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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Cy´rus, the celebrated Persian conqueror of Babylon, who promulgated the first edict for the restoration of the Jews to their own land (, etc.). We are informed by Strabo that his original name was Agradates; but he assumed that of Kouros, or Khouresh (which means the Sun), doubtless on ascending the throne.

Herodotus and Xenophon agree that Cyrus was son of Cambyses prince of Persia, and of Mandane daughter of Astyages, king of the Median Empire. Ctesias denies that there was any relationship at all between Cyrus and Astyages. According to him, when Cyrus had defeated and captured Astyages, he adopted him as a grandfather, and invested Amytis, or Amyntis, the daughter of Astyages (whose name is in all probability only another form of Mandane), with all the honors of queen dowager. His object in so doing was to facilitate the submission of the more distant parts of the empire, which were not yet conquered; and he reaped excellent fruit of his policy in winning the homage of the ancient, rich, and remote province of Bactria. Ctesias adds, that Cyrus afterwards married Amytis. It is easy to see that the latter account is by far the more historical, and that the story followed by Herodotus and Xenophon is that which the courtiers published in aid of the Persian prince's designs. Yet there is no reason for doubting that, on the father's side, Cyrus belonged to the Achaemenidae, the royal clan of the military tribe of the Persians.

It was the frequent practice of the Persian monarchs, and probably therefore of the Medes before them, to choose the provincial viceroys from the royal families of the subject nations, and thereby to leave to the vanquished much both of the semblance and of the reality of freedom. This will be sufficient to account for the first steps of Cyrus towards eminence. But as the Persian armies were at that time composed of ruder and braver men than the Medes—(indeed, to this day, the men of Shiraz are proverbially braver than those of Isfahan)—the account of Xenophon is credible, that in the general wars of the empire, Cyrus won the attachment of the whole army by his bravery; while, as Herodotus tells, the atrocious cruelties of Astyages may have revolted the hearts of the Median nobility.

Xenophon's romance omits the fact that the transference of the empire was effected by a civil war; nevertheless, the same writer in his Anabasis confesses it. Herodotus, Ctesias, Isocrates, Strabo, and, in fact, all who allude to the matter at all, agree that it was so. In Xenophon we find the Upper Tigris to have been the seat of one campaign, where the cities of Larissa and Mespila were besieged and taken by Cyrus. From Strabo we learn that the decisive battle was fought on the spot where Cyrus afterwards built Pasargadae, in Persis, for his native capital. Yet Ctesias represents Astyages as finally captured in the palace of Ecbatana. Cyrus (says Herodotus) did Astyages no harm, but kept him by his side to the end of his life. This is like the generosity of the Persian kings to vanquished foreigners, but very unlike the conduct of fortunate usurpers, east or west, towards a fallen superior. The tale in Ctesias is more like the current imperial craft. There we read that Cyrus at first made Astyages ruler of the Barcanians, and afterwards sent for him by the eunuch Petisacas to visit his daughter and son-in-law, who were longing to see him. The eunuch, however, put him to death on the road; and Cyrus, indignant at the deed, gave up the murderer to the cruel vengeance of the queen. Astyages had certainly lived long enough for the policy of Cyrus; who, by the Roman Cassius's test of 'Who gained by it?' cannot be accounted innocent.

The Medes were by no means made subject to the Persians at first. It is highly probable that, as Herodotus and Xenophon represent, many of the noblest Medes sided with Cyrus, and during his reign the most trusted generals of the armies were Medes. Yet even this hardly explains the phenomenon of a Darius the Mede, who, in the book of Daniel, for two years holds the government in Babylon, after the capture of the city by the Medes and Persians. Indeed, the language used concerning the kingdom of Darius might be explained as Oriental hyperbole, and Darius be supposed a mere satrap of Babylon, only that Cyrus is clearly put forward as a successor to Darius the Mede. Many have been the attempts to reconcile this with the current Grecian accounts; but there is one only that has the least plausibility, viz., that which, with Xenophon, teaches that Astyages had a son still living (whom Xenophon calls Cyaxares) and that this son is no other than Darius the Mede; to whom Cyrus, by a sort of nephew's piety, conceded a nominal supremacy at Babylon. Objections to this likewise are evident, but they must be discussed under Darius or the book of Daniel.

In the reign of the son of Cyrus the depression of the Medes probably commenced. At his death the Magian conspiracy took place, after the defeat of which the Medes doubtless sunk lower still. At a later time they made a general insurrection against the Persian power, and its suppression seems to have brought them to a level with Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and other vassal nations, which spoke the tongue of Persia.

The descriptions given us in Ctesias, and in Plutarch's Artaxerxes, concerning the Persian mode of fighting, are quite Homeric in their character. No skill seems to be needed by the general; no tactics are thought of: he does his duty best by behaving as the bravest of common soldiers, and by acting the part of champion, like a knight in the days of chivalry. We cannot suppose that there was any greater advance of the military art in the days of Cyrus. It is agreed by all that he subdued the Lydians, the Greeks of Asia Minor, and the Babylonians: we may doubtless add Susiana, which must have been incorporated with his empire before he commenced his war with Babylon; where also he fixed his military capital Susa, or Shushan), as more central for the necessities of his administration than Pasargadae. Yet the latter city continued to be the more sacred and beloved home of the Persian court, the place of coronation and of sepulture. All Syria and Phoenicia appear to have come over to Cyrus peaceably.

In regard to the Persian wars, the few facts from Ctesias, which the epitomator has extracted as differing from Herodotus, carry with them high probability. He states that, after receiving the submission of the Bactrians, Cyrus made war on the Sacians, a Scythian (i.e. a Sclavonic) people, who seem to have dwelt, or perhaps rather roved, along the Oxus, from Bokhara to Khiva; and, that, after alternate successes in battle, he attached the whole nation to himself in faithful allegiance. Their king is called Amorges by Ctesias. They are undoubtedly the same people that Herodotus calls Amyrgian Sacians; and it is highly probable that they gave to the district of Margiana its name. Their women fought in ranks, as systematically as the men. Strabo has cursorily told us of a tradition that Cyrus escaped with but seven men through the deserts of Getrosia, fleeing from the 'Indians'—which might denote an unsuccessful war against Candahar, etc. a country which certainly was not reduced to the Persian empire until the reign of Darius Hystaspis.

The closing scene of the career of Cyrus was in battle with a people living on one or both banks of the river Iaxartes, now the Syr-deria. Two battles were fought on successive days, in the former of which Cyrus was mortally wounded, but was carried off by his people. In the next, the Sacian cavalry and the faithful Amorges came to support him, and the enemy sustained a total and bloody defeat. Cyrus died the third day after his wound: his body was conveyed to Pasargadae, and buried in the celebrated monument, which was broken open by the Macedonians two centuries afterwards. The inscription, reported by Aristobulus, an eye-witness, is this:—'O man, I am Cyrus, who acquired the empire for the Persians, and was king of Asia. Grudge me not then this monument.'

The kings of Assyria and Babylon had carried the Jews into captivity, both to remove a disaffected nation from the frontier, and to people their new cities. By undoing this work, Cyrus attached the Jews to himself as a garrison at an important post. But we may believe that a nobler motive conspired with this. The Persian religion was primitively monotheistic, and strikingly free from idolatry; so little Pagan in its spirit, that, whatever of the mystical and obscure it may contain, not a single impure, cruel, or otherwise immoral practice was united to any of its ceremonies. It is credible, therefore, that a sincere admiration of the Jewish faith actuated the noble Persian when he exclaimed, in the words of the book of Ezra, 'Go ye up, and build in Jerusalem the house of Jehovah, God of Israel; He is God!'—and forced the Babylonian temples to disgorge their ill-gotten spoil. It is the more remarkable, since the Persians disapproved the confinement of temples. Nevertheless, impediments to the fortification of Jerusalem afterwards arose, even during the reign of Cyrus ().

Perhaps no great conqueror ever left behind him a fairer fame than Cyrus the Great. His mighty achievements have been borne down to us on the voice of the nation which he elevated; his evil deeds had no historian to record them. What is more, it was his singular honor and privilege to be the first Gentile friend to the people of Jehovah in the time of their sorest trouble, and to restore them to the land whence light was to break forth for the illumination of all nations. To this high duty he is called by the prophet (; ), and for performing it he seems to be entitled 'The righteous man' (; ).






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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Cyrus'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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