CYRUS THE GREAT
by: David Stronach
539 BC – Cyrus the Great (founder of the Persian Empire) entered the capital of Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to their land.
By the time of his death in 530 B.C. Cyrus, the Great had changed the face of the civilized world. A mere vassal at the beginning of his reign, his warlike feats served to create a new vision of empire, bringing all that was known of Asia, from the distant waters of the Yaxartes to the warm shores of the Mediterranean, within the bounds of one realm, while more important still, his judicious treatment of the many separate peoples under his rule almost certainly brought into being a new, more benevolent concept of human government. Such was the ruler who founded Pasargadae - and who succeeded in leaving a still vivid image of his ambition, his imagination and his piety at this spacious upland site.
The Cyrus Saga
Not surprisingly, the ancient world knew many different stories concerning the birth and early years of Cyrus. In the case of the long account provided by Herodotus (i. 107 - 130), which he disarmingly reports having been the 'least embroidered' of the four distinct versions of the rise of Cyrus that were known to him, we can see that a good part of his tale is made up of strictly legendary material. But the story is one that never loses its fascination, and, as a still almost contemporary view of events, set down less than a century after Cyrus' death, it may be repeated here in an abbreviated form.
Astyages, the last king of Media, was without a male heir and his daughter, Mandana, was already of marriageable age when he came to have a strange dream about her. He supposed that he saw such a stream of water flow from her that the whole of Asia became flooded. The interpretation of this dream so alarmed Astyages that he refused to marry his daughter to any Mede of suitable rank, but chose instead to offer her hand to a Persian - that is to say to Cambyses, a man whom he knew to be of a good family indeed, and of a quiet temper, but whom he still considered being far inferior to a Mede of even 'middle condition'.
Before a year had passed, and when Mandana was already with child, Astyages had a second unusual dream. When the Magi interpreted this to mean that Mandana's offspring would rule in his place, he ordered his daughter to return to Media and instructed Harpagus, his kinsman, to do away with the child as soon as it should be born.
Loath to carry out the task himself, Harpagus instructed the king's shepherd, Mithradates, to carry the child to his village and leave it out in the hills to die. But on returning to his home the shepherd found that his wife had given birth to a stillborn son - a circumstance that allowed him to expose his own son's lifeless body instead. Ten years later, when Cyrus was playing with the other boys of the village, his companions chose him to be their king. In the course of the game that followed Cyrus insisted that one of the boys should be punished for disobedience. This boy complained to his father, a certain noble called Artembares, who in turn complained to the king. Astyages had Cyrus and the shepherd brought before him and asked Cyrus how he had come to treat the son of one of his chief courtiers so shamefully. Startled by the frank answer of the boy, in whose features he thought he saw a certain likeness to his own, Astyages eventually obtained from the shepherd, and from Harpagus who was summoned also a true account of what had happened. In terrible revenge, Astyages murdered Harpagus' son even serving the unsuspecting father with the flesh of the dead boy. Cyrus however, was spared and, on the advice of the Magi was allowed to return to Persia. As the years passed, and as Cyrus grew to be the manliest and the best-loved of his peers’, Harpagus began to see in him the probable instrument of his revenge. The rule of Astyages had become intolerable and at Harpagus' urging, each of the chief Medes now looked to Cyrus to assist them.
Cyrus responded to Harpagus'
Messages by calling an assembly of the principal tribes of the Persian nation. Stating that his authority derived from Astyages, he gave orders that each of the Persians should return the following morning armed with a sickle. As soon as the men had complied with this instruction Cyrus led them out to a broad tract of thorny ground, saying that they should clear it before the day was out. Then, on the third day, after goats, sheep and oxen had been slaughtered in readiness, he laid out a sumptuous feast for the whole host. After the soldiers had eaten their fill Cyrus asked them which had pleased them best, their work of the present or the previous day. When they supplied the answer that he sought he indicated that their destiny lay in their own hands - and that the fruits of freedom could be theirs if they would do his bidding and rise against the Medes.
Directly word of the rebellion reached him Astyages sent for Cyrus - only for Cyrus to send the reply that he would appear in the other's presence sooner than he would like. Astyages promptly dispatched a large army to crush the revolt unthinkingly placing it under the command of Harpagos. As a result of Harpagos preparations, a good number of the Medes openly deserted to the Persians, while the majority pretended fear and field as soon as the battle began. Finally, with no other resort open to him, Astyages assembled his remaining forces and led them against the Persians Again Cyrus prevailed; the Median army was routed and Astyages was taken, prisoner. But Cyrus, magnanimous to the last, spared his grandfather and even kept him at his court for the remainder of his life.
As Frye has pointed out, parts of the above story are not without parallels elsewhere, such as the theme of the baby Moses in the bulrushes, and a similar legend connects. ted with the childhood of Sargon of Akkad. Moreover, the saga that Herodotus has left us clearly stands as the first of a long series concerning the founders of major dynasties in Iran. In particular, the story that is told of the birth and youth of Ardashir, the first of the Sasanian kings, is akin to that of Cyrus, 'for Ardashir had to be of royal stock vet had to undergo hardship, raised in secret by shepherd'. At the same time, however, the final parts of Herodotus' story have the clear ring of a more factual account - the battles, defections, and the eventual surrender of Astyages each finding an obvious echo in the contemporary Babylonian chronicle. In Ctesias' still more fanciful account Cyrus was no more than the son of a Persian bandit of the Mardi tribe without any royal blood. As a young man, he traveled to the court of Astyages, finding his first employment as a palace sweeper. In time, as he gained in rank and power, he was able to send for his parents to join him and even had his father appointed as the satrap of Persia At this point his mother told him of a dream that she had had at the time of her pregnancy that showed him to have been called to 'the highest place of honor in Asia. Thereafter, when Cyrus was sent by Astyages as an envoy to the Cadusians, he happened to meet a Persian, Oibares, with whom he drew up detailed plans for a Persian revolt against the Medes. After an initial reverse, Astyages himself decided to lead a full scale attack on the rebels. The Persians defended themselves with great courage but were ultimately forced to withdraw towards Pasargadae, where their womenfolk had already been placed on a mountain prior to the battle. Then, as the men began to flee towards the same place, the women took drastic action, raising their skirts and asking the men if they wished to creep back from whence they had first come into the world. Shamed into a furious, final effort, the Persians returned to the field and won a great victory. Cyrus entered Ecbatana, where he married Amytis, the daughter of the king; disposed of Spitama, Astyages' erstwhile son-in-law; and appointed Astyages as the governor of distant Hyrcania.
|The four-winged guardian figure representing Cyrus the Great or possibly a four-winged Cherub tutelary deity. Bas-relief found at
Pasargadae on top of which was once inscribed in three languages the sentence "I am Cyrus the king, an Achaemenian.
This particular story, which seems to go out of its way to deny the royal descent of Cyrus - and which is so different from that found in Herodotus - is possibly best explained by Ctesias' long service at the court of Artaxerxes II, for, following this last ruler's bitter struggle with Cyrus the Younger, those who identified themselves with the cause of Artaxerxes may have been all too ready to discredit the very name of Cyrus. In fine, Ctesias' narrative is! too untrustworthy to be set against other more convincing testimony in favor of Cyrus' Achaemenian ancestry.
A more difficult issue is the validity of the claim that Cyrus was descended from a marriage between Cambyses and Mandana. Not that historical precedent would have ruled out such a union; such is not the case. But it is still somewhat surprising to find that eastern sources are wholly silent on this point, Among classical writers, Herodotus 1.91) reports that the Delphic Orache already knew of Cyna' mixed descent from the Medes and the Persian prior to the war with Lydia, while Xenophon, Diodons and Herodotus each refer to Cynis as the son of Cases and Mandana What appears to decide the issue, or the probabilities at least, is the weight of indirect evidence from with lean itself. Despite the reputed severity of Astage rule, it is hard to me that Cynas, a Per in cold have overthrown his powerful Median overlord without some strong call upon the loyalty of the Medes. It is also perhaps relevant that the proud Medes never rose in revolt against Cyrus, nor against his son, at the time of the latter's accession. And finally, the tentative date that has been advanced for the birth of Cyrus c. 590 BC is not without its own possible! significance. At the very moment that Cyaxares, the father of Astyages, was faced with the prospect of war with Lydia - a bruising conflict that lasted from 590 to 585 B.C. - he may have felt it prudent to do! all in his power to avert the risk of a rebellion at home, and to this end! he possibly offered the prospect of a dynastic alliance to his powerful southern subjects Cyrus' Inheritance.
|Cyrus the Great with a Hemhem crown, or four-winged Cherub
tutelary divinity, from a relief in the residence of Cyrus in Pasagardae
The precise limits of Cyrus' original inheritance are not known. But since the case for any formal division of Achaemenian power between 'Anshan' and 'Parsa' is far from convincing, Cyrus is as likely as not to have inherited all those southern lands already inhabited by the chief Persian tribes. From what Herodotus tells us, Cyrus married a Persian, Cassandane, 'the daughter of Pharnaspes, an Achaemenian'. It is expressly stated that Cambyses II and his younger brother, Bardya (known to the Greeks as Smerdis), were a product of this union and it may be that two at least of the great king's daughters, Atossa and Artystone, were also. The actual accession date of Cyrus (559 B.C.) can only be computed from the year of his death (530) and those classical references that state that he ruled for a total of either 29 or 30 years.
Whatever his wider ambitions, Cyrus presumably contented himself in his first years with consolidating his position at home. The preparation of his army was vital, while the loyalty, or at least the quiescent condition, of the neighboring Elamite peoples was hardly less so. Further afield, Cyrus undoubtedly kept watching on the growing signs of discord between Hamadan and Babylon. The Alliance With Babylon For some time after the fall of Assyria c. 612 B.C. nothing seems to have disturbed the new boundaries drawn between Media and Babylonia. In 585, if Greek tradition is to be believed, the Babylonians were active in helping to bring hostilities between the Medes and the Lydians to a close. But before he died in 562 Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon appears to have seen that the Medes, balked in the west, were already beginning to look for new gains in the south, and as one of the last acts of his long reign, he erected a formidable defensive barrier - the so-called Median Wall - across the narrow neck of land that divides the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, some 50 km. North of Babylon. Astyages' probable designs on lower
Mesopotamia also finds another sort of echo in the Book of Jeremiah where the prophet speaks of the coming destruction of Babylon at the hands of the Medes and their allies the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz.
The first open clash between the Median and Babylonian armies is not likely to have occurred much before the summer of 356 since it is only with the accession of Nabonidus (556 - 539 B.C.) that we see the first signs of a possible alliance growing up between the Persians and the Babylonians. Such hints as we have are reflected in the dream of Nabonidus which looks from its contents as if it can only have been set down (for all its supposed prophetic qualities) in or just after 550 B.C. In this vision, both Marduk and Sin appear before the King. the former telling him that he should proceed at once to Harran in order to restore e.Hulhul the great temple of the moon god, Sin. When the king raises the objection that the Medes, who first destroyed the temple, are still at Harran, Marduk announces that the king of the Medes will not last long. "The Mede of whom you speak, he himself, his land, and the kings who march at his side are not! When the third year of your reign) comes, the gods will cause Cyrus king of Anshan, his lowly vassal, to advance against him with his small army. He will overthrow the wide extending! Medes; he will capture Astyages, king of the Medes, and take him captive to his land'.
The extant sources for the early years of Nabonidus' reign are too fragmentary to tell us very much but it seems that the king marched north not long after his accession. Unquestionably, this early campaign meant much to Nabonidus: his father had been a Syrian of princely rank while his mother was herself from Harran.
According to Babylonian sources, work on the temple was pressed forward with great speed and was already completed during the king's third year. The Modes apparently made no counter move and Nabonidus found himself free to proceed to the more westerly portions of his empire, where he succeeded in restoring Babylon's former authority throughout most of the Levant.
But in contrast to such successes in the northern and western provinces of the empire, the king's unsettling, indeed alarming, approach to his domestic offices was not long in arousing open discontent in Babylonia itself. The priests, in particular, found that the new monarch's approach to religious issues was scarcely their own. He viewed Marduk not as the national god, but only as an intermediary for his chosen deity, Sin. Among yet other impositions, foreigners were appointed to high posts; statues of the gods were moved from their traditional sanctuaries; and, last but not least, Nabonidus refused to celebrate the all-important New Year Festival for perhaps ten years from the third year of his reign onwards. As these and yet other measures make plain, Nabonidus had little time or sympathy for many of the customary duties of his office, let along with the civic pride and sensibilities of the citizens of Babylon. That the king could allow himself such bizarre attitudes can only be explained, in fact, by the novel plans that appear to have occupied this unorthodox monarch for close on ten years from the winter of 553 onwards.
|The Cyrus cylinder, a contemporary cuneiform script proclaiming Cyrus as the legitimate king of Babylon.|
Leaving Belshazzar, his eldest son, in charge of the day-to-day business of government at Babylon, he set out for the oasis of Tema, deep in the north Arabian desert. Here major caravan routes converged from Syria in the north, the Persian Gulf in the east, Sheba in the south and Egypt in the west. Within the framework of a far-reaching empire, such a city could clearly develop into a vital trading centre. But, as far as can be seen, the king's campaign was inspired by still larger designs. Once Tema had been captured and its king killed, Nabonidus and his court took up permanent residence at Tema. The entire city was rebuilt on the lines of great capital and it is not improbable that the ultimate aim of the king was to move the centre of the empire to Tema, forcing Babylon to accept a much-reduced status.
Yet whatever Nabonidus may have hoped for, his self-imposed isolation in Tema proved a prescription for disaster.
From the outset of his rebellion, Cyrus can be assumed to have looked on whatever understanding he may have had with the king of Babylon as a device of only limited significance. In the end, his cause depended on what he himself could bring to it: a stubborn, determined army, his own gifts as a soldier and statesman; his links with both the Median and the Persian royal lines; and those qualities of youth and courage. that doubtless lent their own immediate appeal to his cause.
Each of these assets was sorely needed. Although the Median army had languished inactive for three decades, and although Astyages appears to have been anything but a forceful military commander, we know from scattered Babylonian and classical references that the struggle between the Median and Persian armies continued for at least three years. Even when the last encounter came, it looks as if it may well have been fought at Pasargadae, close to the heart of Fars. Defeat at this point would have spelled the end of Persia's brief independence and, if we may here follow Strabo, it is perhaps not so remarkable that Cyrus never looked to any other part of Fars for a permanent abode for his dynasty.
Near-run as the Median campaign may have been, however, it already reflects the different levels at which Cyrus approached any major confrontation. If we only consider the strictly contemporary records of Babylon, it is evident that by the last stages of the war, Cyrus had already succeeded in winning over the loyalty of most of his opponent's army. The army of Ish tumegu (Astyages) revolted against him and in fetters, they delivered him to Cyrus'. In such circumstances, it is clear that Cyrus has at least one influential sympathize among the Medes, and there is no reason why we should dispute Herodotus' contention that his name was Harpagus.
Hamadan and Media Both with an eye to the situation within Media, and with reference to his standing throughout the rest of the Median empire we can be sure that Cyrus portrayed himself as the rightful successor to the Median throne. Not only did he almost certainly honor the person of Astyages with the marks of respect due to his rank and family, but he probably did as much as he could to preserve intact the disciplined, civil and military administration of Media.
|"I am Cyrus the king, an Achaemenid" 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
With rare political courage, indeed with risks that anyone less confident in his own abilities would never have dared to run, Cyrus laid the basis of the unique links that made the Medes, and in some measure all other Iranians as well, direct partners in his enterprise. Hamadan became a favored royal residence; Medes were appointed to high office, and Median generals even led the king's armies in the Anatolian campaigns of 546. The Medes were not excused all the penalties of defeat, however. Taxes were duly asked of them by Darius if not by Cyrus - and, as the Babylonian Chronicle reminds us, a good part of the Median treasury was carried southwards. 'In Agamtanu (that is, Agbatana or Hamadan) Cyrus carried off the silver, gold, chattels and possessions... of the land of Agamtanu, and took them to Anshan.' It is often assumed - perhaps in line with a statement to this effect from Nicholas of Damascus that the ultimate destination of such spoils was Pasargada itself. But wherever else such riches may have been accommodated, either in existing townships in the Marv-Dasht plain or in other settlements still further to the south, there is still no proof that Pasargadae itself was an established center before 546 B.C.
A number of Median garrisons in the west - where Cyrus could now claim titular control over Assyria, Armenia, and Cappadocia - may have continued to resist after the capture of Astyages, although Xenophon, who names Nineveh and Nimrud in this context, is all too likely to have misinterpreted certain earlier events that hark back to the fall of the Assyrian empire. East of Hamadan too, nothing very precise is known. On the one hand, effective Median rule may never have reached much beyond the region of Parthia while on the other hand, the loose, elastic organization of the empire may have spread far enough to allow the Median King of Kings to claim the ultimate allegiance of most of the diverse peoples of the east Iranian world, even perhaps as far afield as the Oxus. It is within this complex tapestry of vassal and sub vassal states that we should presumably place Kavi Vistaspa, the protector of the great Iranian prophet Zoroaster or Zarathustra, and, very possibly, the last effective ruler of the Khwarezmian state of Mary and/or Herat.
To Herodotus, the final, total defeat of Astyages brought the Persians the full inheritance of the Medes. Nicholas of Damascus also appears to offer his own confirmation of this, saying that first the Hyracanians, and then the Parthians, Saka, and Bactrians, each hurried to offer their submission. But whatever loose bonds were acknowledged in the east down to 550 B.C.. it is hard to suppose that the collapse of Median power failed to awaken local ambitions; Cyrus' principal triumph conceivably brought a number of lesser wars in its train (29) as the once subject territories of Media each sought to regain their former independence.
Croesus and Lydia
It may even have been the scale of Cyrus' new difficulties that first encouraged Croesus of Lydia, then at the height of his power, to consider a thrust towards the east. Croesus' original purpose seems to have been nothing less than the full restoration of Median authority although a year or two later, when his own procrastination had given the Persians time to consolidate their position, he seems to have regarded the capture of Cappadocia as his chief objective. Separate, sometimes repeated, approaches to the chief oracles of Ionia, Greece, and Libya, plus separate diplomatic consultations with Sparta and Egypt, all seem to have preceded Croesus' final decision to go to war - a decision that was at least partly inspired by the double-edged statement of the oracle at Delphi that if Croesus sent an army against the Persians 'he would destroy a great kingdom'.
To Cyrus, each delay must have been double welcome. We do not know the details, but with force where necessary, and with less rigorous solutions wherever else they would apply. Cyrus appears to have used the years 549 and 548 to win most of his new subjects to his cause. At the same time, his close watch on the western half of Anatolian never wavered. He was evidently able to discover more or less when and where the Lydian king would attack and, even though he failed to persuade the cities of Ionia to rise in revolt behind the battlefront, (33) his overtures in this last direction do more than a little to show the width of his planning.
According to a fragmentary passage in the Babylonian Chronicle, Cyrus' preparations for the battle began in the ninth year of Nabonidus. 'In the month of Nisannu (April, 547) Cyrus, king of the country of Parsu, called up his troops, crossed over (?) the Tigris below Arba'il and (drew) in the month of Aivaru (1st-29th May 547) towards the country of Lu... Its king he killed, the possessions he took, his own garrison (?) remained, and the king right there'. This all too brief statement contains much that is doubtful. The town of Arbala lies many kilometers distant from the Tigris and, given Cyrus' presumed freedom of movement anywhere within upper Mesopotamia, there seems to have been no good reason why he should have taken the trouble to cross the Tigris below Arbala.
As far as the incomplete name 'Lu...' is concerned, there has always been a strong temptation to complete the reading as Lu-ud-du or Lydia - despite the fact that the first character is indistinct and only the beginning of the second is preserved. But the arguments against the name being Lydia are strong.
While the Chronicle asserts that Cyrus killed the king of the country that was invaded, Greek sources all agree that Cyrus spared the life of Croesus. Furthermore, the Chronicle appears to date the events in question to the early summer of 547, still some five months before the fall of Sardis in November of the same year. In other words, it is quite possible that this fragmentary text only refers to certain incidents that took place in the neighborhood of Assyria, where Cyrus had to be assured of secure lines of communication before moving further to the west.
Croesus crossed the Halys and descended on the part of Cappadocia called Pteria' sometime during the high summer. The Lydian king seized the main township and raided well beyond it. His progress was halted, however, by the arrival of Cyrus, who evidently offered battle at once. Casualties were heavy on both sides and, as night fell, neither army could claim an advantage. The next day, reportedly because he was disheartened by the greater size of Cyrus' force, Croesus broke camp, abandoned the field, and marched back to Sardis. The foreign mercenaries in his army were paid off since winter was approaching, and in preparations for a second trial of strength of more favourable terms early the next spring, each of Lydia's allies - Egypt, Sparta and Babylon - were asked to send separate contingents of troops to Sardis in five month's time. But Cyrus, quite as heedless as Alexander of the conventions surrounding winter warfare, pushed westwards with all speed, almost coming within striking distance of Sardis before the lydians were aware of his approach. With no other course open to him Croesus led out his remaining forces to face the invading host. Uneven as the odds were, the contest was by no means a foregone conclusion. The disciplined cavalry of Lydia was one of the finest fighting arms then known and the battlefield - the broad valley of the Hermus - was home ground for the Lydian forces. Then for a second time, Cyrus resorted to the unexpected. On the advice of Harpagus the Mede (as Herodotus gives the story) a screen of baggage camels was thrown ahead of the main Persian force.
This compelled the Lydian spearmen to dismount and fight on foot since their horses could not face the unaccustomed stench of camels. The dismounted riders and the regular Lydian footmen still contrived to hold the Persians for a time before they were at last broken and driven within the citadel was constructed on a protruding spur of the Tmolus range. More than two hundred years later the strength of its setting and the complexity of its defenses drew admiring comments from Alexander the Great while, somewhat later again, in 214 B.C., Lagoras, the commander of the army of Antiochus III, is said to have taken more than a year to reduce the town of Sardis alone.
From the numbers of Persian arrowheads found on the acropolis, we may surmise that Cyrus pressed the Lydian garrison closely: he may even have essayed a frontal assault. probably from the steep southern slopes, Carly on in the fourteen-day siege. But if the burden of Herodotus' account is anything to go by, it was the chance discovery of a precipitous, unguarded path that allowed Cyrus to surprise the defenders and demand their surrender. The remainder of Herodotus' description of events at Sardis is a rich tapestry of paradigm and legend, in which Croesus' escape from a fiery death on his own pyre is used to introduce many favorite themes - from the retribution that follows unthinking arrogance to the wisdom that is often given to a man in the wake of deep calamity. But at least they claim that Crocus survived, and was even befriended by Cyrus, is not unreasonable; Greek sources are unanimous in asserting that Croesus was spared and it is truly difficult to believe that the Lydian monarch - one of the best-known rulers of his time and one of the most lavish donors to the chief sanctuaries of the Greeks was either killed in battle or executed subsequently without such an occurrence leaving some trace in Greek literature.
|Croesus on the pyre. Attic red-figure amphora, 500–490 BC, Louvre|
The Satrapy of Sparda
By right of conquest, Cyrus inherited the mantle of the Lydian kings; those who had owed allegiance to Croesus now owed it to him. Envoys of the Greek cities to the west came to plead for the same generous terms that they previously had enjoyed under Croesus. But Cyrus was in no mood to forget that his own.
earlier appeals for support had been spurned and only Miletus, which must have given prior proof of its attachment to the Persian cause, was granted a new treaty under the old conditions.
The remaining Tonian and Aeo lic cities sent to Sparta for assistance and, according to Herodotus, an embassy from Sparta even travelled to Sardis to warn Cyrus not to attack any of the Greek settlements But as Cyrus' subsequent departure for Hamadan clearly shows, the defiance of the re-fortified cities which had failed from the first to maintain a united front, was quite the least of his preoccupations. In the fragmented state of the Greek world, he probably foresaw that the individual cities would receive as little assistance from each other as they would from any Greek state across the Aegean.
East of the Aegean seaboard, Lydia was converted into the major western satrapy of the Persian empire (with the name of Sparda, i.e. Sardis), while the town of Sardis itself was made the seat of the newly appointed satrap, Tabalus. But we may be certain that Cyrus' short stay at Sardis was not only taken up with problems of administration. For half a century, Sardis had ranked as one of the most influential cities in Asia in both political and artistic terms. Its royal tomb, huge burial mounds of unprecedented size, were among the wonders of the world; its palaces, perhaps located on the plain as well as on the heights of the acropolis, were surely a vivid reflection of the legendary wealth of the kings of Lydia; and its greatest temple - that dedicated to the Goddess Cybele by Croesus himself
- was probably one of the most advanced stone structures of the age.
All this and much more must-have reinforced Cyrus' determination to leave equally fitting monuments to his own achievements, particularly in Iran itself. And from Sardis - where to a large extent the arts of East and West had already met and fused - he must have resolved to return with new plans for construction, new techniques and new levels of craftsmanship. As far as was possible, the customs and local beliefs of the people of Sardis were left untouched. In the arts, too, there was no thought to impose a single mold. Despite the marked homogeneity of the Achaemenian court style in the Persian homeland, Cyrus and his successors never sought to impose uniformity on the major arts of subject regions. At Sardis in particular, where prolonged excavations have yielded an unusually complete picture, it is possible to show that Achaemenian artistic influence was far from ubiquitous. It appears, indeed, to have been most in evidence in the sphere of personal adornment. notably in the beautiful jewelry that came to be worn during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.
The extent to which Persian architectural forms may have been introduced, at least within the first years of Achaemenian rule, is still not clear. But the so-called Pyramid Tomb, which is partly sunk into the sloping ground of an older Lydian cemetery, may well belong to the second half of the sixth century B.C. From the days of H.C. Butler's excavations at the beginning of this century, this stepped platform has been compared to the lower portion of the Tomb of Cyrus and various more recent studies have by no means discredited the possible links between the two structures. Limited as the evidence is, therefore, we cannot dismiss Hanfmann's contention, based on a passage in Xenophon's Cyropaedia, that this may indeed be the remains of a monument that Cyrus built for a Persian nobleman who fell during the battle for Sardis.
Cyrus' one serious miscalculation during his stay in Lydia would seem to have been a product of his bold, and on the whole remarkably successful, policy of conferring important positions on those whom he had just defeated. With the same faith that he placed in his Median military commanders, he appointed Pactyes, a Lydian, to supervise the collection and dispatch of Croesus' gold. But here his trust was misplaced. Pictures made off with the treasure he had under his charge, raised an army and returned to besiege Tabalus at Sardis. Unfortunately for the rebels, Cyrus himself was not yet beyond reach, and Mazares, an experienced Median general, was sent back with a sizeable force to restore the situation.
The Lydians were apparently absolved from the main share of the blame but the restless Greeks of the coast were not let off so lightly — despite the fact that Pactyes was eventually handed over to the Persians by the islanders of Chios. At first under Mazares, who died soon after the campaign began, and then later under Harpagus, one city after the other was reduced and brought within the orbit of the empire. Even far to the south, where Lydia itself had never held real power, Caria and Lycia were incorporated in the empire. From the Hellespont southwards, the advance to the west was complete.
|Ancient Near East circa 540 BC, prior to the invasion of Babylon by Cyrus the Great|
546 - 540: Conquest in the east
Following his return to Agbatana --- classical Ecbatana - Cyrus almost certainly spent part of the year 546 at Pasargadae. On the one hand, even the earliest construction ta Pasargadae reflects the presence of Croesus' former masons and on the other, it seems only logical to suppose that practical, political and even religious considerations would have urged Cyrus to embark on his new building program as soon as he returned to his homeland.
In marching eastwards - a course that seems to fit with a statement advanced by Herodotus Cyrus sought an answer to a perennial problem: Iran's lack of any natural, physical barriers even wall to the east of the plateau. The pattern and timing of his conquests are not known in any detail, although it is tempting to compare the six years that Cyrus may have spent in the east from 546 onwards with the parallel period of time that it took Alexander to pacify the eastern provinces of the former Achaemenian empire.
Among other echoes of Cyrus! eastern activities. Arrian mentions a tribe the Ariaspi, who obtained vital supplies when it was supposedly in difficulties, while for Cyrus' army Pliny states that Cyrus destroyed the city of Capisa, possibly the chief center of the rich Kuh-i Daman valley north of Kabul. Still further to the north, Cyrus' conquests carried him as far as the river Jaxartes, the modern SyrDarya, where he is known to have established at least one major fortified settlement - that known in later times by the name of Cyropolis.
Whether or not Cyrus reached, and fortified, the later Achaemenian empire's other great riverine frontier, the Indus, is not yet clear. Given that he established so many other permanent boundaries, he may indeed have aimed at a distant Indus boundary, even if he himself had insufficient time to embark on a full-scale Indian campaign. At all events, it seems safe to assume that by the year 540 Cyrus had almost doubled the extent of his possessions and had won a large measure of control over the vigorous eastern Iranian people who from then on formed a vital element within the empire. Indeed, it was probably with fresh contingents drawn from the hard-fighting Bactrians and others that he at length turned to the key tasks that awaited him in Babylonia.
The Fall of Babylon.
Three years earlier, in 543, Nabonidus had already returned from Tema to Babylon. But not, it seems in any mood of repentance. According to the attractive thesis propounded by H. Tadmor, the king's determination to promote the cult of the moon god, Sin, was possibly even more marked by this time than it had been during the first years of his reign. (55) It may have been at this point, therefore, that the priests of Marduk made secret approaches to Cyrus, inviting him to rule over Babylon, just as their forefathers had extended similar invitations to the Assyrians, Tiglath Pileser III, and Sargon II, during the course of the eighth century B.C.
At the eleventh hour, as he saw the support of his people dwindling on all sides, Nabonidus appears to have sought to restore outward appearances at least. In the spring of 539, in the last year of his seventeen-year reign, we know that the festival of the New Year was again celebrated 'according to the complete ritual'. But whatever measures Nabonidus now chose to introduce (and one of his last actions before hostilities broke out was to bring almost all the statues of the gods to Babylon) his subjects can have been in no doubt as to the course that events would take; they at least could see the writing on the wall. From 547 onwards, if not even earlier, the direct route to lower Mesopotamia from the north-east had been in Cyrus' hands. Moreover, Cyrus' early campaigns in the borderlands east of the Tigris had long since won him a particularly valuable ally in Gobryas, the governor of Gutium, who may even have started his career by guarding the eastern frontiers of the Babylonian empire against the Medes With no immediate obstacles in the path of his army, therefore, Cyrus can be assumed to have set out from Ecbatana during the high summer of 539, probably adding successive local contingents to his force, including those of Gobryas, as he neared the edge of the Mesopotamian plain. If his original purpose was to convince the Babylonians that the Median wall represented their most logical line of defense, he may have marched first on the region of present-day Baghdad. But with the greater number of Nabonidus' troops strung out along this formidable fortification, stretching from Sippar in the west to Opis in the east, it is more than likely that he altered his course sharply, crossing the Diyala near its confluence with the Tigris before attempting his most difficult undertaking a crossing of the Tigris just south of Opis.
According to the Babylonian Chronicle it was already in the month of Tashritu, which began on September 26th, that Cyrus attacked the army of Akkad 'in Opis on the Tigris'. At this point Babylonian resistance was still determined. Even when faced with a revolt behind the battleground Nabonidus found time to massacre those who had risen against him. Cyrus for his part may not have been much less severe and fifteen days later - with the lesson of Opis in mind - the fortified town of Sippar appears to have surrendered without resistance. Nabonidus fled, and on October 13th Gobryas captured Babylon 'without battle'.
There can be no question of a long siege of Babylon and by the same token, we can discount the story that the Persians drained off the waters of the Euphrates in order to enter the city by way of the river bed. On the other hand, the story of Belshazzar's feast, coupled with other Greek references for feasting and revelry as the city was about to fall, may still reflect some masterly surprise that took the de: fenders totally unawares. It has always seemed puzzling that it was Gobryas, rather than Cyrus, who effected the capture of Babylon, and it is perhaps relevant to ask if this detail, so carefully recorded in the Chronicle, is the clue to the true course of events. Did Cyrus ostentatiously march on another town to which Nabonidus and the remnants of his army had retired, while at the same time secretly dispatching Gobryas — a man with local knowledge — direct to the walls of Babylon?
Babylon as a whole was well treated by Gobryas. Marduk's great temple, Esagila, was faithfully guarded by his Gutian warriors and the ceremonies within the temple were left undisturbed. Finally, on October 29th, Cyrus entered Babylon. Green branches were spread before him and a state of Peace' was proclaimed throughout the city. The astonishingly brief days of war had passed, and if Berosus is to be trusted, even Nabonidus was spared the aged king receiving a new abode in Carmania, to the east of Fars.
King of the Four Quarters
As we know from the famous 'Cyrus cylinder' – a cylindrical foundation tablet recovered from Babylon in 1879 and apparently inscribed by a priest of Marduk during the first year of Cyrus' reign (538B.C.) — the Persian king presented himself to the Babylonians as a liberator rather than a conqueror, as a righteous ruler' chosen by Marduk to restore proper government to the country. Cyrus invitation to Babylon, and painless manner of the city's fall, receive equal stress Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his people beheld with pleasure his ie. Cyrus) good deeds and his upright mind and therefore) ordered him to march against his city Babylon. He made him set out on the road to Babylon going at his side like a real friend. His widespread troops -- their number, like that of the water of a river, could not be established - strolled along, their weapons packed away. Without any battle he made him enter his town Babylon, sparing Babylon any calamity'.
In keeping with his claim to the throne of Babylon, Cyrus was particularly careful to use the titles traditionally associated with that office. Following first Assyrian and then Babylonian usage the cylinder calls Cyrus 'king of the World, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad. King of the four quarters (of the earth), while elsewhere, on inscribed bricks from Uruk, Cyrus is styled 'Caretaker of the temples Esagila and Ezida', precisely as Nabuchadnezzar had been more than twenty years before.The spirit of conciliation that appears to have inspired these and other gestures was not lost on those living further afield. Although we! know from new-found economic documents discovered at Nerab, near Aleppo, that Cyrus held no title to any part of Syria before 540, both this region and many others now submitted voluntarily.
"All the kings of the entire world from the Upper to the Lower Sea', both those who had 'throne rooms' and those of the West land', who lived in tents, joined in bringing 'heavy tribute to Babylon. (67) With the exception of inner Arabia, which also seems to have remained outside the limits of Assyrian and Babylonian power, Cyrus' domains now included each of the chief lands of western Asia.
Cyrus' religious policies
Conscious that he owed no small part of his rapid success to the eccentric religious practices of Nabonidus, one of the first major acts of Cyrus' rule was to restore the displaced gods of the Babylonian empire to their former sanctuaries. Not only were all the gods of Sumer and Akkad' returned to the places which make them happy', but all the foreign gods, those of the Guti, those from the 'sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris' and those of such cities as Susa and Ashur, were borne back to their proper abodes.
Indeed, as the religious innovations of Nabonidus were repealed, as the gods of many lands were returned ed to their separate homes, and as ruined or desecrated temples were replaced by permanent sanctuaries', Cyrus' policies towards his subject peoples took on a new, universal aspect. Man's innate dignity was recognised; and, for the first time on such a wide scale, great power was used to protect, not degrade, the human condition.
The Cyrus cylinder says nothing that can be explicitly connected with either the Jews or the long ruined temple at Jerusalem, which had been pulled down by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. But thanks to biblical sources we know the main contents of Cyrus' decree in which he gave the exiled Jews permission to rebuild the temple, and, by the same token, permission to return to their homeland.
The actual edict concerning the temple has come down to us in two versions, one in Ezra 1:2-4 and the other in Ezra 6:3-5. The first is an oral proclamation, as it must have been proclaimed by the royal heralds, while the second -- the 'dichrona' -- is the official draft that was doubtless prepared for the use of the royal chancellery at Ecbatana. The first version at least can be assumed to have been couched in terms that would have been familiar to the Jews. Thus, just as Marduk is referred to as 'king of the gods' or as 'the great lord' in the long text was prepared for Babylonian consumption, so in the book of Ezra it is 'the Lord God of Heaven' who charges Cyrus to build 'His house in Jerusalem.
Cyrus' orders were precise. The temple was to be built on secure foundations; its height was to be ninety feet, as was its breadth. It was to have three courses of great stones and one of timber, and its cost was to be borne by the royal treasury. In addition, the gold and silver vessels that had been carried away to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar were each to be returned to their appointed places in the restored temple.
In 539 or 538 B.C. Cyrus took steps, as we have seen, to restore the captive gods of Susa their former sanctuaries. This act may also have marked Cyrus' formal, and presumably peaceful, the annexation of all that remained of ancient Elam. This shrunken state, reduced to a mere shadow of itself by the Assyrian campaigns of 642-639, was still perhaps independent as late as 546 when the Babylonians appear to complain of a temporary Elamite incursion in the vicinity of Uruk. But while a buffer state to the west of Parsa, especially one that was well disposed, may have been of some value to Cyrus down to 539, the fall of Babylon created a very different situation.
In the new system of communications which Cyrus presumably introduced after 539, Susa (almost equidistant from Babylon, Hamadan and the heart of Fars) must have come to occupy a prime place within only a few years. The most famous of all Achaemenian post-roads, that from Susa to Sardis, was probably only one of many trunk routes that came to converge on the city. But whether or not we can trust those classical accounts that imply that Susa was an important seat of Achaemenian government before the reign of Darius is another question. So far at least no trace of any stonework of the period of Cyrus has been found at Susa and, while Herodotus places the drama of Darius confrontation with the Magi in the palace ... at Susa', Darius himself tells us that he found and slew Gaumata the Magian in the fortress of Sikavauvati in the province of Media.
When Cyrus received the submission of all the lands from the Upper to the Lower Sea', that is, from the Phoenician coast to the head of the Persian Gulf, his interest in sea power may well have been quickened. With Egypt not yet conquered, there was still no question of anticipating Darius' great canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, but as we know from the excavations of A.A. Sarfaraz at Borazjan, 30 km. inland from Bushire, Cyrus was already intent on building palaces or pavilions on the direct route from central Fars to the coast during the last decade of his reign. The Borazjan column bases, which bear so many resemblances to those from Palace P at Pasargadae, also suggest that it was Cyrus who first introduced the Achaemenian concept of a closely uniform palace-style - something that Darius also favored in Elam, Fars, and Media. In this way, the stamp of the dynasty, even the individual stamp of each of these two great monarchs, was broadcast throughout the home provinces.
The Last Campaign
Further to the west, reorganization within the newly acquired lands of Babylonia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine was possibly still not complete. Private documents indicate that from some date after March 538 B.C. Cambyses was recognized as 'King of Babylon' while his father remained 'great king, king of the lands'. Then from 537 onwards, private documents are again dated by Cyrus - Cambyses only appearing as the 'son of the king', who possessed a house in Babylon. Plans may have been laid for the conquest of Egypt, the last major power to remain outside the empire, and important construction work was probably going forward at many places, including Pasargadae, Babylon, and Hamadan. But in the midst of all these activities word of fresh dangers on his north-eastern borders seems to have decided Cyrus to go and meet the threat himself. We know very little about the campaign (which evoked wide interest, but, sadly, no sober chronicler) save that Cyrus is said to have been engaged against the Massagetae, a nomadic people possibly living north of the Jaxartes, somewhere east of the Aral Sea. After at least one indecisive encounter the nomads, in a more serious battle, succeeded in overwhelming the Persians and killing the great king himself. Cyrus' body was temporarily lost to the enemy but was then recovered and borne back to his newly completed tomb at Pasargadae .
Like Alexander more than two hundred years later, Cyrus must have spent an important part of his life on the march. Of necessity, therefore, the center of government must have been wherever the king was, even if the royal archives were presumably held at fixed points, above all at Babylon and Agbatana. Whatever the exigencies of his successive campaigns, however, the foundation of Cyrus' empire was a stable, far-reaching administration. Where the Assyrians had depended in part at least on vassal treaties in order to maintain their authority beyond their own borders, Cyrus introduced his own representatives throughout the empire. Each province was governed by a satrap, who kept in close touch with the king through the transmission of reports carried at great speed by mounted couriers. One great difference between the empire of Cyrus and Darius was the size of the administrative units. While Cyrus was content to make single province of almost any prior political entity (joining Syria to Babylonia, for example, since both had been part of the former Babylonian empire), Darius recast many of the empire's internal boundaries in order to create units of a more standard size. Darius' superior administrative talents also show to advantage where taxation is concerned. Cyrus kept previously existing forms of taxation in being or at least accommodated local practices as far as possible; Darius, on the other hand, overhauled the whole structure of taxation throughout the empire, introducing his own, revised system.
In a sense, of course, it is unjust to belittle Cyrus on either of these counts. In both directions, Cyrus' ad hoc solutions were consistent with his overriding concern to preserve local customs and institutions. A gifted if not brilliant administrator, his strength lay in his political wisdom — in his instinctive sense of communication with those whom he ruled. Thus no rebellion marked the great king's death; and, for all the difficulties that might have been expected to attend the abrupt defeat and death of the monarch on a distant border, his son, Cambyses, still succeeded to a peaceful, untroubled realm.
Cyrus' personal beliefs
From the outset, as we see from his generous treatment of Astyages, Cyrus was prepared to tread his own path. But, sadly, all too little is known of the personal faith that he professed. In the cylinder inscription from Babylon too many expressions — as much the special pleadings of the priests of Marduk as those of Cyrus himself – obscure the inner thoughts of the king. We can hardly say how many, if any, of Cyrus' more profound ideas were implanted by the tenets of a new faith that gave new dignity and fresh meaning to man's personal conduct, nor how far his unique career helped to form the unusual rules by which he came to govern. Indeed, without other literary sources to help us, and with only certain strictly material reflections of the great king's faith still to be seen at Pasargadae, we can only assert that Cyrus must have adhered to the traditional religion of Iran - if not already to the reformed message of Zoroaster himself.
The character and achievements of Cyrus the Great have evoked nearly unanimous praise. Herodotus tells us that his people knew him as 'father'; to the Jews he was the Lord's Anointed'; and, according to Xenophon, even those whom he had conquered only sought to be guided 'by his judgment and his alone' Aeschylus, Plato and Aristotle must also be counted among those who honoured his name.
As a conqueror, Cyrus became, more truly than any other monarch before him, 'king of the four quarters of the earth'; as a builder, his choices -- and his standards — gave us the serene, balanced beauty of Achaemenid art; and, as a man whose mind and beliefs will long intrigue the world, he left his own signal legacy of justice and humanity.