1. King Cyrus II or Cyrus – The Great, who ruled Iran from 559 to 529 B.C., was the founder of the Achaemenian Empire. He was born in 599 BC to Cambyses I, the king of Pars, and Mandane, the daughter of the last Median king Astyages. Pars was a small kingdom under the lordship of Median Emperor Astyages. The name Cyrus is the Greek form of the Iranian name “Kurush.” In the Old Persian language, Kurush means ‘Shepherd’ or ‘Sun’.
2. As a newborn infant, Cyrus was condemned to death by Astyages, but was saved by courtiers Mithradates and Herpagus. After Cyrus grew up, he took the throne in 559 B.C. after his father’s death. Then he defeated Astyages, put an end to the mighty Median empire, and founded a new dynasty in 547 B.C., which he named Achaemenian after his ancestor Achaemenish/ Hakhamanish.
3. Thereafter Cyrus conquered Babel, Akkad and Sumer. He also conquered the provinces of Hyrcania, Chorasmia, Parthia, Sogdiana, Drangiana, Aracosia, Sattagidia and Gandara, brought the Iranian countries under one rule and founded the First Parsi Empire. Cyrus built the capital city, at a place known as Pasargadae, which literally means “city of the Pars.”
4. Cyrus defeated king Croesus and took over Lydia in 546 B.C., and thereafter the Greek kingdoms of Asia Minor. Then Cyrus turned his attention towards Central Asia and the east, and brought the Bactrians and the Sakas under his rule. Thus the Parsi Empire of Cyrus stretched up to the Mediterranean Sea. Cyrus had the wise policy of allowing the conquered kings to rule their countries, and allow the conquered subjects to follow their religion.
5. Then Cyrus captured Babylon, which in itself is a very interesting story. The Babylonian king Nabuchadnezzar (604 – 562 B.C.) had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed it. He also demolished the famous Temple of Solomon, and kept nearly 70,000 Jews in captivity. When his successor Nabunaid came to power, Cyrus marched into Babylon, and in one single night of stunning military strategy, went into the fortress city with his army from under the riverbed of Euphrates, in almost a bloodless takeover of the enemies.
6. Cyrus then freed the Jews from their prisons in Babylon, allowed them to return to their country and also gave them wealth from Persian treasury to rebuild their Temple. For this act of magnanimity, he is honourably remembered in the Old Testament, as the ‘Messiah’, “the anointed one”, a unique reference to a foreign king in Jewish literature. He is favourably mentioned at 22 other places in the Old Testament including Isaiah 44.28 and 45.1, Ezra 1. 1-2, 6. 3-4 and 14-15.
7. He declared freedom for the conquered people of Babylonia on clay cylinders and distributed them all over the country. One such declaration on a clay cylinder, in the shape of a corn cob, is now famously known as “The Cyrus Cylinder.” It is regarded as the world’s first declaration of human rights and is preserved in the British Museum, with its replica at the United Nation, New York. In it Cyrus declares, “When I entered Babylon I did not allow anybody to terrorise any of the people…. I strove for peace in Babylon and in all the other cities. I ordered that all people were free to worship their God……that none of their houses or properties should be ruined……that none of the citizens should be put to death……that the temples of Babylon be rebuilt and opened………” A couple of years back, the original ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ was loaned from the British Museum and exhibited all over the world. It was also kept on display at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai.
8. Cyrus lived a full and active life and was on the battle field whenever required. He was fatally wounded while engaged in one of his battles and he died at the age of 71 years in 529 B.C. His last resting place (astodān) is situated at Pasargadae. It is also known as Kabr-i-Madar-i-Suleiman, a name given by the Iranians to save the place from being pilferaged by the Arabs. It consists of seven tiers leading to a rectangular chamber where the final remains of the king were kept. It is a splendid yet simple structure, in huge finely-dressed blocks of white limestone giving the appearance of marble. It comprises of a small edifice, 42 feet in breadth at the base and 40 feet in height. Each of the stones of the seven tiers was fixed by iron clasps, most of which are not seen at present. The seven tiers indicate the seven steps to heaven.
9. Near the doorway of the chamber of Cyrus’ astodān, there were 2 plates of cuneiform inscription, which read: “O man! Whoever thou art, and from wherever thou cometh, for I know that thou will come, I am Cyrus, son of Cambyses, founder of the Persian empire. Grudge me not this small piece of land on which lay my body, for I was the Lord and Master of the Empire.”
10. After Alexander attacked Persepolis, his soldiers under the leadership of General Aristobulus, plundered this astodān. When Alexander went there, he read the lines inscribed over there. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He removed his helmet, bowed down before Cyrus and ordered his soldiers to restore the place.
11. Near the astodān are the ruins of Cyrus’ four palaces, which include the Audience Hall and the Royal Residences. One of the doorways of the palace had a winged figure of Cyrus with a trilingual inscription on it, till the last century, but it has now disappeared. The inscription read, adam kurush khshāyathiya hakhāmanishiya “I am King Cyrus, the Achaemenian.”
12. Cyrus the great is immortalised in history as one of the most astute, noble, kind and tolerant king, not only of Iran but of the whole world. In October 1971, a massive celebration was organized by H.I.M Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran, to mark the 2500th Anniversary of the founding of Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. Lavish feasts and programmes were held at Persepolis, Shiraz and Tehran, which were attended by state heads and representatives from many nations of the world.