The Persian Empire figures into many historical texts about ancient times. It is even mentioned in the Bible and the Quran. Arguably, the most famous leader of the Persians was Cyrus the Great. The Persians called him “The Father”. Babylonians regarded him as “The Liberator”. The Hebrew people called him “The Anointed of the Lord”. The Greeks named him “The Law-Giver”.
We only have sketchy information about Cyrus’ early years. He was born in Anshan, Persia around 580 BCE. According to historians of his day, Cyrus’ grandfather, Astyages, dreamt that his grandson would grow up to overthrow him. To keep his reign safe, Astyages ordered baby Cyrus to be killed.
Legends say that the king’s officer who was to carry out the infanticide gave baby Cyrus to a shepherd rather than slaying the boy. A decade later, Astyages discovered that Cyrus had not been murdered. Due to the youngster’s amazing personal qualities, the king allowed him to live in exile with his mother, the king’s daughter Mandane.
Meantime Cambyses was the husband of Mandane, he assumed the role of king after the death of his father. Cambyses was the last emperor of the Median Dynasty. Upon the death of Cambyses, Cyrus became a Median vassal king of Persia.
In 554 BCE, Cyrus led a revolt against Astyages. Four years later, in 550 BCE Cyrus fulfilled Astyages’ prophecy by overthrowing his grandfather. Cyrus then blended the Median and the Persian nobles to establish his own kingdom. Eventually, this grew to become the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus’ goal was to rule over Babylon, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean coastal areas.
His army’s conquests first included the Peshawar region that is now part of Pakistan. From there, the army moved westward into Chaldea and annexed that part of the Babylonian Empire. In late 539 BCE he entered Babylon, arrested the king and assumed the throne. Following the post-overthrow massacre of the Babylonian forces, Cyrus settled into his new empire.
Cyrus gave himself the title, “King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Corners of the World.” Next, he took over control of Arabia and the rest of the Middle East up to the borders of Ancient Egypt.
Cyrus could have gone down in history as only a conquering empire builder, but he had personal qualities and ethics that helped him become known as a great ruler, as well. Cyrus became known for his magnanimous and tolerant nature. His ethical standards have influenced modern thinking.
After taking control of the major trading routes of the Middle East, he issued a charter, known today as the “Cyrus Cylinder”. In this document, Cyrus expressed his wishes regarding the rights of the tribes and people he ruled. Among the text, Cyrus promises freedom of worship and religion for the diverse groups in his domain. He also granted permission to the peoples who were brought to Babylon as prisoners of war to return to their homelands, if they wished to do so.
One of the tribes who wanted to go home, were the Hebrews. Not only did Cyrus grant them freedom, he gave political support and financial aid to enable them to do so. Not only that, but he supported their efforts to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Through this display of tolerance and similar measures with other peoples, Cyrus became famous as the epitome of a great ruler.
This is why we celebrate human rights accomplishments and goals today around the World. By the closest historical estimates, it was on October 29th of 539 BCE that Cyrus rode into Babylon to take over the Babylonian Empire. Legend states that the conquered people who were captives of the Babylonians threw palm fronds onto his path in his honor.
It was through Cyrus’ permission to the various peoples to retain their identities and belief systems that his empire was able to maintain its overall unity. In the end, Cyrus’ legacy includes the high ideals of human dignity and personal freedoms.
Much of today’s human rights movement is built on the foundations that were established by Cyrus the Great. His basic principles of tolerance and commitment to liberation of enslaved people continues to inspire freedom loving people today.
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this quote credited to Cyrus the Great: “You cannot be buried in obscurity. You are exposed upon a grand theater to the view of the World. If your actions are upright and benevolent, be assured they will augment your power and happiness.”