Cyrus the Great

One of the most famous rulers of antiquity, Cyrus the Great began his reign in 559 B.C. During his thirty-year reign he established the largest empire the world had ever known before his time. Founder of the Persian Empire and member of the Achaemenid dynasty, Cyrus the Great is today considered the father of Iran. While he is revered for empire building, he has also been praised for his tolerance toward conquered subjects and allowing religious freedom throughout his lands.

Cyrus’s early years have become the stuff of legend. The story of his birth has been compared to the legend of Remus and Romulus or the heroes of Greek plays. His birth, in fact, is unknown. Historians believe he was born in either 600 B.C. or possibly 576 B.C. in Anshan, Persis. According to his own testimony, Cyrus inherited his kingship from his father Cambyses I. He then began to conquer all the civilized city states and lands of the near east including Babylon and Akkad. His first conquests were the Median Empire, the Lydian Empire, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire. After these victories Cyrus expanded his rule into central Asia. His titles included King of Persia, King of Media, King of Anshan, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

Cyrus’s consort was Cassandane of Persia and their union was a famous love match in antiquity. They had four children that are known: Cambyses II, Bardiya, Artystone, and Atossa. Cyrus practiced the religion of Zoroastrianism. Religious tolerance came to be at the heart of Cyrus the Great’s legacy. Not only did he famously spare many temples during military campaigns, he helped his conquests restore their temples and shrines in cities such as Babylon. This made him immensely popular in conquered lands. He also came to be revered by the Jews as documented by the Old Testament because he allowed them to return to and rebuild Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon.

Although Cyrus forged a great empire, he was often viewed as a liberator as in the case of his bloodless conquest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Later world leaders—even Thomas Jefferson—revered him for his wise statesmanship as well as for his remarkable military leadership. Cyrus’s founding of the Persian Empire dramatically influenced the course of world history and his legacy continued to be influential even after the rule of Islam came to Persia during the 7th century A.D. His own successors emulated his achievements as an empire builder and he greatly influenced later Greeks and Romans. Cyrus the Great died in 530 B.C. and his tomb is believed to be in his capital Pasargadae. He was succeeded by his son Cambyses II.