Cyrus the Great, son of Cambyses, is the first (founder) of the Achaemenid dynasty of the Persian Empire. In Biblical History, Cyrus is the king of the Persians who allowed the Hebrews who had been driven from their homeland, in Judaea, by Nebuchadnezzar, to leave Babylon and end the exile.
"Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods...."
(KJV) Book of Ezra I.7
Cyrus was the son of Persian and Median parents. His father was Cambyses, an Anshan (Persian) king who was the son of another Cyrus, and descended from Anshan's great king Teispes/Chishpish, descended from the eponymous Achaemenes; his mother, Mandane, daughter of the last Median king, Astyages (Arshtivaiga 'lance-hurler' aka Ishtumegu) (r. c. 585-550). Anshan was a vassal kingdom of Media. Astyages appears to have been unpopular enough with his subjects that part of his army may have deserted to Cyrus.
The Heroic Birth Legend
Legend (History of Cyrus the Great,by Jacob Abbott), followed by Herodotus, says the Median king feared the offspring of his daughter and so arranged that she should give birth while under his control. The infant was given to a loyal follower, Harpagus, to be killed. Harpagus couldn't do the deed, so he gave the infant to a shepherd (Mitridates) whose wife's newborn had just died. In The Heritage of Persia, author Richard N. Frye says the wife's name (Spako) means dog in the Median language, and suggests that this is a copying of the birth legend of Romulus and Remus who were suckled by a close relative of a dog -- a wolf, or a woman referred to as a wolf (a prostitute). Mitridates left the already-dead baby as if he had been exposed and kept the newborn prince. Eventually, when Cyrus was 10, the truth came out; Harpagus was punished with the presentation of his son as the main course at Astyages' feast.
Cyrus then made his way back to his Persian family at its less regal court where he was educated for two years before returning to the splendid Median court.
Cyrus became king of Anshan in about 559. He united the Medians and Persians and then expanded his Persian empire into Lydia in Asia Minor. He also took Babylon. It's possible he captured Bactria. In Sogdiana, he established the city of Kyresskhata (Cyropolis), perhaps a garrison town at the frontier. He may have gone into India.
"Now this was the state in which Cyrus found the tribes and peoples of Asia when, at the head of a small Persian force, he started on his career. The Medes and the Hyrcanians accepted his leadership willingly, but it was through conquest that he won Syria, Assyria, Arabia, Cappadocia, the two Phrygias, Lydia, Caria, Phoenicia, and Babylonia. Then he established his rule over the Bactrians, Indians, and Cilicians, over the Sakians, Paphlagonians, and Magadidians, over a host of other tribes the very names of which defy the memory of the chronicler; and last of all he brought the Hellenes in Asia beneath his sway, and by a descent on the seaboard Cyprus and Egypt also."
Cyropedia 1.4, by Xenophon
His first capital city was Pasargadai, which was replaced by the Median capital, Ekbatana.
Death of Cyrus
Cyrus was buried at Pasargadae. His son Cambyses succeeded him in 530, the year in which Cyrus the Great was defeated by the nomadic Massagetes (in modern Khazakhstan) (Jona Lendering: Cyrus).
"I.201: When Cyrus had achieved the conquest of the Babylonians, he conceived the desire of bringing the Massagetai under his dominion. Now the Massagetai are said to be a great and warlike nation, dwelling eastward, toward the rising of the sun, beyond the river Araxes, and opposite the Issedonians. By many they are regarded as a Scythian race."
"Tomyris, when she found that Cyrus paid no heed to her advice, collected all the forces of her kingdom, and gave him battle. Of all the combats in which the barbarians have engaged among themselves, I reckon this to have been the fiercest. The following, as I understand, was the manner of it: First, the two armies stood apart and shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers; and thus they continued fighting for a length of time, neither choosing to give ground. At length the Massagetai prevailed. The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, "I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood." Of the many different accounts which are given of the death of Cyrus, this which I have followed appears to me most worthy of credit."
Herodotus I.201; 214
Greek Sources on Cyrus
We can read about Cyrus (the Elder) in the works of two important ancient Greek historians, the Carian historian Herodotus (born about 50 years after Cyrus died) and the Athenian military commander Xenophon (born about 30 years after Herodotus) who served under Persian King Cyrus the Younger.
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Also Known As: Cyrus II, Cyrus the Elder
Alternate Spellings: Kuruš, Kores