by Hystaspes (Vishtpâ, or Goshtâsb), son of Arsames (Arshâme), a member of the Achaemenian family, who was a vassal of Cyrus.
|The winged man|
East of parthia was Aria (modern Herât), and further south Drangiana ( Zaranga, or Sistân). In his campaigns to the north-east of Iran cyrus first conquered these territories, then proceeded to Soghdiana (Soghd), Iying brtween the rivers Jaxartes and Oxus (Amu-Daryâ, Jeyhun) with its capital at Maracanda ( modern Samarqand). Beyond these rivers were the nomadic Massagetae and the Chorasmians (Khwârazmis), whom Cyrus subdued. Then to secure the territories to the southe of these lands, particularly Transoxiana, from the danger of attacfpm these nomadic tribes he erected fortifications to the south of the Jaxartes and Oxus as well as at Maracanda, Thus etending the eastern limits of Iran to the town of Bactria (Balkh). Finally he occupied Gandhara the key to the conquest of India.
After these brilliant successes, Cyrus turned his attention to Babylonia, which for some time had been in every way a suitable objective. Mesopotamia had a long history, but because of the decrepitude of its government, its overthrow had for some time been predicted. The jews, in exile, had prophesied the Iranian attack. In the words of the prophet jeremiah: ֞the Lord hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the Lord, the vengeance of his temple֞. (Jeremiah, 51:11).
In 538 B.C. Babylon fell without resistance, only the royal citadel holding out for a few days. Cyrus was hailed npt only as the conqueror of Babylon but also as its saviour, and the legal successor to the Babylonian crown, and with full Babylonian ceremonies he ascended the throne of the Mesopotamian empire. He embraced Marduk the chif Babylonian deity, bestowed on title ֞ King of Babylonia, king of countries," and made the following public proclamation:
I am Cyrus, King of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of the land of sumer and Akkad, king of the four quqrters, son of cambyses, great king, king of Anshân, grandson of Cyrus, great king, king of Anshân, descendant of Teispes, great king king of Anshân,progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nabu cherish, whose kingship they desire for thir heartsʹ pleasure. When I, well – disposed, entered Babylon, I set up the seat of domination in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to… me. I sought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. Idid not allow any to terrorise the land of / Sumer/ and Akkad. Ikept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well- being.the citizens of Babylon… Ilitted their unbecoming yoke. Their dilapidated dwellings Irestored. I put an end to their misfortunes. At my deeds Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced, and to me, Cyrus, the king who worshipped him, and to Cambyses, my son, the oftspring of (my) loins, and to all my troops he graciously gave his blessing, and in good spirits before him we / gloritied/ exceedingly his high / divinity/. All the kings who sat in throne rooms, throughout the four quarters, from the Upper to the Lower Sea,
those who dwelt in …, all the kings of the west Country who dwelt in tents, brought me their heavy tribute and kissed my feet in Babylon, From…to the cities Ashur and Susa, Agade,Eshnuna, the cities of Zamban, Meurnu, Der, as far as the region of the land of Gutium, the holy cities beyond the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been in ruins ove a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them in lasting abodes. I gathered together all their inhabitants and retorted (to them) their dwellings. The gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus had, to the anger of the lord of the gods, brought into Babylon, I, at the bidding of Marduk, the great lord made to dwell in peace in their habitations, delightful abodes. May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries address a daily prayer in my favour befor Bel and Nabu. That my days may be long, and may they say to Marduk my lord, : " May Cyrus the king who reveres thee, and Cmbyses his son…."
Thus we see that Cyrus respected the religion, customs and practices of the Babylonians,adopted their social system, restored their ruins and returned their gods to their rightful places, thus winning the hearts of the conquered people. The conquest of Babylon conferred on Cyrus dominion over Babylonian conferred on Cyrus dominion over Babylonian possessions: Syria accepted his overlordship, the phoenician kings paid him homage and placed their fleets at his disposal, and the whole of Mesopotamia recognized Achaemenian sovereignty, thus realizing Cyrusʹ drem of reaching the Mediterranean.
It is natural to ask how Cyrus could have won such a great empire so easily. The answer is to found in his treatment of the peoples he conquered. Clearly it was no easy task to rule over so many states and kingdoms each with their own peoples, races, customs, religions and laws.Cyrus succeeded in solving this problem by following a very intelligent and proper course, which was to respect and sometimes even to adopt personally the customs and religions of his conquered people. He encouraged the peoples to think think that the old regime had merely been replaced by a new administration that worked for the worked for the welfare of all. This made Cyrus acceptable to the subjected nations As long as his successors followed this policy the Achaemenian empire was perfectly capable of continuing its task, and we may note that Alexander was to adopt the same policy in establishing his new world order.
In the very first tear of his reigh in Babylon, Cyrus proclaimed the freedom of the jews from captivity and permitted them to return to their own land and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem as it was before the temple in Jerusalem as it was before the destruction. In 537 B.C. more than 40,000 jews left Babylon for the Holy Land. Cyrus’ deliverance of the Jews had both humanitarian and political aspects. In humanitarian terms, he enabled a dispersed people, who had long lived in captivity far from their native land, to return there, giving them at the same time the means to repair their ruined temples. Politically and materially, Cyrus realized that lsrael was both the gateway to North Africa, especially Egypt and Lipya, the granary of Greece, and to the Mediterranean, giving access to Syria and Asia Minor, and therefore offered the Achaemanian government tremendous political and economic advantages.
By winning popularity among the Jewish pepole, cyrus in effect made them his protégés. He sent Iranian commissions to supervise the reconstruction of Palestine and saw that local Jews, who were affilited to the Iranian government, were appointed as governors. By so doing, he exercised control over palestinian affairs, and without bloodshed or war in effect ran this important country, and through it help the key to North Africa. The Jewish leaders were convinced that "now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace, …
Further, on the subject of Cyrus’ divine mission, we find in the Old Testament: “ Thus saith the Lord to hisanoed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will lose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in asunder the bars of iron: And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by name, am the God of lsrael.”
The Middle East as far as the borders of Egypt was annexed to the persian empire, and way was prepared for the conquest of Egypt and other regions of North Africa. This enabled Cambyses, Cyrusʹ successor, to conquer Egypt without difficulty.
Finally, following the attacks which had been started by the nomadic central Asian tribes on Iran’s north-eastern frontiers, the great king set out to suppress them, and in 529 B.C. he was kil!ed fighting the Massagetae, a branch of the Scythians. As mentioned earlier, the exact circumstances of his death are not known. His body was brought back to pasargadae, the centre of the persian family and nation, and interred in mausoleum built by Cyrus, which is still extant, and is known as “Mashhad –e Morghâ b” Thus, our account of the life of a great personage, who was both a valiant warrior and an astute politician, comes to an end.
Ghirshman writes as follows of the conquests of this Achaemenian monarch and their results:
“.. Cyrus found himself at the head of an empire whose geographical situation and naturalwealth enabled him to play the part of intermediary between the civilization of the West and that of the Far East. Throughout millennia of her long history, Iran has not deviated from the historical mission thus bestowed upon her.”