There are many ways that a kings achievements can be assessed. They can be judged according to their military prowess or on the basis of the positive effects that their rule has on the lives of their people. A leader can also be judged in relation to the way that they ordered and organised the land under their control, or according to the contribution they made towards their cities aesthetic appeal. This essay, therefore, will aim to assess the Persian king Cyrus’ achievements in relation to all these ways that a king can be judged.
However, particular attention will be placed on Cyrus’ military achievements as this is what his contemporaries would have judged his rule by the most. This is because a Persian king was expected to engage his city in constant warfare as a way of proving the legitimacy of his rule. By 609 the Babylonians and the Medes had divided the Assyrian empire between them. The Medes had brought together many of the tribes of Iran in order to form a warlike kingdom. One such tribe was the Persians who inhabited the district of Anshan.
It was not until 559, when Cyrus came to the Persian throne, that the Persians began their advance to imperial rule. Herodotus records that Cyrus’ first important victory was over the Medes. The Median king Astyges, as the Babylonian chronicle reports; ‘”called up his troops and marched against Cyrus”” (Murray, 1943. p251). Astyges sent out this army under the general Harpagus. However, Harpagus deserted to Cyrus’ side probably because of the cruel execution Astyges had inflicted on his son (Olmstead, 1948. p37). Astyges, therefore, deployed a second army that he commanded in person.
However, when this army reached the capital it too mutinied and the army seized its king and handed him over to Cyrus. Subsequently Media ceased being an independent nation and became the first satrapy which was called Mada. Cyrus’ conquering of the Median empire meant that he took over the Median claim to rule over Assyria, Mesopotamia, Syria, Armenia and Cappadocia. This upset the delicate balance of power and war between Cyrus and the three surviving powers: Lydia, Babylonia and Egypt became almost inevitable. Croesus, the king of Lydia, had taken advantage of the fall of the Median empire to enlarge his own territory.
In 547 Cyrus turned his attention to Lydia after, according to Herodotus, Croesus opened hostilities by crossing the Halys river which had been the boundary of the Median state with the east. Cyrus marched to meet the Lydians and a battle ensued. However, neither side proved victorious and Croesus retreated to Sardis with the aim of raising larger forces over the winter and then renewing the war with the aid of the Ionians and the Egyptians. It is at this point, as Burn states, that Cyrus showed his genius as a military tactician (Burn, 1962. p41).
Cyrus gave Croesus just long enough to start demobilising his troops for the winter and then marched after him, moving at such great speed that he arrived at Sardis unhearalded or as Herodotus says as ‘”his own messenger””. A new battle commenced and Croesus had to fight once again with just his Lydian army. Cyrus used to his advantage an observation made during the summers operations. He had noticed that the Lydian horses, who had never seen camels before, had reacted badly when confronted with them in battle. According to Herodotus, under the Median general Harpagus’ instruction, Cyrus’ men advanced behind a long line of unladen camels.
The Lydian horses reared and became unmanageable and the Lydians were forced to flea to the citadel. Although the citadel was eventually besieged and captured, Cyrus’ ultimate success in this part of the battle appears to owe more to chance or luck than great military tactics. The Persians, who followed the Lydians to the citadel, positioned themselves around the Lydian stronghold. While in position Hyroiades saw one of the Lydian soldiers, who was guarding the citadels fortifications, climb down to retrieve a dropped helmet. His actions accidentally revealed a route up what had seemed an impregnable stronghold.
Hyroiades led a party of comrades over the fortifications and thus ‘”the impregnable position fell to daring and initiative”” (Burn, 1962. p42). In assessing Cyrus’ achievements in this part of the victory it would be wrong to conclude that his success was due to luck alone. The Persians, it must be acknowledged, were in a stronger position than the Lydians. Even if an accident had not revealed a way of scaling the fortifications, Cyrus’ previous tactics meant that the Lydians would eventually have fallen since they could not have sustained their position indefinatly.
This is because, most probably, the army would have run out of sustenance. After defeating the Lydians at Sardis Cyrus left for home leaving a Persian named Tabalos as governor and a Lydian called Paktyas as finance officer. However, Cyrus had not got far when he learned Lydia was in revolt and that Paktyas had decamped with the treasure to the coast with the intention of hiring mercenaries. Cyrus, therefore, had to return troops to the Lydian capital and this time he disarmed the Lydians and enslaved the active rebels. This incident reveals an important aspect of Cyrus’ character that influenced many of his achievements.
Cyrus was able to place trust in many people, even in those that had previously been his enemies. In the case of Paktyas Cyrus’ trust proved misplaced and subsequently led to the need for the Persians to reestablish rule. In other cases, as will be shown, Cyrus’ ability to trust others was rewarded and assisted him in some of his many achievements. After Cyrus’ conquest of Lydia he focused his attention on the east. Between 546 and 539 Herodotus says that Cyrus conquered the north and eastern parts of Asia ‘”bringing into subjection every nation without exception”” (Herodotus, bk1:117).
Cyrus next turned his attention to the conquering of Babylon. Greek documentation concerning this siege has been cast into doubt since the emergence of Babylonian records. However, Herodotus’ facts concerning the engineering works Cyrus employed to allow his troops to cross the Gyndes, a tributary of the Tigris, is mostly accurate. Cyrus enabled the crossing by dividing its waters among many channels which Herodotus reports took the best part of a year. The Babylonian chronicle states that the battle took place in October at Opis on the Tigris against the troops of Akkad. It seems that one battle was enough to break the Babylonian kings army.
This was because Babylon was full of disloyalty. It can, therefore, be argued that Cyrus’ task was easy. It is true that Cyrus met with no effective popular resistance anywhere and entered Babylon without a battle. Indeed he already had Gobryas, a high ranking Babylonian on his side. However, Cyrus’ success in Babylon owed a lot to his own personal skills. Cyrus ability to trust Gobryas entailed that the transition to Persian rule was peaceful, orderly and smooth. A surviving Babylonian document, for instance, shows that at ‘”both administrative and clerical levels, most officials kept their posts”” (Burn, 1962, p56).
This fact shows that Cyrus did not wish to destroy his subject people, astutely realising that they could bring him great wealth. Cyrus victory over the Babylonians also owed a lot to his ability to use religious propaganda to his own advantage. In the eyes of the Babylonians Cyrus was never an alien king. He managed to manipulate his subjects by addressing them in their own language and heaping on himself many ancient titles. Cyrus in his own words tells how he’ “restored sanctuaries and houses and gave peace to Babylon” “(Burn, 1962. p59).
Furthermore, Cyrus gave the statues of the gods that he found in Babylon back to their lawful owners and in the same spirit returned the sacred vessels of the Hebrews. The gratitude felt by the people Babylon had conquered when they heard the news that their national gods were coming home must have been immense. This act, therefore, must have endeared Cyrus to his subject people and to a certain degree must have gained him some loyalty from them. Loyalty that the previous Babylonian leader Nabonidus had lost because of his devotion to a western god and his subsequent religious intolerance.
Cyrus’ religious tolerance and his innovative idea in allowing other religions their statues helped him consolidate his power and in turn must have helped him found the Persian empire. The conquest of Babylon gave Cyrus yet another empire. With Babylon the whole of Abarnahara (west or the Euphrates) fell to Cyrus by right of conquest, so he ruled from the Syrian gates to Gaza. His title now was ‘”Cyrus, king of the All, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of the land of Summer and the Akkad, king of the four rims, Son of Cambyses the great king, king of Anshan””.
In the years after the fall of Babylon Cyrus was involved in the consolidation of the fertile cresent, as well as other parts of the empire. Before he could make his planned attack on Egypt Cyrus had to deal with the raids made by nomads against the settlements in the north east of his empire. He also had to undertake an expedition against the Massaeta, east of the Caspian Sea. In a battle against them Cyrus died. His reign thus ended in the summer of 530 BC. During Cyrus’ lifetime he was extremely successful and productive in the sphere of public relations.
The Medes, Iranians, Jews and the Babylonians accepted him as their legitimate ruler. Although Herodotus depicts Cyrus as quick tempered at times, he did regard him as humane, acknowledging that this made him a respected ruler. Furthermore, Aeschylus in his play the “Persians” has the ghost of Darius single out Cyrus for particular praise as fortunate and well disposed, bringing peace to all his friends. Cyrus was a commendable statesmen too and brought into the east new ideas and principles of government previously unknown.
Characteristic of Cyrus’ rule was his desire to learn from subject peoples, a respect for their religions and customs and a desire to create a flexible empire. Cyrus was undoubtedly generous towards the Persians as well, giving his noble’s estates as Satraps in the provinces and expecting them to live in state like he did. At home Cyrus concerned himself with the beautifying of the first Persian imperial city. Greeks called this city Pasargadai. He provided himself with a palace with a great audience hall which was over sixty yards long with a facade adorned with sculptures.
For example it depicted priests driving bulls to sacrifice and demons with human bodies and eagles heads. Outside of the palace he founded a walled park which was called paradise. Both during and after his rule many rivers and towns were named after him which shows the great esteem in which the Persians held him. As this essay has attempted to show Cyrus was a very successful king. He success as a military leader is shown by the fact that he reduced three great empires to subjection. The Persian Empire that he established was the most powerful in the world until its conquest two centuries later by Alexander the Great.
Cyrus’ victories owed a lot to his great mind and also to his strong character thats power can be highlighted by appealing to the fact that wherever he went he had collaborators. Although it is possible to attribute some of Cyrus success to the relative errrors of his enemies. For example Astyges was renowned for being a cruel leader and Nabonidus’ religious intolerance caused a lot of disloyalty, Cyrus must still be given most of the credit for his victories since they were the result of his good military mind and his constructive rule. By being both an able and merciful leader Cyrus is beyond dispute one of the greatest figures in history.