|Author||Charles River Editors|
|Publication Date||November 2, 2019|
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*Includes excerpts of ancient accounts
*Includes a bibliography for further reading
"I am Cyrus the king, an Achaemenian." – An inscription found at the Persian capital of Pasargadae
At one point in antiquity, the Achaemenid Persian Empire was the largest empire the world had ever seen, but aside from its role in the Greco-Persian Wars and its collapse at the hands of Alexander the Great, it has been mostly overlooked. When it has been studied, the historical sources have mostly been Greek, the very people the Persians sought to conquer. Needless to say, their versions were biased.
It was not until excavations in the region during the 20th century that many of the relics, reliefs, and clay tablets that offer so much information about Persian life could be studied for the first time. Through archaeological remains, ancient texts, and work by a new generation of historians, a picture can today be built of this remarkable civilization and their most famous leaders.
When considering this empire’s rulers, the two most often referenced are Xerxes, the leader of the Persian invasion of Greece which caused the heroic sacrifice of the Spartans and their allies at Thermopylae, or Cyrus the Great, the man who created the empire. While he was one of the most influential men in the ancient world, research on Cyrus the Great is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. The Persians’ ancestors did not write (in fact, in their epic poems and myths, they claim that it was something taught to man by demons and therefore something to be avoided), and though the Iranians had taken up writing in their governmental and administrative functions by the time Cyrus lived, the kings still did not learn to write. Put simply, it was considered a functional skill, but not of the greatest importance.
As a result, while plenty of ancient sources mention the great Persian king, Persian sources themselves are rare, and those sources that do exist, such as the Babylonian Chronicle, are largely dry and state only the basic facts and large events. By contrast, Greek sources about Cyrus embrace the artistic aspect of their work so highly that the accuracy often comes into question, and sometimes deep scrutiny is necessary to attempt to separate the fact from the fiction. In the end, the full truth about Cyrus and his reign may never be truly understood.
Of course, this reality has deepened the mystique that surrounds Cyrus even to this day, and it has elevated his status from conqueror and king to enlightened humanist monarch and ideal ruler. In fact, a modern misconception based on the Cyrus Cylinder has labeled him the first proponent of civil rights, though this is somewhat of an exaggeration. The argument hinges on the Cylinder being a unique artifact in listing the ideology by which Cyrus intended to rule, but it equally ignores the fact that such declarations were commonplace among kings of the ancient Near East and more a tool of monarchal propaganda than a sweeping declaration of human rights.
That said, Cyrus was a fair and rational leader, particularly compared to the many brutal kings and warlords of ancient times. The high praise he received, even from his enemies, must certainly not be dismissed, and the admiration directed toward him came from many other exceptional individuals, including Alexander the Great, a bitter enemy of the empire Cyrus founded. Whatever the underlying issues, the incredible achievements of Cyrus distinguish him as one of the greatest kings in history, and his life, conquests, reforms, and rule continue to be of great interest over 2,500 years later.
Cyrus the Great: The Life and Legacy of the King Who Founded the Achaemenid Persian Empire looks at the life of the Persian leader and the major legacy he left. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Cyrus the Great like never before.
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