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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Cyrus

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son of Cambyses the Persian, and of Mandane, daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. At the age of thirty, Cyrus was made general of the Persian troops, and sent, at the head of thirty thousand men, to assist his uncle, Cyaxares, whom the Babylonians were preparing to attack. Cyaxares and Cyrus gave them battle, and dispersed them. After this, Cyrus carried the war into the countries beyond the river Halys; subdued Cappadocia; marched against Croesus, king of Lydia, defeated him, and took Sardis, his capital. Having reduced almost all Asia, Cyrus repassed the Euphrates, and turned his arms against the Assyrians: having defeated them, he laid siege to Babylon, which he took on a festival day, after having diverted the course of the river which ran through it. On his return to Persia, he married his cousin, the daughter and heiress of Cyaxares; after which he engaged in several wars, and subdued all the nations between Syria and the Red Sea. He died at the age of seventy, after a reign of thirty years. Authors differ much concerning the manner of his death.

2. We learn few particulars respecting Cyrus from Scripture; but they are more certain than those derived from other sources. Daniel, in the remarkable vision in which God showed him the ruin of several great empires which preceded the birth of the Messiah, represents Cyrus as "a ram which had two horns, both high, but one rose higher than the other, and the higher came up last. This ram pushed westward, and northward, and southward, so that no beast might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great," Daniel 8:3-4 ; Daniel 8:20 . The two horns signify the two empires which Cyrus united in his person, that of the Medes and that of the Persians. In another place, Daniel compares Cyrus to a bear, with three ribs in its mouth, to which it was said, "Arise, devour much flesh." Cyrus succeeded Cambyses in the kingdom of Persia, and Darius the Mede (by Xenophon called Cyaxares, and Astyages in the Greek of Daniel 13:65,) also in the kingdom of the Medes, and the empire of Babylon. He was monarch, as he speaks, "of all the earth," Ezra 1:1-2 ; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 , when he permitted the Jews to return into their own country, A.M. 3466, B.C. 538. He had always a particular regard for Daniel, and continued him in his great employments.

3. The prophets foretold the exploits of Cyrus. Isaiah 44:28 , particularly declares his name, above a century before he was born. Josephus says, that the Jews of Babylon showed this passage to Cyrus; and that, in the edict which he granted for their return, he acknowledged that he received the empire of the world from the God of Israel. The peculiar designation by name, which Cyrus received, must be regarded as one of the most remarkable circumstances in the prophetic writings. He was the heir of a monarch who ruled over one of the poorest and most inconsiderable kingdoms of Asia, but whose hardy inhabitants were at that time the bravest of the brave; and the providential circumstances in which he was placed precluded him from all knowledge of this oracular declaration in his favour. He did not become acquainted with the sacred books in which it was contained, nor with the singular people in whose possession it was found, till he had accomplished all the purposes for which he had been raised up, except that of saying to Jerusalem, as the "anointed" vicegerent of Heaven, "Thou shalt be inhabited;" and to the cities of Judah, "Ye shall be built, and I will raise up their ruins." The national pride of the Jews during the days of their unhallowed prosperity, would hinder them from divulging among other nations such prophecies as this, which contained the most severe yet deserved reflections upon their wicked practices and ungrateful conduct; and it was only when they were captives in Babylon that they submitted to the humiliating expedient of exhibiting, to the mighty monarch whose bondmen they had become, the prophetic record of their own apostasy and punishment, and of his still higher destination, as the rebuilder of Jerusalem. No temptation therefore could be laid before the conqueror in early life to excite his latent ambition to accomplish this very full and explicit prophecy; and the facts of his life, as recorded by historians of very opposite sentiments and feelings, all concur in developing a series of consecutive events, in which he acted no insignificant part; which, though astonishing in their results, differ greatly from those rapid strides perceptible in the hurried career of other mighty men of war in the east; and which, from the unbroken connection in which they are presented to us, appear like the common occurrences of life naturally following each other, and mutually dependent. Yet this consideration does not preclude the presence of a mighty Spirit working within him; which, according to Isaiah, said to him, "I will gird thee, though thou hast not known me." Concerning the genius, or guardian angel, of Socrates, many learned controversies have arisen; but though a few of the disputants have endeavoured to explain it away, the majority of them have left the Greek philosopher in possession of a greater portion of inspiration than, with marvellous inconsistency, some of them are willing to accord to the Jewish prophets. In this view it is highly interesting to recollect that the elegant historian who first informed his refined countrymen of this moral prodigy, is he who subsequently introduced them to an acquaintance with the noble and heroic Cyrus. The didactic discourses and the comparatively elevated morality which Xenophon embodied in his "Memoirs of Socrates," are generally admitted to have been purposely illustrated in his subsequent admirable production, the Cyropaedia, or "Education of Cyrus;" the basis of which is true history adorned and refined by philosophy, and exhibiting for universal imitation the life and actions of a prince who was cradled in the ancient Persian school of the Pischdadians, the parent of the Socratic.

Isaiah describes, in fine poetic imagery, the Almighty going before Cyrus to remove every obstruction out of his way:—

"I will go before thee, and level mountains,

I will burst asunder the folding-doors of brass, And split in twain the bars of iron.

Even I will give thee the dark treasures, And the hidden wealth of secret places: That thou mayest know, that I THE LORD,

Who call thee by thy name, am THE GOD OF ISRAEL."

According to Herodotus, Babylon was famous for its brazen gates and doors; a hundred were in the city walls, beside those which led to the river, and others which belonged to the temple of Belus. When Sardis and Babylon were taken by Cyrus, they were the wealthiest cities in the world. Croesus gave an exact inventory of his immense treasures to Cyrus, and they were removed from Sardis in waggons. Pliny gives the following account of the wealth which Cyrus obtained by his conquests in Asia: "He found thirty-four thousand pounds' weight of gold, beside vessels of gold, and gold wrought into the leaves of a platanus and of a vine; five hundred thousand talents of silver, and the cup of Semiramis, which weighed fifteen talents. The Egyptian talent, according to Varro, was equal to eighty pounds." Mr. Brerewood estimates the value of the gold and silver in this enumeration at 126,224,000 l. sterling. Other particulars relating to him, and the accomplishment of prophecy in his conquest of that large city, will be found under the article Babylon. It is the God of Israel who, in these sublime prophecies, confounds the omens and prognostics of the Babylonian soothsayers or diviners, after they had predicted the stability of that empire; and who announces the restoration of Israel, and the rebuilding of the city and temple of Jerusalem, through Cyrus his "shepherd" and his "anointed" messenger. Chosen thus by God to execute his high behests, he subdued and reigned over many nations,—the Cilicians, Syrians, Paphlagonians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Lydians, Carians, Phenicians, Arabians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Bactrians, &c.

"I am He who frustrateth the tokens of the impostors, And maketh the diviners mad; &c.

Who saith to the abyss, [Babylon,]

‘Be desolate, and I will dry up thy rivers:' Who saith to Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, And shall perform all my pleasure.'

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed,

To Cyrus whom I hold by the right hand, To subdue before him nations,

And ungird the loins of kings,

To open before him [palace] folding-doors; Even [river] gates shall not be shut:

For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have surnamed thee;" &c.

4. Herodotus has painted the portrait of Cyrus in dark colours, and has been followed in many particulars by Ctesias, Diodorus Siculus, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Plato, Strabo, Justin, and others; in opposition to the contrary accounts of AEschylus, Xenophon, Josephus, the Persian historians, and, apparently, the Holy Scriptures. The motive for this conduct of Herodotus is probably to be found in his aversion to Cyrus, for having been the enslaver of his country. The Greek historian was a man of free and independent spirit, and could never brook the mention of the surrender of his native city, Halicarnassus, to the troops of Cyrus. But, allowing that heartlessness and cruelty are too often the accompaniments of mighty conquerors, and that very few escape their direful contagion; yet, when the worst is told about Cyrus, abundance of authentic facts remain to attest his worth, and to elevate his character above the standard of ordinary mortals. Xenophon informs us, that the seven last years of his full sovereignty this prince spent in peace and tranquillity at home, revered and beloved by all classes of his subjects. In his dying moments he was surrounded by his family, friends, and children; and delivered to them the noblest exhortations to the practice of piety, virtue, and concord. This testimony is in substance confirmed by the Persian historians, who relate, that, after a long and bloody war, Khosru, or Cyrus, subdued the empire of Turan, and made the city of Balk, in Chorasan, a royal residence, to keep in order his new subjects; that he repaid every family in Persia proper the amount of the war-taxes, out of the immense spoils which he had acquired by his conquests; that he endeavoured to promote peace and harmony between the Turanians and Iranians; that he regulated the pay of his soldiery, reformed civil and religious abuses throughout the provinces, and, at length, after a long and glorious reign, resigned the crown to his son Lohorasp, and retired to solitude, confessing that he had lived long enough for his own glory, and that it was then time for him to devote the remainder of his days to God. Saadi, in his Gulistan, copies the wise inscription which Cyrus ordered to be inscribed on his crown: "What avails a long life spent in the enjoyment of worldly grandeur, since others, mortal like ourselves, will one day trample under foot our pride! This crown, handed down to me from my predecessors, must soon pass in succession upon the head of many others." In the last book of the "Cyropaedia" we find the following devout thanksgivings to the gods: "I am abundantly thankful for being truly sensible of your care, and for never being elated by prosperity above my condition. I beseech you to prosper my children, wife, friends, and country. And for myself, I ask, that such as is the life ye have vouchsafed to me, such may be my end." The reflections of Dr. Hales on this passage are very judicious: "Here, Xenophon, a polytheist himself, represents Cyrus praying to the gods in the plural number; but that he really prayed to one only, the patriarchal God, worshipped by his venerable ancestors, the Pischdadians, may appear from the watchword, or signal, which he gave to his soldiers before the great battle, in which Evil Merodach was slain:

ΖΕΥΣ ΣΩΤΗΡ ΚΑΙ ‘ΗΓΕΜΩΝ . "JOVE, OUR SAVIOUR AND LEADER."

Who this god was, we learn from the preamble of his famous proclamation, permitting the Jews to return from the Babylonian captivity: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem,' &c, Ezra 1:1-2 . But where did the Lord, (Iahoh, or Jove) so charge him?—In that signal prophecy of Isaiah, predicting his name and his actions, about B.C. 712, above a century before his birth; a prophecy which was undoubtedly communicated to him by the venerable Prophet Daniel, the Archimagus, who saw the beginning of the Babylonish captivity, and also its end, here foretold to be effected by the instrumentality of Cyrus."

5. Pliny notices the tomb of Cyrus at Passagardae Persia. Arrian and Strabo describe it; and they agree with Curtius, that Alexander the Great offered funeral honours to his shade there; that he opened the tomb, and found, not the treasures he expected, but a rotten shield, two Scythian bows, and a Persian scymetar. And Plutarch records the following inscription upon it, in his life of Alexander:—"O man, whoever thou art, and whenever thou comest, (for come, I know, thou wilt,) I am Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire. Envy me not the little earth that covers my body." Alexander was much affected at this inscription, which set before him, in so striking a light, the uncertainty and vicissitude of worldly things. And he placed the crown of gold which he wore, upon the tomb in which the body lay, wondering that a prince so renowned, and possessed of such immense treasures, had not been buried more sumptuously than if he had been a private person. Cyrus, indeed, in his last instructions to his children, desired that "his body, when he died, might not be deposited in gold or silver, nor in any other sumptuous monument, but committed, as soon as possible, to the ground."

The observation which Dr. Hales here makes, is worthy of record:—"This is a most signal and extraordinary epitaph. It seems to have been designed as a useful memento mori, [memento of death,] for Alexander the Great, in the full pride of conquest, "whose coming" it predicts with a prophetic spirit, "For come I know thou wilt." But how could Cyrus know of his coming?—Very easily. Daniel the Archimagus, his venerable friend, who warned the haughty Nebuchadnezzar, that "head of gold," or founder of the Babylonian empire, that it should be subverted by "the breast and arms of silver," Daniel 2:37 ; Daniel 2:39 , or "the Mede and the Persian," Darius and Cyrus, as he more plainly told the impious Belshazzar, Daniel 5:28 , we may rest assured, communicated to Cyrus also, the founder of the Persian empire, the symbolical vision of the goat; with the notable horn in his forehead, Alexander of Macedon coming swiftly from the west, to overturn the Persian empire, Daniel 8:5 ; Daniel 8:8 , under the last king Codomannus, the fourth from Darius Nothus, as afterward more distinctly explained, Daniel 11:1 ; Daniel 11:4 . Cyrus, therefore, decidedly addresses the short-lived conqueror, O man, whoever thou art, &c.

"Juvenal, in that noble satire, the tenth, Daniel 11:168 , has a fine reflection on the vanity of Alexander's wild ambition to conquer worlds, soon destined himself to be confined in a narrow coffin; by a pointed allusion to the epitaph on the tomb of Cyrus:—

Unus Pellaeo Juveni non sufficit orbis; AEstuat, infelix angusto limite mundi:

Cum tamen a figulis munitam intraverit urbem, Sarcophago contentus erit.—Mors sola fatetur Quantula sint hominum corpuscula!"

‘A single globe suffices not the Pellaean youth; Discontented, he scorns the scanty limits of the world; As if within a prison's narrow bounds confined:

But when he shall enter the brick-walled city, [Babylon,] A coffin will content him.—The epitaph alone owns, How small are the diminutive bodies of men!'

"The emotion of Alexander, on visiting the tomb, and reading the inscription, is not less remarkable. He evidently applied to himself, as the destroyer, the awful rebuke of the founder of the Persian empire, for violating the sanctity of his tomb, from motives of profane curiosity, and perhaps of avarice. And we may justly consider the significant act of laying down his golden crown upon the tomb itself, as an amende honorable, a homage due to the offended shade of the pious and lowly-minded Cyrus the Great."

These reflections must close our account of one of the most remarkable characters that ever appeared among the eastern conquerors.


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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Cyrus'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/wtd/c/cyrus.html. 1831-2.

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Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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