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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus II (d. 530 BC), also known as Cyrus the Great, was the fourth king of the Anshan and the first king of the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus led several military operations against the most powerful states of the time, including the media, Lydia and Babylonia. Through these campaigns, they united most of the Middle East under Persian hegemony while retaining local administration. By guaranteeing some continuity and thus winning the loyalty of the aristocracy, they laid the foundation for the Achaemenid empire.

Life of Cyrus

Not much information is found about Cyrus' early life. The various oral traditions related to his birth and puberty are preserved only in works by Greek authors such as Herodotus, Ctesias, and Xenophon, which offer conflicting accounts of a mostly mythical nature. According to Herodotus' most famous account, Cyrus was the son of the Persian king Cambyses (c. 580–559 BC) and the Median princess Manden, daughter of the medieval king Astyages (570–550 BC). Ctesias explicitly contrasted Herodotus,however, instead Cyrus was the son of a Persian brigand named Aratates and his wife, goatherd Argoste. According to Ctesias, Cyrus served as a chief company in the court of the Estes before overthrowing them. After his coup, Cyrus was adopted Astyages as his father and also married with his daughter Amytis.

As indicated by contemporary Achaemenid engravings, similar to the Cyrus Cylinder and Behistun engravings, Cyrus was the ruler of the Anshans (a blended Elamite and Persian-governed realm in Fars) and a son of the Cambyses. However, it should be noted that Achaemenid inscriptions never mention any genetic connection between Cyrus and Estes. Although intermarriage between Iranian royal families is certainly a possibility, it is also possible that Cyrus only claimed to be Estes 'grandson to gain legitimacy (according to Herodotus) and he asked Estes' daughter Amis for the same reason Married (according to Ctesias)). In the end, Herodotus, Ctesias, and Xenophon all agree that Cyrus spent part of his youth in the Court of Estes. It may be based on historical truth, but, again, it can also be simply a great figure.

Cyrus' Religion and Death

Although it is often believed that Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, there are no contemporary sources that describe him as a follower of Zarathustra, a worshiper of Ahura Mazda. In fact, Zoroastrianism, as we know it today, may not have existed even during its lifetime. The beliefs and practices associated with Zoroastrianism were not standardized until the end of the Zoroastrian period. Before that time there were no orthodox and the Iranian loosely followed a wide range of allied beliefs and practices. Ahura Mazda was one of the many Iranian gods and Zarathustra was just a prophet who happened to favor Ahura Mazda over all others. With this in mind, it is likely that Cyrus was a polytheist who worshiped the traditional Iranian gods. Xenophon describes him as swearing to the Iranian god Mithra as an oath, but he may have turned to other gods for other purposes. Therefore we should not be surprised that Cyrus offers sacrifices to Marduk and Nabu, the gods of Babylon. This was his way of conquering the gods of the land which he conquered.

With his birth and youth, little is known about the last nine years of Cyrus' life. Herodotus claims that Cyrus died fighting Massagetae, a nomadic people who lived in Iaxartes. To avenge his son's death at his hands, Queen Tomyris of Massagetae allegedly killed Cyrus. Instead, Ctesias claims that Cyrus died while trying to revolt against another nomadic Derbices in Central Asia, while Berossus claims that Cyrus succumbed to fighting the right nomads. It is likely that Cyrus actually died in Central Asia while trying to expand his influence on the region. It is known from Babylonian letters that Cyrus died in 530 BCE. He was buried at Pasargadae with his mausoleum, his weapons and his jewels, after his death, Cyrus was get succeeded by his son Cambyses II.

Cyrus cylinder

After the conquest of Babylon, Cyrus placed a building inscription to be written in his name. This building inscription, known as the Cyrus Cylinder, served to explain and justify the conquest of Cyrus to the Babylonian audience. The document draws heavily on Babylonian ideals of kingship. Nabonidus is described as an incompetent, religionless king, while Cyrus is described as a divinely appointed savior. Cyrus Cylinder claimed that Nabonidus ignored the cult of Marduk, the Babylonian patron. Nabonidus actually preferred the moon god over the national god Marduk, so there may be some truth to this. Nevertheless, it is likely that the neglect of the Marduk cult was greatly exaggerated. Nabonidus also imposed heavy labor on his people, probably in preparation for the Persian invasion. Marduk, who feels pity for the people of Babylon, actually searches all lands for a righteous king, eventually choosing Cyrus of fast. Marduk leads Cyrus to victory against the Medes and helps him capture Babylon without any war. Cyrus then introduces himself as the king of Babylon, a king of Anshan, a descendant of Teispes and a favorite of Marduk. Cyrus claims that he has not waged the city, that he has not frightened anyone, that he worshiped Marduk daily, and that he had freed the people of Babylon from the heavy labor that Nabonidus imposed upon them. Cyrus also claims to have returned the idols that Nabonidus, along with his temple workers, brought back from all the temples in Mesopotamia to the temples of Babylon. Cyrus concludes his speech and a description of his building activities with a prayer for Marduk.

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