Cyrus. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire, was born 600 B.C. and died 530 B.C. He was of royal descent, born of the union between the Persian Cambyses I and Mandane, a daughter of the powerful Median king. On the Cyrus cylinder from Babylon, Cyrus called himself “son of Cambyses, the great king, of a family that always exercised kingship”. He succeeded his father as king of Persia in 559 B.C. and established his residence at Pasargad.
Cyrus’s conquests. In 549-48 B.C., the Persians occu¬pied Parthia and Armenia, and the Hyrcanians voluntarily accepted Cyrus’ sover¬eignty, all former components of the Median kingdom. According to the fragmentary text of the Babylonian chronicle, in 547 B.C. Cyrus crossed the Tigris, then he marched to Lydia. Cyrus entrusted the cities on the Aegean coast and the rest of Asia Minor to his gener¬als and returned to Ecbatana in order to prepare for further campaigns. Cyrus turned his attention to the east and north. Persian rule should already have been extended to Central Asia and the northwestern limits of India at the time. The fortified settlement of Cyropolis, city of Cyrus, is further evidence of his activity in the region. The conquest of the Central Asian territories took place between 547 B.C. and 539 B.C. In 540 B.C. the Persians took the Arabian peninsula. In 539 B.C. the Persian army defeated the Babylonians and took Babylon. Almost immediately, Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine submitted to the Persians. Elam was taken by the Persians after the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. Finally, in 535 B.C. Cyrus created a united province consisting of Babylonia and the lands west of the Euphrates. Up to the borders of Egypt had recognized the authority of Cyrus. He adopted the official title “king of Babylon, king of the lands.” He attempted to restore the normal economic life of the country. He preserved traditional methods of administration throughout his domains and in particular is said to have made almost no alteration in the local political struc¬tures of these nations. According to the Cyrus cylinder, he permitted foreigners who had been forcibly settled in Babylonia to return to their own lands, including the Jews of the Babylonian cap¬tivity, who were also permitted to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.
Cyrus’s religious policies. Not much is known about his personal beliefs. Some believe that Cyrus was a Zoroastrian. He initiated a general policy of permitting religious freedom throughout his domains and respecting the customs and religions of conquered lands. The generally tolerant character of Cyrus’ reign is borne out by Jewish sources. The Per¬sians regarded him their father, the priests of Babylon as the appointed of Marduk, the Jews as a messiah sent by Yahweh, and even the Greeks considered him a great conqueror and a wise statesman.
The death of Cyrus. Some say that he was killed in a battle near the Aral Sea in 530 B.C. According to Xenophon, Cyrus died peacefully in his own capital, having ordered that his corpse be buried in earth, rather than encased in silver or gold. His tomb is located about one km southwest of the palaces of Pasargad, in the center of the Morḡāb plain. It is a gabled funerary chamber of six stepped courses made of large sandstone blocks. The chamber, with a total height of ca. eleven m, is entered through a low, narrow doorway. Alexander made two visits to Pasargad.
Cyrus cylinder. It is a fragmentary clay cylinder with an inscription of thirty-five lines discovered at the site of the Marduk temple in Babylon in 1879, currently at British Museum, no. 90920. A second fragment, containing lines 36-45, was identified in the Babylonian collection at Yale University. The total inscription, though incomplete at the end, consists of forty-five lines, the first three almost entirely broken away. The text contains an account of Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C. Cyrus continues in the first person, giving his titles and genealogy (lines 20-22) and declaring that he has guaranteed the peace of the country (lines 22-26), for which he and his son Cambyses have received the blessing of Marduk (lines 26-30). He describes his restoration of the cult and his permission to the exiled peoples to return to their homeland. Finally, he reports that in the course of the work he saw an inscription of Aššurbanipal.