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”. The origin of the Persian Empire can be attributed to the leadership of one man-Cyrus the Great.
A brilliant and powerful Persian king, Cyrus’ strategy for enlarging the Persian kingdom was to conquer nearby lands and then unite them into one empire. Cyrus’ Persian Empire, which extended from India to the Mediterranean Sea, was the most powerful state in the world until its conquest two centuries later by Alexander 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.
Cyrus the Great is famed as a triumphant conqueror, a superb warrior, and the founder of the greatest empire the world has ever seen. However, with the Cyrus Cylinder and a range of Jewish texts, plus extensive writings by Xenophon, Cyrus is generally more admired as a liberator than a conqueror.
He was born to nobility in a small highland tribe, the Achaemenians, in central Persia. The tribe paid tribute to several regional kingdoms, including Media to the west and Babylonia to the south. Cyrus was from the Achaemenid dynasty, who had ruled the small kingdom of Persis for generations.
While the first version sounds suspiciously like a fairy tale, the second one is largely based on inscriptions by Darius I, who claimed to be from another branch of the same family. Cyrus’ father was a minor king who was venerated in his own lands but became utterly humble when he visited his more powerful neighbors to take tributes of wild horses.
Cyrus the Great Facts
Given that Darius also faked inscriptions ‘by Cyrus’ about the Achaemenid dynasty at Cyrus’ palace, Pasargadae, and that he seized power by force, it seems likely that Darius either distorted or totally made up the history of the Achaemenids to give himself a legitimate claim to the throne he had snatched.
Through his skillful leadership and a strong military, Cyrus was able to create a vast empire that would last for more than two hundred years. The origins and impacts of Cyrus the Great’s empire made it possible for the emperors who came after him, such as Darius I, to continue to expand and control the Persian Empire.
Cyrus the Great Persian Empire
Upon his victory over the Medes, he founded a government for his new kingdom, incorporating both Median and Persian nobles as civilian officials. The conquest of Asia Minor completed, he led his armies to the eastern frontiers. Hyrcania and Parthia were already part of the Median Kingdom.
Further east, he conquered Drangiana, Arachosia, Margiana and Bactria. After crossing the Oxus, he reached the Jaxartes, where he built fortified towns with the object of defending the farthest frontier of his kingdom against nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
Cyrus the Great was mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament, where he is unconditionally praised. This followed his active liberation of the Jews from Babylon in 539BCE and his support as more than 40,000 Jews then chose to return to their homeland.