According to archeological findings – including the writings of the Greeks, the greatest enemies of ancient Persians – Kourosh or Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid dynasty was the greatest monarch ever to have ruled on this earth. From 580 to 529 BC he was at the same time an emperor, a savior of many people, a spiritual guide, a politician and – according to Jewish writings – even a prophet. Herodotus writes that the Persians called Cyrus their father.
In 550 BC he united the Medes and the Persians to found the Empire of the Persians and the Medes, or the Achaemenid Empire, more often simply known as the Persian Empire. Then in a series of short campaigns he conquered Assyria, Lydia, Asia Minor (Syria, Armenia …), Babylonia… He avoided unnecessary bloodshed, treated each and every conquered nation with compassion and respect, respected their gods and in some cases reinstated their kings. When he conquered Lydia, the Lydian king Croesus, fearing his anger and revenge, was about to throw himself into a fire, but Cyrus’ soldiers prevented Croesus from killing himself and he was amazed to see Cyrus treating him as an equal.
The Ionian Greek cities on the Aegean Sea coast, as the vassals of the Lydian king, now became subject to Cyrus, most of them submitting peacefully.
Next he turned eastwards, crossed the river Oxus to reach territories far beyond it. He then turned back to the west and conquered Babylonia where he released thousands of Jews who had been taken prisoners in wars and now lived as slaves of the Babylonians. He returned them to their homeland, allowing them to live there in peace. He was finally killed in a battle against semi-barbaric tribes to the northeast of present day Iran.
The writings that remain from Cyrus himself reveal him to be a unique king among the cruel and heartless rulers of his time. In 1878 a piece of carved clay was found which became ultimately known as Cyrus’ Cylinder. (It is in fact more in the form of a slender cask). Cyrus’ Charter has been inscribed on this cylinder and it took several scholars many hard and long years to read it, except for parts which are missing or unreadable:
“I am Kourosh [“Cyrus”], King of the World, Great King, Mighty King, King of Babylon, King of the land of Sumer and Akkad, King of the Four Quarters, Son of Cambyses, Great King, King of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, Great King of Anshan, progeny of an unending royal line, whose rule Bel and Nebu cherish, whose kingship they desire for their hearts’ pleasure.
“When I, well-disposed, entered Babylon, I set up the seat of domination in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk, the great god, caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to love me. I sought daily to worship him.
“My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorize the land of Sumer and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being. The citizens of Babylon... I lifted their unbecoming yoke. Their dilapidated dwellings I restored. I put an end to their misfortunes. At my deeds Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced, and to me, Cyrus the king who worshipped him, and to Cambyses, my son, the offspring of (my) loins, and to all my troops he graciously gave his blessing, and in good spirits before him we glorified exceedingly his high divinity.
“All the kings who sat in throne rooms, throughout the four quarters, from the Upper to the Lower Sea, those who dwelt in …, all the kings of the West Country who dwelt in tents, brought me their heavy tribute and kissed my feet in Babylon. From … to the cities of Ashur, Susa, Agade, and Eshnuna, the cities of Zamban, Meurnu, Der as far as the region of the land of Gutium, the holy cities beyond the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been in ruins over a long period, the gods whose abode is in the midst of them, I returned to their places and housed them is lasting abodes.
“I gathered together all their inhabitants and restored (to them) their dwellings. The gods of Sumer and Akkad whom Nabonidus had, to the anger of the lord of the gods, brought into Babylon, I, at the bidding of Marduk, the great lord, made to dwell in peace in their habitations, delightful abodes. May all the gods whom I have placed within their sanctuaries address a daily prayer in my favour before Bel and Nabu, that my days may be long, and may say to Marduk my lord, “May Cyrus the king who reveres thee, and Cambyses his son…”
The foregoing text was translated by the UN and hailed, in 1971, as the first human rights charter. It was also translated into all UN official languages.
In the old testament Kourosh is mentioned as the Savior of the Jews at the command of Israel’s God:
“In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom, both by word of mouth and in writing: “Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever, therefore, among you belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him! Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, and goods, together with free will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’ Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites – everyone, that is, whom God had inspired to do so – prepared to go up to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.
“All their neighbors gave them help in every way, with silver, gold, goods, and cattle, and with many precious gifts besides all their free-will offerings. King Cyrus, too, had the utensils of the house of the Lord brought forth which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his god. Cyrus king of Persia, had them brought forth by the treasurer Mithredath, and counted out to Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah.”
Cyrus was undoubtedly a great king and a unique human being for his time, and history has and will forever remember him as such.