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File:Painting of Cyrus the Great in battle
Image Credit: “File:Painting of Cyrus the Great in battle.png” by User Coyau on Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the Persian Empire, which was one of the largest empires in ancient history. He ruled from 550-529 BC. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest conquerors of all time and is remembered for his military victories, his administrative and political innovations, and his tolerance of different cultures and religions.

Cyrus was born around 600 BC in Anshan, Persis (Persia) – present-day Fars Province, Iran – which at the time, was a collection of city-states ruled by the Median Empire. At a young age, he became the king of the Persian city-state of Anshan and spent the next several years consolidating his power, building alliances, and training his army. In 550 BC, he defeated the Medes and took control of the Median Empire, which became the nucleus of his own empire.

Cyrus then went on to conquer the Lydians and the Babylonians, and by 546 BC, he had established the Achaemenid Empire, which included most of the territory of modern-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and parts of Central Asia, India, and Europe. He is also known for conquering the city of Babylon in 539 BC, an achievement considered one of the most significant military accomplishments of the ancient world.

Cyrus was also known for his administrative and political innovations. He established a centralised government, which was divided into provinces called “satrapies.” He also appointed governors, called “satraps,” to rule these provinces, which allowed him to maintain control over a vast empire. Ever the innovator, he established a postal system and road network, which improved communication and transportation throughout the empire.

Cyrus is also remembered for his tolerance of different cultures and religions. He allowed conquered peoples to continue practising their own customs and beliefs, and he even helped to rebuild the temples of the gods of the conquered peoples, which won him the support of the people and contributed to the stability of his empire. He is also known for his decree allowing the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple, which is recorded in the Bible in Ezra 1:1-4, and Isaiah 44:28-45:4.

Personal Life

Not much is known about the personal life of Cyrus. Cyrus’ father was Cambyses I, King of Anshan; his mother was Mandane, daughter of Astyages, King of Media. By his own account, generally believed now to be accurate, Cyrus was preceded as king by his father Cambyses I, grandfather Cyrus I, and great-grandfather Teispes.[2] Cyrus married Cassandane (the daughter of Pharnaspes), and she had four children with Cyrus: Cambyses II, who succeeded his father and conquered Egypt; Smerdis (Bardiya), who also reigned as the king of Persia for a short time; a daughter named Atossa, who later wed Darius the Great; and another daughter named Roxana.[3] Wikipedia suggests her name was Artystone[4]. Other sources mention the fourth child as Panthea, who was married to the Persian nobleman Otanes. However, the historical accuracy of these accounts is uncertain.

Atossa played an important role in the Achaemenid royal family, as she married Darius the Great and bore him the next Achaemenid king, Xerxes I.[5] I should mention a paper I’ve written about Xerxes the Great, King of Persia: If you’d like to read it, please visit my Blog at:

After his father’s death, Cyrus inherited the Persian throne at Pasargadae, a vassal of Astyages. The Greek historian Strabo has said that Cyrus was originally named Agradates[6] by his step-parents. It is possible that, when reuniting with his original family, following the naming customs, Cyrus’s father named him Cyrus after his grandfather (Cyrus I). According to Strabo[7], Cyrus was at first called Agradates, the name by which he was universally known being taken from that of the river Cyrus. However, it is more likely to have been why his grandfather (after whom he was probably named) was called Cyrus[8]. For unknown reasons, the Greeks also used the name Cyrus the Elder[9].

When Cyrus’ wife Cassandane died in 538 BC, Herodotus reported that all the nations of Cyrus’ Persian empire observed “a great mourning”. Cyrus is also said to have had several other wives and children. After her death, Cyrus insisted on public mourning throughout the kingdom.[10] The Nabonidus Chronicle states that Babylonia mourned Cassandane for six days (identified as 21–26 March 538 BC).[11]

Cyrus’ father, Cambyses I, was a general, and his grandfather Astyages was king of the Medes. This background helped him acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to build and maintain a powerful empire. Additionally, he had a good team of advisors and administrators that helped him in his rule, and he was a good judge of character, which allowed him to surround himself with capable and loyal individuals.

Military Conquests

Image Credit: Victory of Cyrus over Lydia‘s Croesus at the Battle of Thymbra, 546 BC   Attribution: Walter Hutchinson 1877, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Cyrus is known for his military conquests, which were instrumental in forming and expanding the Achaemenid Empire. He defeated the Medes and took control of the Median Empire, which became the nucleus of his own empire. Next came his conquest of the Lydians and the Babylonians.

He is most famous for his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, which was considered one of the most significant military accomplishments of the ancient world. He is also said to have conquered the city of Sardis, the capital of Lydia, and the city of Ecbatana, the capital of Media.

One of the key tactics that Cyrus used was the strategy of divide and conquer, by which he could defeat larger and more powerful armies by dividing them and attacking them in smaller groups. He also made alliances with city-states and tribes which were at odds with each other and used them to his advantage.

Despite his many successes, Cyrus also had some failures in his military campaigns. One of his most notable failures was his attempt to conquer the Massagetae, a nomadic tribe in Central Asia[12]. According to the ancient historian Herodotus, Cyrus led an army of over 700,000 men against the Massagetae but was ultimately defeated and killed in the Battle of Jaxartes. However, there are several alternative explanations about how Cyrus died.

Cyrus also failed in his attempt to conquer the Scythians, another nomadic tribe in Central Asia.[13] According to the ancient Greek historian Xenophon[14], Cyrus led an army of over 100,000 men against the Scythians but failed to defeat them and was forced to retreat.

Other Achievements

Cyrus is credited with creating a government that was tolerant of different cultures and religions and for his role in the liberation of the Jewish people from Babylonian captivity. See the section below on religion as the probable reason for how Cyrus conducted himself.

The Reign of Cyrus the Great

Spanning from the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, the empire created by Cyrus was the largest the world had yet seen.[15] At its maximum extent, under his successors, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from parts of the Balkans (Eastern BulgariaPaeonia and ThraceMacedonia) and Southeast Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east.

Image Credit: Ancient Near East circa 540 BC, prior to the invasion of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. Attribution: ChrisO, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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The reign of Cyrus lasted about thirty years; his empire took root with his conquest of the Median Empire, followed by the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He also led an expedition into Central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought “into subjection every nation without exception“.[16]

Cyrus did not attempt to conquer Egypt. There are a few reasons for this. First, at the time, Egypt was a powerful and well-defended empire, and Cyrus likely did not see it as a priority to conquer. Secondly, the Achaemenid Empire already controlled a vast territory, and Cyrus may have felt that it was more important to consolidate his control over the lands he already controlled. Additionally, there are records that he respected the culture and religion of the Egyptians and didn’t want to interfere with their way of life.


Cyrus the Great was Zoroastrian, an ancient monotheistic[17] religion that originated in ancient Persia. His kind treatment of people of different faiths can clearly be seen to have been influenced by his religious beliefs. Today, Zoroastrianism is considered a minority religion, with most of its followers living in Iran, India, and Pakistan. There are also small communities of Zoroastrians in other parts of the world, including the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The religion has significantly influenced the development of other major religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and it continues to be a significant cultural and religious tradition for its followers.

Zoroastrianism explained

Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion in Iran before the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD.[18] The Arab Muslim armies conquered Persia and brought Islam with them. Over time, many Iranians converted to Islam, and Zoroastrianism began to decline. The conversion was not forced but was facilitated by several factors, such as the promotion of Islam by the ruling Arab elite, economic incentives for conversion, and the emergence of a Persian Muslim elite. Additionally, Zoroastrianism did not have a strong institutional structure, which made it difficult for the religion to survive and adapt under Islamic rule.

It is estimated that today, less than 0.1% of the population of Iran is Zoroastrian. However, Zoroastrianism is still an important cultural and religious tradition for many Iranians, and it continues to be practised by a small community of followers. It has a strong cultural and historical significance and has influenced other major religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The Zoroastrianism religion teaches the worship of one God, called Ahura Mazdā and the importance of living a good and moral life. The central texts of the faith are the Avesta (a collection of sacred texts) and the Gathas (which are believed to be the writings of the prophet Zoroaster). It also emphasises the importance of good thoughts, words, and deeds and teaches that every individual is responsible for their own spiritual progress. Zoroastrians believe in the existence of evil forces, called daevas, which must be fought through good deeds and moral behaviour. It places a strong emphasis on rituals, particularly those related to fire, water, and the sun. Fire is considered a symbol of Ahura Mazda and is used in many rituals. The faith also strongly emphasises the importance of the environment and the natural world.[19]

According to Zoroastrian belief, Ahura Mazdā created the world, including the first human beings, and continues to watch over it and guide it towards goodness and righteousness. According to Zoroastrianism, the goal of human life is to live in harmony with Ahura Mazda’s will and strive towards righteousness and goodness.[20]

Image Credit: Painting of king Astyages sending Harpagus to kill young Cyrus. Attribution: Jean-Charles Nicaise Perrin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
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The Edict of Restoration

The Edict of Restoration refers to a decree issued by Cyrus the Great. The exact text of the edict has not been preserved, but it is referenced in the biblical book of Ezra. According to the Bible, Cyrus was prompted to issue the edict by the god of the Jews, and he is even referred to as God’s anointed one. Cyrus’ act allowed the Jews, who were captives in Babylon, to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, which the Babylonians had destroyed. This event is recorded in the Bible, in the book of Ezra and Isaiah. This act was a significant event in Jewish history, allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and practice their religion freely after many years of captivity.

In 586 BC, the Babylonians, led by King Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Nebuchadnezzar was considered a powerful and ambitious king who expanded the Babylonian Empire through military conquests and built several impressive structures in Babylon, including the Hanging Gardens – considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Following the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonians destroyed the city and the temple, and many Jews were taken away and held as captives for more than 50 years.

Cyrus likely provided materials and financial support to the Jews. According to the book of Ezra, the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem with gold and silver vessels that had been taken by the Babylonians, which may have been returned to them by Cyrus. Additionally, he may have provided financial support for the rebuilding effort, as the Jews were able to acquire materials such as cedar wood from Lebanon to use in the construction of the Temple.

It’s also worth noting that Cyrus’ policy of religious tolerance and support for rebuilding temples and shrines was a general policy rather than a specific action towards the Jews. The edict Cyrus issued was general, allowing the return of all displaced peoples and rebuilding of their temples and shrines, which helped many other cultures and religions as well as the Jews.

The Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder is a small clay cylinder dating back to the 6th century BC that was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in 1879. It is considered one of the most important surviving artefacts from the ancient world and is often referred to as the “first charter of human rights.” It was created and used as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was invaded by Cyrus and incorporated into his Persian Empire.

The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus and sets out his genealogy portraying him as a king from a line of kings. The Babylonian king Nabonidus, who Cyrus defeated and deposed, is denounced as an impious oppressor of the people of Babylonia, and his low-born origins are implicitly contrasted to Cyrus’ kingly heritage. The victorious Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian god Marduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. The cylinder, now broken into several pieces, is inscribed with a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script, which describes the conquests and policies of the Persian king Cyrus the Great, and his policy of respecting the religious and cultural customs of the peoples he conquered. The text also contains a statement about the restoration of temples and the repatriation of displaced peoples. The cylinder is currently in the possession of the British Museum, which sponsored the expedition that discovered it.

Image Credit: The Cyrus Cylinder in Room 52 of the British Museum in London   Attribution: Kaaveh Ahangar
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Tomb of Cyrus the Great - 2Image Credit: “Tomb of Cyrus the Great – 2” by txikita69 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


Cyrus died (aged 70) on 4th December 530 BC in Syr Darya, Central Asia. His son, Cambyses II, succeeded him. The true cause and details of Cyrus’ death are unknown and may have been lost to history, although it has been suggested he died in battle while fighting against a tribe called the Massagetae, located in Central Asia. Some ancient sources say that he was killed in battle, while others say that he was killed by a spear or arrow. Xenophon claimed that Cyrus did not die in battle against the Massagetae and returned to the Achaemenid ceremonial capital of Persepolis again.[21]

The Tomb of Cyrus is located in Pasargadae, an archaeological site in the Fars Province of Iran.

Books and Resources[22]


  • “Cyrus the Great: The Father of Nations” by Dr Kaveh Farrokh – This book provides a comprehensive biography of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire.
  • “Cyrus the Great: His Life, His Battles, His Victories” by J.M. Roberts – This book offers a detailed account of the military campaigns and conquests of Cyrus the Great, as well as his political and administrative accomplishments.
  • “The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period” by Amélie Kuhrt – This book provides a collection of primary sources, including inscriptions and texts, that offer insight into the reign of Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire.
  • “Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War” by Pierre Briant – This book explores the leadership and military strategies of Cyrus the Great, as well as his impact on the development of the Persian Empire.
  • “Cyrus the Great: Builder of Empires” by Richard Frye – This book provides an overview of the life and legacy of Cyrus the Great, including his role in the formation of the Persian Empire and his influence on the ancient world.
  • “Cyrus the Great: His Influence on the World” by R.C. Zaehner – This book examines the impact of Cyrus the Great on the ancient world, including his contributions to religion, politics, and culture.
  • “The Historical Records of the Achaemenid Empire” by R.G. Kent – This book provides a translation of the inscriptions and texts left by the Achaemenid Empire, including those related to the reign of Cyrus the Great.
  • Cyrus the Great: The Father of the Persian Empire” by George Rawlinson – This book is a classic biography of Cyrus the Great that offers a detailed account of his life and legacy.
  • “The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia” by Touraj Daryaee – This book provides a comprehensive overview of the Persian Empire, including its history, culture, and major figures such as Cyrus the Great.
  • “Cyrus the Great: The Man, His Empire and His Legacy” by Martin Sicker – This book provides an in-depth examination of the life and legacy of Cyrus the Great, including his military conquests, political policies, and cultural achievements.
  • The Persian Empire by Amélie Kuhrt – This book is considered a classic in the field of Achaemenid studies and offers a comprehensive overview of the period, including the reign of Cyrus the Great.
  • The Royal Tombs of Ur by Leonard Woolley – This book provides information on the archaeology of the Royal Tombs of Ur, which were built during the time of the Achaemenid Empire and offers insight into the culture and society of the period.
  • The Histories by Herodotus – This ancient Greek historian’s book gives an account of the Persian Wars and the Achaemenid Empire, including information on Cyrus the Great and his successors.


  • The British Museum’s online collection – The British Museum has a collection of artefacts from the Achaemenid Empire, including those related to Cyrus the Great. You can view many of these items online on their website.
  • Persepolis Fortification Archive Project – The Persepolis Fortification Archive Project is an online collection of documents, inscriptions, and artefacts related to the Achaemenid Empire, including those related to Cyrus the Great.
  • The Iran Chamber Society – The Iran Chamber Society website offers a wealth of information on the history and culture of Iran, including information on Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid Empire.
  • Encyclopedia Iranica – Encyclopedia Iranica is an online encyclopedia that provides in-depth information on the history, culture, and civilisation of Iran. It has many articles about Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid Empire.
  • The Cyrus Cylinder – The British Museum has an online presentation of the Cyrus Cylinder, one of the most important surviving texts from the Achaemenid period.
  • The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago – The Oriental Institute has a collection of artefacts and documents related to the ancient Near East, including those from the Achaemenid period.
  • Ancient History Encyclopedia – Ancient History Encyclopedia has a wealth of information on ancient history, including an article on Cyrus the Great and the Achaemenid Empire.
Sources and Further Reading


CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations
  1. Source: The machine-generated answer provided by

  2. Source: Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East: c. 3000–330 BC, Routledge Publishers, 1995, p.661, ISBN 0-415-16762-0.

  3. Source: Dandamaev, M. A. (1992). “Cassandane”Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 5. Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation. ISBN 0-933273-67-3.

  4. Source:

  5. Source: Schmitt, Rüdiger (1989). “Atossa”Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. 3. Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation. ISBN 0-7100-9121-4.

  6. Source: Waters, Matt (2014). Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550–330 BCE. Cambridge University Press. pp. 1–272. ISBN 978-1-107-65272-9

  7. Explanation: Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Source:

  8. Source:

  9. Source:

  10. Source: Amelie Kuhrt: Ancient Near Eastern History: The Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia. p. 106. In: Hugh Godfrey Maturin Williamson: Understanding the History of Ancient Israel. Oxford University Press 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-726401-0.

  11. Source: Grayson (1975), Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. p. 111.

  12. Explanation: The Massagetae or Massageteans, also known as Sakā tigraxaudā or Orthocorybantians, were an ancient Eastern Iranian Saka people who inhabited the steppes of Central Asia and were part of the wider Scythian cultures. Source:

  13. Explanation: The Scythians or Scyths and sometimes also referred to as the Classical Scythians and the Pontic Scythians, were an ancient Eastern Iranian equestrian nomadic people who had migrated from Central Asia to the Pontic Steppe in modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC. Source:

  14. Explanation: Xenophon of Athens was a Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian, born in Athens. At the age of 30, Xenophon was elected commander of one of the biggest Greek mercenary armies of the Achaemenid Empire, the Ten Thousand, that marched on and came close to capturing Babylon in 401 BC. Source:

  15. Source: Kuhrt, Amélie (1995). “13”The Ancient Near East: c. 3000–330 BCRoutledge. p. 647ISBN 0-415-16763-9.

  16. Source: Cambridge Ancient History IV Chapter 3c. p. 170. The quote is from the Greek historian Herodotus.

  17. Explanation: Monotheism is is the belief that there is only one deity, an all-supreme being that is universally referred to as God. A distinction may be made between exclusive monotheism, in which the one God is a singular existence, and both inclusive and pluriform monotheism, in which multiple gods or godly forms are recognised, but each are postulated as extensions of the same God. Source: “Monotheism”Encyclopædia Britannica. Cited at:

  18. Explanation: Islam was brought to Iran via Arab-Islamic conquest in 650 AD and has played a shifting, anomalous role in this nation-state ever since. The ideas of nationalism, secularism, religion, and revolution are unique in this Muslim country. Iranians, unlike many of their neighbours, hold on very strongly to their pre-Islamic roots and achievements. Source:

  19. Explanation: One of the most important practices in Zoroastrianism is the concept of “ashoi” which is a practice of living a good life, practicing moral virtues and avoiding sins. Additionally, Zoroastrianism recognises the existence of an afterlife, where the souls of the dead are judged based on their actions in life and sent to either heaven or hell. Source: Artificial Intelligence, at

  20. Explanation: One of the most important practices in Zoroastrianism is the concept of “ashoi” which is a practice of living a good life, practicing moral virtues and avoiding sins. Additionally, Zoroastrianism recognises the existence of an afterlife, where the souls of the dead are judged based on their actions in life and sent to either heaven or hell. Source: Artificial Intelligence, at

  21. Source: Bassett, Sherylee R. (1999). “The Death of Cyrus the Younger”. The Classical Quarterly. 49 (2): 473–483. doi:10.1093/cq/49.2.473ISSN 0009-8388JSTOR 639872PMID 16437854

  22. Source: Artificial Intelligence, at

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