Cyrus the Great: 10 Major Accomplishments

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great – biography and achievements

Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus II, is famed as the founding-emperor of the Achaemenid Empire (also known as the Persian Empire). An astute military genius and statesman, Cyrus’s rise to acclaim began after he conquered the Median Empire, Lydia and some parts of Anatolia. Kind courtesy to his well-crafted military conquests, he defeated many fierce nomadic tribes in present-day eastern Iran.

At the height of his power, Cyrus the Great ruled over the largest empire to ever exist at the time. Under his rule, the Persian Empire stretched from present-day Iran to places in present-day Turkey. This gave him access to major sea ports of the Mediterranean Sea.

For a ruler in antiquity, Cyrus’ bravery, leadership style and tolerance for diversity certainly sets him apart from his contemporaries. It comes as no surprise that Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon heaped enormous praises on the Persian ruler.

What other feats was Cyrus the Great most known for? Below, World History Edu delves into the various military conquests, diplomatic moves, and major accomplishments of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenian Empire.

Built Pasargadae as the first capital of the Persian Empire

Located in modern day Fars Province, Iran, Pasargadae was once a bustling and thriving Persian city which served as the political hub during Cyrus the Great’s reign. Cyrus is credited with building Pasargadae around the 6th century BC. Following his conquest of Media, Cyrus elevated the city to capital city status. The city was said to have been built near the site where he secured victory over King Astyages of Media in 550 BC. The tomb of Cyrus the Great, which was made to look like a Mesopotamian/Elamite ziggurat, is situated in Pasargadae. Archaeologists have also unearthed the royal tombs of Cyrus’ son and successor Cambyses II.

Pasargadae remained the capital city of the Achaemenid Empire for many years after the death of Cyrus until Persian King Darius the Great moved the capital to Persepolis (present day Fars Province, Iran).

Today, the ruins of the city Pasargadae, which is about 90 kilometers (56 miles) to the northeast of the city of Shiraz in Iran, are considered one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iran.

Following his death in 530 BC, Cyrus was succeeded by his eldest son and crown prince Cambyses II (r. 525-522 BC). Cyrus died during a military campaign against Eastern Iranian nomadic group of tribes in Central Asia. | Image: Cyrus the Great with a Hemhem crown, or four-winged Cherub tutelary divinity, from a relief in the residence of Cyrus in Pasagardae

Defeated King Croesus of Lydia in Asia Minor

Following the capitulation of Medes to Cyrus’s growing Persian kingdom, a number of tribes and kingdoms, including Lydia in Asia Minor, started eating into territories that were once part of Medes. Cyrus the Great could not let that happen. Beginning around 548 BC, the Persian king started moving against those areas. He struck the heart of Lydia, i.e. the city of Sardis, with all his might. By 546, the Lydian capital had surrendered to Cyrus’s Persian army, killing King Croesus in the process. Some accounts say that Cyrus burnt the Lydian king to death. According to an account by Herodotus, Cyrus took Croesus prisoner and later made him a member of his court.

Benefited tremendously from major sea ports on the Mediterranean Sea

With Lydia firmly under his control, Cyrus was also in charge of many vassals states that were under the Lydian rulers. This gave him access to many port cities on the Aegean Sea coast. Cyrus was swift in crushing every semblance of revolt in Ionian Greek cities that failed to tow his line. The Persian king was able to rake in a lot of revenue due to his control of major sea ports on the Mediterranean.

Conquered ancient Babylonia in 539 BC

Another important military conquest of Cyrus the Great came when he marched against the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylonia, a city which once had mighty rulers like Hammurabi, was there for taking as it had fallen into years of poor leadership. It’s been said that the inhabitants of Babylonia prayed for the day Cyrus would conquer the city and get rid of the inept rulers like Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar. Therefore Cyrus’s conquest of Babylonia in 539 BC was more or less liberation of Babylonia. The conquest of Babylon also meant that the Persian Empire inherited a number of Babylonian territories in Palestine and Syria.

Restored the worship of the Babylonian god Marduk

Marduk god

Marduk – 9th century BC depiction of the Statue of Marduk, with his servant dragon Mušḫuššu. This was Marduk’s main cult image in Babylon

Known for his liberal philosophies, which was unusual for an ancient ruler, Cyrus was praised for not imposing Persian religious beliefs on the Babylonians, instead he allowed worship of the city’s traditional deities like patron Babylonian god Marduk to flourish. Prior Cyrus’s conquest of Babylonia, estranged rulers like Nabonidus were fond of suppressing the worship of Marduk, a powerful and revered national deity of Babylon. Therefore, it makes perfect sense when some historical accounts claim that the city’s inhabitants were delighted when they saw Cyrus’s Persian army march on their city. And in some cases, Cyrus the Great was even seen in similar fashion as the famous Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. In return for the trust the people had in him, Cyrus is said to have participated in some of the local customs, even offering sacrifices to many Babylonian deities.

Read more: Most Famous Gods of Ancient Mesopotamia

Cyrus the Great came to the rescue of persecuted Jews in Babylonia

Many historical accounts heap enormous praise on Cyrus the Great for his bold decision to liberate the Jews in the city of Babylon. For many centuries, Jewish communities in Babylonia were treated as second class citizens, mostly persecuted unduly for their religious beliefs. Following his conquest of Babylonia in 539 BC, Cyrus freed the Jews, allowing many of them to return to their home in Jerusalem. This feat of his was recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder – an ancient clay cylinder with Akkadian cuneiform script – as well the Bible.

The Jews had been defeated by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, after the Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem during the Jewish-Babylonian War (601-586 BC). Major Jewish cities and towns were destroyed, likewise Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. Following the defeat, the Babylonian king took many Jews as slaves back to the city of Babylon, where they were kept in bondage until the arrival of Cyrus the Great in the mid-6th century BC.

Cyrus the Great’s liberation of the Jews in ancient Babylon is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah 45:1. The scriptures even state that God blessed Cyrus, describing the Persian ruler as the ‘anointed one’. Cyrus thus holds the honor of being the only non-Jewish figure in the Bible to have that distinguished title. Accounts of Cyrus’ saving the Jews can also be found in the Biblical book of Ezra.

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

Instituted a policy of religious freedom in the places he conquered

According to a number of historical accounts, Cyrus the Great avoided imposing his Persian culture and religious beliefs on the conquered people of Babylonia. The Persian ruler ordered his representatives to be respectful to the local customs and protect the religious monuments and structures in those conquered territories. As a result, the locals, rather than see Cyrus as a tyrant, came to adore him as benevolent leader who protected the social structure of the people.

He was open to diplomacy when the need arose

Cyrus was not only known for his numerous military conquests of areas in the Mesopotamian region, but he was also known for being a competent diplomat. At times, he put to use his apt skills in diplomacy to strike peace ties with many rulers in the region. One such famous peace tie came with the ruler of Cilicia in Asia Minor (Asian portion of present day Turkey). Cilicia was a strategic region in the ancient world as it served as the major route from Anatolia to Syria. Fully aware of this strategic advantage, Cyrus thought it wise that it served his interest better to have a cordial relationship with the inhabitants of Cilicia than a frosty one.

Read More: 10 Greatest Ancient Mesopotamian Kings

Many ancient cities flourished during his rule

During the reign of Cyrus the Great, many cities rose to prominence, not just in Mesopotamia, but around the known world at the time. Perhaps the most famous city in the empire at the time was the capital city Pasargadae in Persis. Ecbatana (modern day Hamadan in Iran) in Media, Susa (modern Shush, Khuzestan Province, Iran), and Babylon (modern day Iraq) were also famous during the reign of Cyrus. The latter city served as the winter capital of Cyrus the Great.

Ancient Persia

In 539 BC, Cyrus the Great incorporated the ancient city of Babylon into his vast and ever growing Persian Empire. At the time, Babylon was indeed the greatest city in the world as it was the center of art, science, learning and commerce. | Image: Achaemenid Empire under different kings

A big admirer of diversity in his empire

Cyrus was anything but a culture and religious chauvinist. He is famed for protecting the places he conquered from too much influence of the Persian culture. He is also praised for learning their customs so as to better understand and rule them. Take the example of Media, a kingdom he conquered in 550 BC, historians state that he seamlessly prevented the Median culture from clashing with the Persian culture. To do this he employed a Mede to the position of chief advisor to the king. He also invited many educated and skilled artisans, teachers, physicians and writers from Media into his court. Cyrus’ goal was to create a united and heterogeneously diverse empire. Out of those efforts of his, a mighty and culturally rich empire could form.

Read More:  Greatest Ancient Military Commanders

Cyrus the Great: Fast Facts

Cyrus II of Persia

Ancient Persia – Standard of Cyrus the Great, founder and first emperor of the Achaemenid Empire, featuring the Shahbaz

Cyrus formed an empire that spanned from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Indus River in the east. At that size, Cyrus’ Persian Empire was undoubtedly the largest in the world had ever seen up until that time. His successors, including Cambyses I and Darius the Great, followed in his footstep and grew the Achaemenid Empire to reach places in the Balkans and even southeast Europe.

Born: c. 590 BC or 580 BC

Place of birth: Media (in today’s Iran)

Died:  c. 529 BC

Place of death: Syr Darya, Central Asia

Burial: Pasargadae (modern day Iran)

Parents: Cambyses I and Mandane of Media

Children: Cambyses II, Bardiya, Atossa

Most known for: Founding the Achaemenian Empire

House: Achaemenian dynasty

Reign: 559-530 BC

Notable battles fought in: Persian Revolt, Battle of Hyrba (552), Battle of Persian Border, Siege of Sardis, Battle of Opis (539), Battle of Thymbra, Battle of Pteria (547),

Successor: Cambyses II

Other names: Cyrus II, Cyrus II of Persia, Cyrus the Elder

Epithets and famous titles: King of Anshan, King of Persia, King of Media, King of the World, Great King, Mighty King, King of Babylon, King of the Four Corners of the World

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