Useful Notes: Cyrus The Great

In scope and extent his achievements ranked far above that of the Macedonian king, Alexander who was to demolish the empire in the 320's but fail to provide any stable alternative.
Charles Freeman, The Greek Achievement

Cyrus (Persian: Kourosh) was one of the most famous rulers in history. He was born a prince of a recently-settled Iranian tribe, the Persians. According to a legend (familiar in biographies of conquerors) the previous king, at Cyrus' birth, heard in a dream that Cyrus was destined to seize his kingdom, whereupon the King ordered him abandoned. He was found by a herdsmen and raised as a son. Eventually. he proved himself as a warrior and came back to avenge himself. The more probable version of his story is that he was a vassal of the Medes, another Iranian tribe, and in a series of campaigns made himself king of both the Medes and the Persians. From there he began a life of conquest that spread until he had the largest and perhaps most successful empire yet created in the world.

One of the most notable things about Cyrus was not just his skill as a warrior, but his skill as a politician. Previous conquerors had ruled by fear alone. Cyrus grasped the fact that if he was magnanimous and made enough Pet the Dog gestures to his new subjects he would win their willing submission from comparison with the probable alternatives. In essence he conquered as much through bribery as through war. It would probably be overly cynical to say that this was all Pragmatic Villainy. Being a gracious conqueror(by comparison) seems to have fit his personality so well that there was some truth to it. In essence, while he was a bastard, he was a magnificent one. Among the most famous of his gestures was encouraging the resettlement of the Jews in exile in Babylon. This got him a curious place in The Bible as the only gentile prince to be specifically named as a deliverer of Israel.

Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The Bible loves Cyrus for letting the Jews return back to the Promised Land. Thus he's the only Gentile called "anointed" i.e. "messiah".
  • Improvised Weapon: According to one tale, he won a battle by herding baggage camels ahead of his army so that the enemy horses would be scared off by an unfamiliar scent.
  • You Killed My Son: According to Herodotus (who admittedly liked a good yarn) a prince Cyrus was fighting against had on a whim forced one of his nobles to eat his own son. This noble for some odd reason happened to be in command of a large part of the army on the day of battle and refused to fight, leaving Cyrus with the victory. If this story is true it is a clinical example of Stupid Evil.