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Kyrus the GreatCyrus_the_Great

King of the Persian Empire from 559-529 BCE.

The Persians had once ruled western-central Asia but from 687-559 BCE the Medes took control of the entire region (except for a brief period (634-606) when the Skythians (Scythians) temporarily ruled).

Kyrus was the son of the Median princess, Mandane, and a Persian named Kambyses (Cambyses); Mandane’s father, Astyages, was the Median king and had a dream in which Mandane’s son took control of the Median empire; to prevent such an event he ordered his trusted kinsman, Harpagus, to leave the infant in the wilderness to die; the baby was saved by a herdsman named Mitradates and his wife, Kyno (Cyno).

It wasn’t until the boy was a young adult that Astyages realized that Mandane’s son had not been murdered as he had commanded; Astyages blamed Harpagus for the fact that the boy was still alive and punished him by killing Harpagus’ son and feeding the cooked child to Harpagus at a celebratory dinner; Harpagus retained his composure but nurtured a long and bitter hatred for Astyages.

Astyages was still not sure if the boy was a threat to his throne so he consulted his seers, the Magi; they assured him that the boy was harmless but just to be safe, Astyages sent him to live amongst the Persians with his natural parents Mandane and Kambyses; the boy was then named Kyrus and as he grew to manhood he was the best and brightest of his peers.

Harpagus waited through the long years and courted Kyrus with gifts and praise; finally, when he deemed the time was right, he sent a secret message to Kyrus stitched inside a dead rabbit so that Astyages’ spies would not intercept the message; he urged Kyrus to lead the Persians in a revolt to take back the land the Medes had stolen from them only four generations before.

Kyrus was intrigued by the idea and thought long and hard as to the most subtle way to incite a revolution against the Medes; he called an assembly of the highest ranking Persian families and cleverly persuaded them to join him in a revolt against Astyages; on the first day of the assembly, Kyrus bade the Persians to clear a large field of brush and brambles; on the next day he served the Persians a feast and asked them which they preferred: hard toil or luxury; the meaning was clear to the assembled Persians, they could toil like slaves or they could unite behind Kyrus and take back their country.

Harpagus had spent many years sowing the seeds of discontent throughout Astyages’ empire and when the time came to fight the Persians, Astyages was unable to muster an army to defend his throne; the masters were now slaves and the slaves were now masters; Kyrus repaid Harpagus for his assistance by making him a general in the Persian army, in which he assisted in the Persian conquest of Ionia and southern Asia.

One of Kyrus’ most notable victories was against the Lydians; the king of Lydia, Kroesus (Croesus), was a vain and aggressive leader; he wanted to challenge the power of the newly founded Persian empire and consulted the oracle at Delphi; the pythia told Kroesus that if he attacked the Persians a mighty nation would fall; the pythia was unclear as to which nation would fall but Kroesus incorrectly assumed that he would be the victor in the confrontation with the Persians; after his utter defeat at the hands of Kyrus, Kroesus became the captive and advisor of Kyrus and throughout his life, gave frank and valuable advice to Kyrus and his son, Kambyses.

The Persian capture of Babylon was a feat of patience and military prowess; Kyrus diverted the Euphrates River which flowed through Babylon and, when the water level was low enough, his troops were able to enter the city unhindered and capture the wealthiest city in Asia.

Kyrus was not satisfied with the extent of his victories and finally marched to his doom against the insignificant armies of the Massagetae; when the Persians entered the land of the Massagetae, the queen, Tomyris, ordered Kyrus to retreat but Kroesus provided Kyrus with a clever plan by which he could defeat the Massagetae with minimal bloodshed; Kyrus feigned a retreat but left wagons full of food and wine for the Massagetae army to capture; when the Massagetae, who were poor and unsophisticated, came upon the food and wine they gorged themselves and fell into a sated stupor; Kyrus easily captured or slew the drunken Massagetae army and took the queen’s son, Spargapises, as a hostage; he then demanded that Tomyris surrender; she refused and vowed to drown Kyrus in blood; Kyrus did not take the threat seriously and marched boldly into the Massagetae homeland; the Persians were utterly defeated and, true to her word, Tomyris killed Kyrus and filled an animal skin with blood and put it over his head.

Kyrus had ruled for 29 years and, under his leadership, the Persians had expanded their empire to include Asia Minor, Assyria and Syria; Kyrus was admired by the Greeks for his strength and equanimity and affectionately called The Father by the Persians; he was succeeded by his son, Kambyses.

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