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Cyrus II, the Great

Several versions of the birth and rise to power of Cyrus II, the Great, are recorded. Herodotus mentions three. His genealogy, as given by himself, is as follows: "I am Cyrus, king of the host, the great king, the mighty king, king of Tindir [Babylon), Cyrus king of the land of Sumeru and Akkadu, king of the four regions, son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city Ansan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, king of the city Ansan, great-grandson of Sispis [Teispes], the great king, king of the city Ansan, the all-enduring royal seed whose sovereignty Bel and Nebo love, etc (WAI, V, pi. 35, 20-22).

According to Xenophon, Cyropaedia i. 2, Cambyses, the father of Cyrus II, the Great, was king of Persia [Cambyses may have added Persia to his dominion, but according to Cyrus himself, he was king of Ansan or Elam]. Astyages is said to have been succeeded by his son Cyaxares, and Cyrus then became his commander-in-chief, subduing, among others, the Lydians. He twice defeated the Assyrians (= Babylonians), his final conquest of the country being while the Median king was still alive. As, however, the Cyropaedia is a romance, the historical details are not of any great value.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, it is a relief to turn to the contemporary documents of the Babylonians, which, though they do not speak of Cyrus' youth in detail, and refer only to other periods of his career of in which they were more immediately interested, may nevertheless, being contemporary, be held to have an inder of altogether special authority.

Under Cyrus II, the Great, the Persians and the Bactrians were still partly nomads; and this prince knew well what his people owed to the sterile soil and generally inclement sky, when he represented to his companions that an enervated people were generally made so by the softness of their climate and the riches of their soil. When a person, named Artembares, wished to persuade his countrymen to exchange their small and mountainous land for a larger and better country, Cyrus strongly opposed his proposition. "Soft countries," said he, "gave birth to small men; there was no region which produced very delightful fruits and at the same time men of a warlike spirit." "The Persians," adds Herodotus, "departed with altered minds, confessing that Cyrus was wiser than they; and chose rather to dwell in a churlish land, and exercise lordship, than to cultivate plains and be slaves to others."

The internal struggles of the Medes and Persians ended at last in the accession of Cyrus II "the Persian" to the throne of Cyaxares in 550 BC. In that year Cyrus was ruling over an empire that reached from the boundaries of Lydia to Persia and perhaps to India. When Lydia was subdued, Cyrus turned his attention to Nabonidus in Babylon. The Chaldean Empire, with its capital at Babylon (Second Babylonian Empire), lasted under Nebuchadnezzar the Great (Nebuchadnezzar II) and his successors until it collapsed before the attack of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian power. In 539 BC the last monarch of the Chaldean Empire (the Second Babylonian Empire), Nabonidus, the father of Belshazzar, was overthrown by Cyrus II, the Great.

The chapters in the latter half of Isaiah, which so vigorously denounce idolatry, hail the approach of Cyrus towards Babylon, and claim unity of religion between him and the Jews (Isaiah xliv. 28 sq.). He is the shepherd who is to lead Jehovah's people back to their own land, and to cause their temple to be rebuilt. And this claim that the Jewish and the Persian religions were the same, that the Jews and the Persians were alike worshippers of the one true God, while all the surrounding nations were polytheists and idolaters, was admitted on the side of Persia. After his conquest of Babylon, Cyrus at once permitted the exiles to return to their own land. The Persian monarchs of the following century, Darius and Artaxerxes, continued to take a friendly interest in the worship of Jehovah, whom they apparently regarded as a form of their own god, "the God of heaven," Hormazd (Ezra vii. 21). They accordingly took measures for the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, and for the introduction there of the new religious constitution which had been prepared at Babylon.

If the Jews thought that they would be more sympathetically treated under Cyrus' rule, they were not disappointed. It was he who gave orders for the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Ch 36 23; Ezr 1 2; 5 13; 6 3), restored the vessels of the House of the Lord and the which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away Jews (Ezr 1 7), and provided funds to bring cedar trees from Lebanon (3 7). But he also restored the temples of the Babylonians, and brought back the images of the gods to their shrines. Nevertheless the Jews evidently felt that the favors he granted them showed sympathy for them.

The accounts which have come down seem to as to the make it certain that Cyrus the Great was killed in battle with some enemy, but the statements concerning his end are conflicting. This absence of any account of his death from a trustworthy source implies that Herodotus is right in indicating a terrible disaster to the Persian arms, and it is therefore probable that he fell on the field of battle - perhaps in conflict with the Massagetae, as Herodotus states. Supposing that only a few of the Persian army escaped, it may be that not one of those who saw him fall lived to tell the tale, and the world was dependent on the more or less trustworthy statements which the Massagetae made. That he was considered to be a personage of noble character is clear from all that has come down to us concerning him, the most noteworthy being Xenophon's Cyropaedia and Institution of Cyrus.

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Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:25:21 ZULU