21612101911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 7 — CyrusEduard Meyer

CYRUS (Gr. Κῦρος; Pers. Kuru-sh; Babyl. Kurash; Hebr. Kōresh), the Latinized form of a Persian name borne by two prominent members of the Achaemenid house.

1. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire, was the son of Cambyses I. His family belonged to the clan of the Achaemenidae—in the inscription on the pillars and columns of the palace of Pasargadae (Murghab) he says: “I am Cyrus the king, the Achaemenid”—the principal clan (φρήτρη) of the Persian tribe of the Pasargadae (q.v.). But in his proclamation to the Babylonians (V.R. 35; Sir H. Rawlinson, Journal of the R. Asiat. Soc., n.s., xii., 1880; Schrader, Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, iii. 2, 120 ff.; Hagen, in Delitzsch and Haupt, Beiträge zur Assyriologie, ii., 1894, where the chronicle of Nabonidus is also published anew with a much improved translation) he calls his ancestors, Teispes, Cyrus I. and Cambyses I., “kings of Anshan,” and the same title is given to him in the inscriptions and in the chronicle of Nabonidus of Babylon before his victory over Astyages. Anshan is a district of Elam or Susiana, the exact position of which is still subject to much discussion. As we know from Jeremiah xlix. 34 ff. (cf. Ezekiel xxxii. 24 ff.) that the Elamites suffered a heavy defeat in 596 B.C., it is very probable that the Pasargadian dynast Teispes conquered Anshan in this year. Modern authors have often supposed that Cyrus and his ancestors were in reality Elamites; but this is contrary to all tradition, and there can be no doubt that Cyrus was a genuine Persian and a true believer in the Zoroastrian religion. In Herodotus vii. 11 the genealogy of Cyrus is given in exactly the same way as in the proclamation of Cyrus himself; Teispes is called here the son of the eponym Achaemenes.

The Pasargadian kings of Anshan were vassals of the Median empire. Their kingdom cannot have been of large extent, as Nabonidus in a contemporary inscription (Cylinder from Abu Habba, VR. 64, Schrader, Keilinschriftl. Bibliothek, iii. 2, 96), where he mentions his rebellion against Astyages, calls Cyrus “king of Anshan, his (i.e. Astyages’) small servant (vassal).” From this inscription we learn that the rebellion of Cyrus (who seems to have become king in 558 B.C., as Herod. i. 214 gives him a reign of 29 years) began in 553 B.C., and from the annals that in 550 Astyages marched against Cyrus, but was defeated; his troops revolted against him, he was taken prisoner, and Cyrus occupied and plundered Ecbatana. The relation of Ctesias (preserved by Nic. Dam. fr. 66; Anaximenes of Lampsacus in Steph. Byz. s.v. Πασαργάδαι, Strabo xv. p. 729; Polyaen. vii. 6. 1, 9, 45. 2) that Cyrus was three times beaten by Astyages and that the decisive battle took place in the mountains of Pasargadae, is certainly in the main historical although Herodotus (i. 127 ff.) only mentions the treason of the Median general Harpagus and the defeat and captivity of Astyages. In the rebellion the Persian tribes of the Maraphians and Maspians joined the Pasargadae (Herod. i. 125), while the other tribes appear not to have acknowledged Cyrus till after his victory (see Persis). From then he calls himself “king of the Persians.”

The history of Cyrus very soon became involved and quite overgrown with legends. Herodotus (i. 95) tells us that he knew four different traditions about him. One makes him the son of Mandane, a daughter of Astyages (originally evidently by a god), who is exposed in the mountains by his grandfather on account of an oracle, but suckled by a dog (a sacred animal of the Iranians) and educated by a shepherd; i.e. the myth which we know from the stories of Oedipus, Perseus, Telephus, Pelias and Neleus, Romulus, Sargon of Agade, Moses, the Indian hero Krishna, and many others, has been transferred to the founder of the Persian empire. At the same time, the rule of Cyrus and the Persians is legitimated by his family connexion with Astyages. This account is partly preserved in Justin i. 4. 10 (probably from Charon of Lampsacus) and in Aelian, Var. Hist. xiv. 42, and alluded to by Herodotus i. 95 and 122. The second account, which Herodotus follows, is a rationalized version of the first, where the dog is changed into a woman (the wife of the shepherd) named Spako (bitch). In the later part of his story Herodotus is dependent on the family traditions of Harpagus, whose treason is justified by the cruelty with which Astyages had treated him (the story of Atreus and Thyestes is transferred to them). Harpagus afterwards stood in high favour with Cyrus, and commanded the army which subdued the coasts of Asia Minor; his family seems to have been settled in Lycia. In a third version, preserved from Ctesias in Nicolaus Damasc. p. 66 (cf. Dinon ap. Athen. xiv. 633 C), Cyrus is the son of a poor Mardian bandit Atradates (the Mardians are a nomadic Persian tribe, Herod. i. 125), who comes as a voluntary slave to the court of Astyages, and finds favour with the king. A Chaldaean sage prophesies to him his future greatness, and another Persian slave, Oebares, becomes his associate. He flies to Persia, evades the pursuers whom Astyages sends after him, and begins the rebellion. After the victory Oebares kills Astyages against the will of Cyrus, and afterwards kills himself to evade the wrath of Cyrus. Parts of this story are preserved also in Strabo xv. p. 729, and Justin i. 6. 1-3; 7. 1; cf. Ctesias ap. Photium 2-7; many traces of it were afterwards transferred to the story of Ardashir I. (q.v.), the founder of the Sassanid empire. With this version Ctesias and Nicolaus have connected another, in which Cyrus is the son of a Persian shepherd who lives at Pasargadae, and fights the decisive battle at this place. The didactic novel of Xenophon, the Cyropaedia, is a free invention adapted to the purposes of the author, based upon the account of Herodotus and occasionally influenced by Ctesias, without any independent traditional element. The account of Aeschylus, Pers. 765 ff., is a mixture of Greek traditions with a few oriental elements; here the first king is Medos (the Median empire); his nameless son is succeeded by Cyrus, a blessed ruler, beloved by the gods, who gave peace to all his friends and conquered Lydia, Phrygia, Ionia. Then comes his nameless son, then Mardos (i.e. Smerdis, to whom the name of the Mardians is transferred) who is killed by Artaphrenes (i.e. Artaphernes, Herod. iii. 78, one of the associates of Darius), then Maraphis (eponym of the Maraphian tribe), then another Artaphrenes, then Darius.

The principal events of the later history of Cyrus are in the main correctly stated by Herodotus, although his account contains many legendary traditions. The short excerpt from Ctesias, which Photius has preserved, contains useful information, although we must always mistrust him. Of great value are a short notice in the fragments of Berossus and another in the Old Testament. The original sources are very scanty, besides the cylinder containing his proclamation to the Babylonians we possess only a great many dated private documents from Babylon. These serve to fix the chronology, which is here as everywhere quite in accordance with the dates of the canon of Ptolemy.

Soon after the conquest of the Median empire, Cyrus was attacked by a coalition of the other powers of the East, Babylon, Egypt and Lydia, joined by Sparta, the greatest military power of Greece. In the spring of 546 Croesus of Lydia began the attack and advanced into Cappadocia, while the other powers were still gathering their troops. But Cyrus anticipated them; he defeated Croesus and followed him to his capital. In the autumn of 546 Sardis was taken and the Lydian kingdom became a province of the Persians. The famous story of Herodotus, that the conqueror condemned Croesus to the stake, from which he was saved by the intervention of the gods, is quite inconsistent with the Persian religion (see Croesus).

During the next years the Persian army under Harpagus suppressed a rebellion of the Lydians under Pactyas, and subjugated the Ionian cities, the Carians and the Lycians (when the town Xanthus resisted to the utmost). The king of Cilicia (Syennesis) voluntarily acknowledged the Persian supremacy. Why the war with Babylon, which had become inevitable, was delayed until 539, we do not know. Here too Cyrus in a single campaign destroyed a mighty state. The army of Nabonidus was defeated; Babylon itself attempted no resistance, but surrendered on the 16th Tishri (10th of October) 539, to the Persian general Gobryas (Gaubaruva, see the chronicle of the reign of Nabonidus; the name Gobryas is preserved also by Xenophon, Cyrop. vii. 4. 24); it is possible that the Chaldaean priests, who were hostile to Nabonidus, betrayed the town. In a proclamation issued after his victory Cyrus guarantees life and property to all the inhabitants and designates himself as the favourite of Marduk, the great local god (Bel, Bel-Merodak) of Babel. It is very odd that modern authors have considered this proclamation as inconsistent with the Zoroastrian creed.

From the beginning of 538 Cyrus dates his years as “king of Babylon and king of the countries” (i.e. of the world). With the capital, the Babylonian provinces in Syria fell to the Persians; in 538 Cyrus granted to the Jews, whom Nebuchadrezzar had transported to Babylonia, the return to Palestine and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its temple (see Jews, § 19). It is probable that Cyrus had fought more than one war against the peoples of eastern Iran; according to Ctesias he had, before the war with Croesus, defeated the Bactrians and the Sacae (in Ferghana; their king Amorges is the eponym of the Amyrgian Sacae, Herod. vii. 64, called by Darius Haumavarkā); and the historians of Alexander mention a march through Gedrosia, where he lost his whole army but seven men (Arrian vi. 24. 2; Strabo xv. 722), a tribe Ariaspae on the Etymandros (in Sijistan), who, on account of the support which they gave him against the Scythians, were called Euergetae (Arrian iii. 27. 4; Diod. xvii. 81; Curt. vii. 3. 1), and a town Cyropolis, founded by him on the Jaxartes (Arrian iv. 2. 3; Curt. vii. 6. 16; Strabo xi. 517, called Cyreskhata by Ptolem. vi. 12. 5). In 530, having appointed his son Cambyses king of Babel, he set out for a new expedition against the East. In this war he was killed (Herod.) or mortally wounded (Ctesias). According to Herodotus he attacked the Massagetae beyond the Jaxartes; according to Ctesias, the Derbices, a very barbarous tribe (cf. Strabo xi. 520; Aelian, Var. Hist. iv. 1) on the border of the Caspian, near the Hyrcanians (Strabo xi. 514; Steph. Byz.; Curt. vii. 2. 7; Dion. Perieg. 734 ff.; Pomp. Mela iii. 5), or on the Oxus (Plin. vi. 48; Ptolem. vi. 10. 2; Tab. Peuting.). Berossus (ap. Euseb. Chron. i. 29) simply says that he fell against the Dahae, i.e. the nomads of the Turanian desert. His death occurred in 528 B.C., as we have a Babylonian tablet from the Adar of the tenth year of Cyrus, i.e. February 528; for in Babylon the first year of Cyrus began in the spring of 538.

In his native district Cyrus had built a city with a palace, called after his tribe Pasargadae (now Murghab), and here he was buried (see Pasargadae). In a short time he, the petty prince of an almost unknown tribe, had founded a mighty empire, which extended from the Indus and Jaxartes to the Aegaean and the borders of Egypt. This result shows that Cyrus must have been a great warrior and statesman. Nor is his character without nobility. He excels in the humanity with which he treated the vanquished. He destroyed no town nor did he put the captive kings to death; in Babylonia he behaved like a constitutional monarch; by the Persians his memory was cherished as “the father of the people” (Herod. iii. 89), and the Greek tradition preserved by Aeschylus (cf. above) shows that his greatness was acknowledged also by his enemies. He therefore deserves the homage which Xenophon paid to him in choosing him as hero for his didactic novel.

2. Cyrus the Younger, son of Darius II. and Parysatis, was born after the accession of his father in 424. When, after the victories of Alcibiades, Darius II. decided to continue the war against Athens and give strong support to the Spartans, he sent in 408 the young prince into Asia Minor, as satrap of Lydia and Phrygia Major with Cappadocia, and commander of the Persian troops, “which gather into the field of Castolos” (Xen. Hell. i. 4. 3; Anab. i. 9. 7), i.e. of the army of the district of Asia Minor. He gave strenuous support to the Spartans; evidently he had already then formed the design, in which he was supported by his mother, of gaining the throne for himself after the death of his father; he pretended to have stronger claims to it than his elder brother Artaxerxes, who was not born in the purple. For this plan he hoped to gain the assistance of Sparta. In the Spartan general Lysander he found a man who was willing to help him, as Lysander himself hoped to become absolute ruler of Greece by the aid of the Persian prince. So Cyrus put all his means at the disposal of Lysander in the Peloponnesian War, but denied them to his successor Callicratidas; by exerting his influence in Sparta, he brought it about that after the battle of Arginusae Lysander was sent out a second time as the real commander (though under a nominal chief) of the Spartan fleet in 405 (Xen. Hell. ii. 1. 14). At the same time Darius fell ill and called his son to his deathbed; Cyrus handed over all his treasures to Lysander and went to Susa. After the accession of Artaxerxes II. in 404, Tissaphernes denounced the plans of Cyrus against his brother (cf. Plut. Artax. 3); but by the intercession of Parysatis he was pardoned and sent back to his satrapy. Meanwhile Lysander had gained the battle of Aegospotami and Sparta was supreme in the Greek world. Cyrus managed very cleverly to gather a large army by beginning a quarrel with Tissaphernes, satrap of Caria, about the Ionian towns; he also pretended to prepare an expedition against the Pisidians, a mountainous tribe in the Taurus, which was never obedient to the Empire. Although the dominant position of Lysander had been broken in 403 by King Pausanias, the Spartan government gave him all the support which was possible without going into open war against the king; it caused a partisan of Lysander, Clearchus, condemned to death on account of atrocious crimes which he had committed as governor of Byzantium, to gather an army of mercenaries on the Thracian Chersonesus, and in Thessaly Menon of Pharsalus, head of a party which was connected with Sparta, collected another army.

In the spring of 401 Cyrus united all his forces and advanced from Sardis, without announcing the object of his expedition. By dexterous management and large promises he overcame the scruples of the Greek troops against the length and danger of the war; a Spartan fleet of thirty-five triremes sent to Cilicia opened the passes of the Amanus into Syria and conveyed to him a Spartan detachment of 700 men under Cheirisophus. The king had only been warned at the last moment by Tissaphernes and gathered an army in all haste; Cyrus advanced into Babylonia, before he met with an enemy. Here ensued, in October 401, the battle of Cunaxa. Cyrus had 10,400 Greek hoplites and 2500 peltasts, and besides an Asiatic army under the command of Ariaeus, for which Xenophon gives the absurd number of 100,000 men; the army of Artaxerxes he puts down at 900,000. These numbers only show that he, although an eyewitness, has no idea of large numbers; in reality the army of Cyrus may at the very utmost have consisted of 30,000, that of Artaxerxes of 40,000 men. Cyrus saw that the decision depended on the fate of the king; he therefore wanted Clearchus, the commander of the Greeks, to take the centre against Artaxerxes. But Clearchus, a tactician of the old school, disobeyed. The left wing of the Persians under Tissaphernes avoided a serious conflict with the Greeks; Cyrus in the centre threw himself upon Artaxerxes, but was slain in a desperate struggle. Afterwards Artaxerxes pretended to have killed the rebel himself, with the result that Parysatis took cruel vengeance upon the slayer of her favourite son. The Persian troops dared not attack the Greeks, but decoyed them into the interior, beyond the Tigris, and tried to annihilate them by treachery. But after their commanders had been taken prisoners the Greeks forced their way to the Black Sea. By this achievement they had demonstrated the internal weakness of the Persian empire and the absolute superiority of the Greek arms.

The history of Cyrus and of the retreat of the Greeks is told by Xenophon in his Anabasis (where he tries to veil the actual participation of the Spartans). Another account, probably from Sophaenetus of Stymphalus, was used by Ephorus, and is preserved in Diodor. xiv. 19 ff. Further information is contained in the excerpts from Ctesias by Photius; cf. also Plutarch’s life of Artaxerxes. The character of Cyrus is highly praised by the ancients, especially by Xenophon (cf. also his Oeconomics, c. iv.); and certainly he was much superior to his weak brother in energy and as a general and statesman. If he had ascended the throne he might have regenerated the empire for a while, whereas it utterly decayed under the rule of Artaxerxes II. (See also Persia: Ancient History.)  (Ed. M.)