Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, the first Persian empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all of the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Western Asia and much of Central Asia. Spanning from the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, the empire created by Cyrus was the largest the world had yet seen. The reign of Cyrus lasted about thirty years; his empire took root with his conquests of the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He also led an expedition into Central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought “into subjection every nation without exception”.
Cyrus was born to Cambyses I, King of Anshan, and Mandane, daughter of Astyages, King of Media, during the period of 600-599 BC. Cyrus married Cassandane who was an Achaemenian and the daughter of Pharnaspes who bore him two sons, Cambyses Il and Bardiya along with three daughters, Atossa, Artystone, and Roxane. Cyrus and Cassandane were known to love each other very much – Cassandane said that she found it more bitter to leave Cyrus than to depart her life. The Greek historian Strabo has said that Cyrus was originally named Agradates by his step-parents. It is possible that, when reuniting with his original family, following the naming customs, Cyrus’s father, Cambyses I, named him Cyrus after his grandfather, who was Cyrus I.
Cyrus founded the empire as a multi-state empire governed by four capital states; Pasargadae, Babylon, Susa and Ecbatana. He allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in each state, in the form of a satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A ‘satrap’ (governor) was the vassal king, who administered the region, c
‘general’ supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a ‘state secretary’ kept the official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the satrap as well as the central government. During his reign, Cyrus maintained control over a vast region of conquered kingdoms, achieved through retaining and expanding the satrapies.
Cyrus was well-known for having respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. He was important in developing the system of a central administration at Pasargadae governing satraps in the empire’s border regions, which worked very effectively and profitably for both rulers and subiects. The Edict of Restoration, c proclamation attested by a cylinder seal in which Cyrus authorized and encouraged the return of the Israelites to the Land of Israel following his conguest of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, is described in the Bible and likewise left a lasting legacy on the Jewish religion due fo his role in ending the Babylonian captivity and facilitating the Jewish return to Zion.
It is generally believed that Zarathushtra’s teachings maintained influence on Cyrus’s acts and policies, so far no clear evidence has been found to indicate that Cyrus practiced a specific religion. Pierre Briant wrote that given the poor information we have, “it seems quite reckless to try to reconstruct what the religion of Cyrus might have been.
The policies of Cyrus with respect to treatment of minority religions are documented in Babylonian texts as well as Jewish sources and the historians accounts.
Cyrus had a general policy of religious tolerance throughout his vast empire. The Jews honored him as a dignified and righteous king.
In one Biblical passage, Isaiah refers to him as Messiah (lit.
“His anointed one”) (Isaiah 45:1), making him the only gentile to be so referred.
Elsewhere in Isaiah, God is described as saying, “I will raise Up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says God Almighty.” (Isaiah 45:13)
As the text suggests, Cyrus did ultimately release the nation of Israel from its exile without compensation or tribute.
In the Bible (e.g., Ezra 1:1-4), Cyrus is famous for freeing the Jewish captives in Babylonia and allowing them to return to their homeland. Cyrus was also tolerant toward the Babylonians and others. He conciliated local populations by supporting local customs and even sacrificing to local deities.
One of the few surviving sources of information that can be dated directly to Cyrus’s time is the Cyrus Cylinder, a document in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform. It had been placed in the foundations of the Esagila (the temple of Marduk in Babylon) as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest in 539 BC. It was discovered in 1879 and is kept today in the British Museum in London. The text of the cylinder denounces the deposed Babylonian king
Nabonidus as impious and portrays Cyrus as pleasing to the chief god Marduk. It describes how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries.
Cyrus the Great’s remains may have been interred in his capital city of Pasargadae, where today a limestone tomb (built around 540-530 BC) still exists, which many believe to be his. Strabo and Arian give nearly identical descriptions of the tomb, based on the eyewitness report of AristobulUs of Cassandreia, who at the request of Alexander the Great visited the tomb twice. Though the city itself is now in ruins, the burial place of Cyrus the Great has remained largely intact, and the tomb has been partially restored to counter its natural deterioration over the centuries. The translate ancient Roman and Greek accounts give a vivid description of the tomb both geometrically and aesthetically.
“am Cyrus the King, an Achaemenian” in Old Persian Elamite and Akkadian languages. It is known as the “CMa inscription”, carved in a column of Palace P in Pasargadae.
These inscriptions on behalf of Cyrus were probably made later by Darius I in order to affirm his lineage, using the Old Persian script he had designed.