Articles / Essays


July 5, 2018

By Fazal Amin Beg[1]


Although, the world of today is facing and experiencing hard and harsh realities pertaining to peace, pluralism and governance, it’s not something new or strange in the history of humanity but rather has been evidenced in different periods of time if seen retrospectively and historically. We need to understand that whenever the bitter and harsh realities of chaos, unrest, worst practice of governance, inequitabilities and injustice continue to prevail within the socio-political domains and societies, the forces of justice in natural order appear and balance the states of affairs in many respects, which then remains model to humanity.

One among such impressive models of governance and administration with peace and pluralism we can witness historically in Iran, which is famously known as the Achamenid Persian Empire (lived for over two centuries) and founded by Cyrus the Great (559 to 530 BCE) that testified to be the world’s first ever largest empire on the globe (stretched from the North Africa to Central Asia and from the Asia Minor to South Asia). Enormous lessons we can learn out of the pluralistic nature and values of the achamenid Persian Empire, and many of them still applicable and beacon of light to the humanity in diverse realms.

Prepared during my doctoral coursework in Spring 2011,this paper is with regard to the founding father of the Persian Empire known by the Iranians as Kurush-e Buzurg and by the non-Iranians as Cyrus The Great. The paper attempts to explore and understand the subject matter in a bit detail to know about and get a deeper insight into Kurush-e Buzurg’s personality and governance from different perspectives.

The paper begins initially with the concepts, contexts and Research Questions; then looks into Kurush’s biography in terms of His family and kinship relationships illustrated through his geneaology; and his birth and sensational early life dilemma.

In an evolutionary manner, the paper then enters into the already prevailing situations and socio-political realities of governance and highlights some of them for the readers to understand and conditions in hand before Kurush-e Buzurg begins with his revolution. It then informs the readers about Kurush as King of Anshan and looks into his Motives of Revolt against Astiyages.

The paper thus describes about the end of Median Empire and the Move towards Persian Empire; highlights Military Campaigns, Territorial Expansion and Political Integrity; war between Lydian and the Persian Forces; revolt by Lydians and their Subjugation by the Persians; military Move of Kurush-e Buzurg towards the Eastern Regions; conquest of Babylonia ; and final Military Campaign and Death of Kurush-e buzurg.

Before reaching to the conclusion, the paper ponders over in this invaluable section to comprehend and visualize the societal and human situations in today’s context and deduce lessons out of kurush-e Buzurg’s approaches of pluralistic and equitable governance and maintenance of peace.   It derives enormous lessons that are pragrmatic for humanity in different periods of time, particularly in today’s context to the Modern Nation and Civilizational States.

Concepts, Contexts and Research Questions

Struggle for power and obtaining it at any level is a marvelous aspect of human nature. It can mainly be categorized into physical power and intellectual power. Though, interdependent on each other, the latter however supersedes the former with the course of time.

The approaches in power struggle (physical, intellectual or both) may vary from individual to individual depending upon the individual’s intents, which can be either positive or negative. Positive may be defined so as if the intents are beyond one’s vested interests and personal gains; rather could be impersonal and pluralistic—that is, inclusive for the broader target groups such as communal and/or human causes by upholding universality of values of humanity, even other biodiversities within one’s ecosystem. In contrast, negative intents may be interpreted as if they are introverted or focused mainly in addressing utterly one’s personal interests; becoming exclusive and suppressing the universality of human values (mundane and ordained), and so on.

Around the two main categories (physical and intellectual), the power, in a more broder level, may be then classified, as per disciplines, into social, power, political power, economic power, psychological power, and so on and so forth.

In brief, encircling his intents and interests, man has been struggling to acquire powers, both at the micro and macro levels. To illustrate, power struggle in political realm begins from the individual or familial or group (micro level) and then extends and expands at macro level to the community (e.g., ethnicities, languages, faiths and region) and communities of nations and regions.

Such phenomena are observable at least from our own current sociopolitical environment; and we can also learn from the different phases of human history in the form of acephalous states, vassal states, principalities, kingdoms and empires that led to both formation and deformation of civilizations (e.g., Indus, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese).

There have been many empires in the history. But among them, we could witness an impressive one named Achaemenid Empire of Persia (today’s Iran) that lasted for more than two centuries covering a huge territory from north Africa to Central Asia, and from Asia Minor to South Asia. This was marvelous as the world had seen ever, indeed (Durant, 2000; Dani, 2008; Eduljee, 2007).

We know that for any venture, taking the first step is a prerequisite or a precondition. Under its legendary founder, leader and commander, Cyrus the Great[2], the giant adventure began its journey of struggle for power accumulation from Persia. It then continued ahead by extending and expanding its political frontiers, on the one hand; and striving for human integrity to its all directions, on the other. Consequently, the Persian Empire stretched to north to the Black Sea, Caucasus mountains, the Scythian mountains and steppes of Central Asia; to the east to the Indus River in South Asia; to the west down to the Mediterranean Sea (e.g. Egypt); while to the northwest it reached to eastern and northeastern Mediterranean: e.g. parts of Greece in Europe (Dani 2008; Durant 1990, 2000, Holland 2005).

We know that leaders with benign and malign intents and practices are found in all times at all places. Although, human history is filled with miseries when we peep into the atrocities and suppressions on humanity; but, notwithstanding, encouragingly good governance by the compassionate, tolerant and just leaders we could also find among many ruling elites (e.g., emperors, kings, queens or satraps and so on).

Now, let’s apart from the distant past for a while. Bitter encounter and experience of enormous injustices and suppressions in the hand of power-holders around the world could be better evidenced also in the present world in this period of globalization (and such phenomena will remain also in the times to come, because they are dependent upon the leaderships at all levels).

Although, turbulences in different forms are found all over the globe, but a significant thing to note is the turmoil and violence being witnessed these days are more in the jurisdiction of the former ancient Persian Empire. What could be the reasons? It is imperative to ponder over this mater seriously, identify the genuine reasons logically and explore solutions effectively by taking into accounts also wisdom from the governance intents and practices of the past (near or distant).

When we do retrospection onto our distant past, focusing on the Persian Empire, variety of avenues opens. Many facets of the imperial governance seem relevant even in today’s context as well. Interesting enough, in the aftermath of his conquest, Cyrus the Great receives honorific titles from his diverse communities of subjects such as “father” by the Persians; “Master” and “Law-maker” by the Babylonians whom Cyrus conquered; and “anointed by the Lord” [Messiah/liberator] by the Jews as Cyrus resettled the Jews in the Jerusalem (Dani 2008:).

Such phenomena are thus sources of inspirations and they stimulate a human towards some valid enquiries. What were the reasons for Cyrus the Great acquiring such honorific titles? Did Cyrus really deserve such entitlements? Why did Cyrus the Great opt for the formation of an empire that proved to be the world’s first and largest empire? What were the secrets behind? Could there be any facet in the intents and approaches of Cyrus the Great that are still relevant to the modern nation states in its former jurisdiction and in this globalized world? What lessons could be learnt out of Cyrus’ wisdom? These are few overlapping questions that need adequate answers. This paper therefore attempts in embarking on and exploring relevant answers, if possible, to the questions raised.

Kurush-e Buzurg: Cyrus the Great

Many sources, especially Farsi, illustrate that Cyrus’ actual name in his native Persian or Farsi was Kurush. According to Richard Nelson Frye, a prominent Harvard Professor, the meaning of Kurush is not known so far and is in dispute. Whatsoever the meaning of Kurush may be, but one thing is clear that in the Persian sources and Persian world he is known by Kurush-e Buzurg (i.e., Cyrus the Great) (cf. Bastani-Parizi: p.1; Durant 2000).

I therefore preferably follow the native Persian name Kurush in stead of Cyrus as the former is deemed correct that is prevalent and has more acceptability among the native community.

Kurush’s Family and Kinship Relationship

If we are supposed to know about the Persian Empire, it is important to know about its founding father, Kurush the Great. But in order to know about Kurush the Great, his worldviews, his power and governance cum achievements, it then seems pertinent to know about Kurush’s lega family; his birth; his fostering legend with his fictive parents and early life dilemma; his reaching to maturity; in addition with his power struggle in building Persian the Empire. This approach is necessary so that to get a holistic picture to understand Kurush, and get some insights into his intrinsic extrinsic facets of personality that led to a landmark historical achievement.

It is significant to note that there are varying versions regarding the family (immediate and extended) of Kurush the Great and his lineage (cf. Briant, 2002; Dandamaev, 1989). One of the main source before us about the ancient history is Herodotus’ accounts, a prominent Greek historian. Besides, there are also some graffiti, rock-inscriptions as primary source on Kurush the Great and his family along with other themes that are found in Bistun, Persepolis and other places (Dani, 2008; Frye; Eduljee 2006).

Kurush the Great belonged to the royal family of Achaemenids, the apical ancestor being Achaemenes (Hakhamenish or Hakhaminshi in Persian). His father was Kambujiya I (Cambyses I of the Greeks) who was the King of Anshan (c. 600-559) (Eduljee 2007). His mother’s name was Mandane who was daughter of Astiyages, the Median King. His wife was reported Cassandane. Kurush had at least one daughters and two sons named Kambujia II and Bardiya (Smerdish in the Greek account). His noted daughter was Attosa, who is said to have married either her brother Kambujia or her second cousin, Darius the Great (Frye,?; Durant 1990, 2000).

The paternal grandfather of Kurush the Great was Kurush—I (c.640-600 BCE)—the former was named behind the latter as Kurush II (Eduljee, 2007). Kurush I was the King of Anshan (or also known as Anzan)and Anshan as a vassal under the Median King.

The maternal grandfather of Kurush the Great was Astiyges (or also known as Ishtivo), the brutal King of Media (585-550 BCE). Kurush the Great’s maternal grandmother (i.e., wife of Astiyages) was sister of the Lydian King Croesus (Briant 2002; Dandamaev 1989), as the diplomatic marriages remained more in practice in the past (though also could be evidenced in the present). Such kinship relationships give us an important impression and insight into the kinship relationships at diplomatic level .

Table 1 Traditional Version of Genealogy

1. Achaemenes (Haxamanesh) [the traditional founder]


2. Tespes (Cipish)


3. Aryaramnes (Aryaramna) [King in Persia)


4. Cyrus—I (Kurosh/Kurush)[King in Anzan/Anshan]


5. Arsames (Arsham/Arsamesh?)


6. Cambyses—I (Kambujia—I)


7. ]1] Cyrush the Great (Cyrus—II) [Founder of the Achaemenian Empire)


8. [2] Cambyses-II


Sources: Briant 2002; Dandamaev 1989.

There are two versions of genealogy related with Kurush the Great: one is the traditional and second is alternative. In the traditional version, Achaemenes (Hakhamenish) is the ancestor on the top of the lineage, who was the traditional founder of the Achaemenes Kingdom; and later with his name the empire is associated as Achaemenid or Achaemenian. Achaemenes’ son is Teispes (i.e., Chipish). Teispes’ son is Aryaramnes (i.e., Aryaramna) who was the King of Persia. His son was Kurush I, who was the King of Anshan; while Kambujia I was son Kurush I. thus from the blood of Kambujia I, Kurush II or Kurush the Great born; founded the marvelous Persian Empire. After the death of Kurush the Great (530 BCE), his elder son Kambujia II (r. 530-522 BCE) enthroned who conquered Egypt in 525 BCE.

The alternate version of Kurush’s genealogy follows hereunder.

Table 2 Alternate Version of Genealogy

Tespes (King of Anshan)


Achaemenes (possible King of Persia)










Kurush—II (Cyrus the Great)




Cambyses—II Darius=Atosa (d/o Cyrus—II)



Sources: Briant 2002, Dandamaeve 1989.

m        Kurush’s Birth and Sensational Early Life Dilemma

It is believed that Kurush the Great was born either in 580 or 579 BCE. Whenever he was born the story of his birth has a very sensational account, described by the historians like Herodotus. After his birth, Kurush the Great was fostered and reared by a herdsman and his wife.

The story goes on in this fashion. After birth of Kurush the Great, Astiyages, the King of Media but Kurush’s grandfather, sees a dream and shares it with his Magi. The Magi interprets his dream by revealing: “The infant (your grandson) in the near future will overthrow your power.” Upon hearing this interpretation, Astyages orders his steward, named Harpgus, to kill the infant. Though Harpagus took the infant for killing but his conscience condemned him not to do so. He therefore handed over the infant to a herdsman, a royal bandit, who was to do such dreadful deeds. Fortunately, this couple, named Mardian Mitradates (Atradates) and Cyno (in Median as Spaca-o), decided not to kill the infant and accepted him as their own child and reared him up to ten years of his age. It is to be noted that Kurush’s original name was Agradates given by his foster parents.

When Kurush was ten year old, he was brought to the Asiyages’ palace. Astiyages interviews the boy and he was very cute and genius and did not seem like a child of a herdsman. Upon his bold conversation and manner, Astiyages astounded. He became skeptic if it was that same infant, his grandson. He promptly, calls Harpagus and asks: What about the infant who was given to you for assassination? Hapagus could not tell a lie now and confessed he had not killed him and this was the same infant grown up to his boyhood. Upon hearing this news, Astiyages tricked Hapagus to eat his broiled and chopped son; although he allowed Kurush to stay with his original parents, Kambujian and Mandane (Wikipedia Encyclopedia).

This impressive story interesting relates with the birth and fostering stories of Moses, the great prophet; and also Faridun son of Jamshid, a Persian Shah, that has been discussed in detail in Shohnoma-e Fidousi, the Epic of Kings by Fidousi, a great Iranian scholar.

A Highlight of Political Situation and Governance before Kurush the Great

Three neighboring empires existed before the Persian Empire founded the time of Cyrus the Great. To the north of the Anshan (a small Persian kingdom) was the Median Empire under Astyages; to the north west was the Lydian Empire under Croesus; and to west was Babylonian Empire under Nabonidus. The entities of Anshan and Persia Kingdoms were vassal states under the Median Empire.

The political relations of these small neighboring imperial powers could not be curtained on long term though changes would be evidenced time and again. But one thing could attested that the diplomatic relationships would exist among them. One of the examples could be quoated as we could see wife of Astyages, the Median King, was sister of the Croesus, the Lydian King after a war between the Medians and the Lydians. Likewise, daughter of Astyages named Mandane was wife of Kambuia II and mother of Kurush. Such diplomatic marriages not only affined tehm as kinsperson as but were also binding forces among the kings and elites. But sometimes, the power struggle could even doesn’t care for its consanguine relatives and put put aside such affine relations.

they could also come hand to hand with each other. The union of these powers had also another reason to unite and fight against the Assyrian power. The subjects in these powers were unhappy who frequently come across the atrocities of their brutal ruling elites. In Babylonia, for instance, the King invaded Judea, destroyed the holy temples, captivated the Jewish population and made them servants in Babylonia. Besides Jews, enormous people were in imprisonment.

The Median and Lydian rulers were not an exception with regard to cruelty. Like their Babylonian counterparts, these rulers posited suppressions on their subjects and the population was in trouble. But they could not do anything before the suppressors.

Kurush as King of Anshan and Motives of Revolt against Astiyages

After the death of his father Kambujia II, Kurush the Great enthroned as King of Anshan in 559 BCE. Kurush cannot abruptly come en face de face with the King of Media, his cruel maternal grandfather after accession to power, but like his father in tradition, he had to accept the kinship as a vassal king. But it doesn’t mean Kurush will keep silence on the atrocities spread over in the Median power domain. Kurush the Great therefore started enabling the political environment for the revolt and strive for liberation from the yoke of Astiyages.

The reasons for the revolt could be varying. Some of them however seems so as under.

  1. Kurush the Great may wanted to take revenge from Astiyages, the ruler of Media, who ordered to kill the infant [i.e., Kurush after his birth] feeling him as a threat to his power on the basis of his dream interpreted by his magi.
  2. Astiyages, like his contemporary rulers in the neighboring empires, was a despotic ruler and people were unhappy and resented due to his cruelty. The suppressed subjects thus looked and waited for an honest and courageous leader to be a source of salvation for them.
  3. Being a patriarchal society, Kurush the Great seems fond of founding the empire in the name of his paternal family, apical ancestor.
  4. Hapagus, the Median steward/advisor, but saver of Kurush from death, encouraged and advised or stimulated Kurush the Great to take a lead in dethroning Astiyages and giving him retribution for his evil deeds.

End of Median Empire and the Move towards Persian Empire

Whatsoever the actual reasons may be Kurush’s motives but one thing was clear: “revolt against, overthrowing of Astiyages and end of Median lordship.”

For this purpose, Kurush the Great united first his own family members including the King of Persia (another vassal King), clan members and other people. When environment seemed conducive within his own political domains, he thus initiated for and led the revolt to dethrone Astiyages, void his power and liberate the masses from the clutch of his suppression: consequently to found the Persian Empire and end up the Median rule. In this regard, Kurush and his forces fought a battle reportedly in Pasdargadae where the forces of Astiyages and his forces had come. Interestingly, Astiyages’ forces deserted him and sided with Kurush the Great and the latter thus conquered Media.

Highlights of Military Campaigns, Territorial Expansion and Political Integrity

War between Lydian and the Persian Forces

Hearing about and taking advantage of downfall of Median Empire and undermining the Persian power, Croesus, the Lydian King, by overestimating his power led his huge and stark army and proceeded towards the Halys River, an ordained political border between Lydia and Media.[3] Along with his troops, Kurush the Great was descending from the Zagros mountain at this time. Pressing their way ahead they passed by the pitiably cities of Assyria on the Tigris River, which were jumbled and muddy and dust blowing at this time.[4]

Kurush the Great however managed to arrive at Halys Rive to engage and cope with Croesus (Holland, 2005). The war began between both imperial forces and very tough tit-for-tat responses were witnessed. Unlike the previous war with the Medians, this time there was no solar eclipse to intervene and decide. But defeat of Croesus was now was written in his fate and he needed a reason.

The chilly winter had started and was a valid reason for Croesus and his forces who could not bear this natural factor or intervention again like that of the solar eclipse of 612 BCE. Croesus and his forces withdrew to Sardis, the Lydian capital. They could not foresee that the Persian forces strength of facing the natural factor and that they would follow them to their last destination, as Sardis was enormously away from the battlefield at the Lydyo-Median frontier.

Like a film shooting, Kurush and his Persians forces interestingly persuaded them, lurking and shadowing them from the rear and proceeding ahead. Croesus’s allied forces and conscripts dispersed finally, while arriving at the capital. The tactical and robust Persians invaded and captured Sardis. There was thus no chance for Croesus to recollect and reconsolidate all his allies and/or to run away. King Croesus and his Lydian forces present there were ultimately defeated in 547 BCE at his capital city in a desperate battle. A significant point that is noteworthy regarding the victory on Lydia was a tactical suggestion given by Harpagus to Kurush that became marvelously workable was to place the baggage camels at the front row in the war. The reason being stench coming out these camels of which the Lydian camels were not accustomed to. When the war started, the Lydian horses startled, retreated. We could observe at different occaisions that the Persians leaders exploited their intellectual power adequately and then opted for their physical strength, which consequently led them to success. Whatsoever tactics may be, the Persian forces under Kurush the Great won the war. Tom Holland quotes that “[Cyrus] defeated the King [of Lydia], seized his possessions and stationed his own garrison” (2005:14).

Croesus was captured and treated nicely and later Kurush appointed him as one of his Advisors. Conversely, other sources describe that Croesus was slain or he burnt himself after his capture in the hands of Persian forces (Ibid).

Revolt by Lydians and their Subjugation by the Persians

After triumph over Lydia and a conciliation, a per its magnanimous, inclusive and peace policy, Kurush kept the ample treasury of Croesus and the tributes in Sardis under supervision of the trustable grandees of the area. But interestingly sometimes such incident happens that extraordinary trust in people becomes a source of misleading and brings negative consequences if the trustees in reality arenot trustable and instead become treacherous. And this argument holds true to the aristocrat of Lydia whom Kurush the Great had trusted but they misperceived it and his magnanimity was equalized with weakness.

These aristocrats fueled and led an uprising against the Persian Empire while Kurush along with his entourages was on the way to and not reached Ectbana yet. Hearing his news, Kurush sent a fresh and robust Persian force to cope with the matter repressively and give appropriate retribution to the traitors and put off the revolt. Consequently, the revolt was curbed successfully.

By giving the Medes partnership in the Persian Empire, Harpagus was nominated—being the highly trusted servant—and sent to west to command the Persian forces. He thus served the empire staunchly. it was Harpagus who has had his dreadful effect and not good reputation on the people of Ionia (the Persians’ Yauna) after subduing them. Interestingly, for the Ionians, the Persians, who conquered them, and the Medies were the same. The was reason was their unawareness of the ethnic compositions in the Zagros—so distant from their region (Holland, 2005).

Military Move towards the Eastern Regions

No kingdom or state can be termed secure unless its borders are secure and stable. After putting off the revolt and marking its boundary at the northeast in Aryan Lydia, Kurush the Great turned his face and move towards his legendary nomadic and ancestral regions to the east. By taking the famous ancient Khurasan route, Kurush began subduing his Aryan cousins on the way and brought many eastern regions under his domain. The regions of Gandhara, Bactria and Sogdiana, once considered “the breeding grounds of menace and instability, were now transformed into bulwarks of the Persian might” (Holland, 2005:17)

Besides, it it noteworthy it was also this region where the notorious and ferocious Saka tribal bandits lived in the steppe-lands of Central Asia (in today’s Khazakhstan/Siberia) who would ever invade to the south and cause depredations. The Sakas (or Scythian of the Greek) invaded even the Medians from the north and caused damages. Indication of their destruction could be found in the lurid folktales of the Medes (Holland, 2005). So, bitter and unforgettable experiences have come by their encounters.

Holland (2005) writes that leading his organized army, Kurush left Sogdiana and moved towards the steppes of today’s Kazakhsan. He thus came across the notorious savages, Saka, symbolized by their high caps and having axes with them. When one of the Saka tribal chiefs/warriors was captured, Kurush the Great behave very humely with him; and the man inspired and joined Kurush’s forces. Interestingly, he along with his group proved to be very ferocious warriors who also informed Kurush on the ethno-geographical composition beyond the River Jaxates.

Kurush the Great, who was not willing to push the frontier beyond the Jaxartes River, decided to mark this river as the natural border between the Saka tribes of the steppes raiding the south. He ordered his forces to build seven frontier-towns here. The biggest town was named behind Kurush [Cryus] as “Cyropolis” (Holland, 2005). He thus established his eastern border by 540 BCE and then returned to Persia in order to persuade his next, but most important, target of coming en face de face with the mighty rulers of the fertile-land in the Near East—Babylonian.

Conquering Babylonia

After successful campaign, demarcation, establishment and stabilization of the eastern frontiers and border regions, Kurush the Great made his plan to encounter Babylonia—today’s southern Iraq—the mighty and wealthy power located to west of Persia that extended over a huge flatland from Assyria to the Persian Gulf (Holland, 2005). He took his reinvigorated army and hampered over Babylon, the capital of Babylonia, like a thundering cloud so that to topple the power of King Nabonidus—another despot like Astyages, who severely oppressed and enslaved his subjects, and seized all their fundamental rights.

En route to Babylonia, an interesting event took place, witnessed by the Kurush’s forces on the one hand and the native community on other. What was this? Let’s look into the story as the scene very fantastically captured by Herodotus and which possesses manifold lessons also for today’s nation states, that how we could positively use acquired power a tool for human development.

Citing Herodotus in his paper entitled: “Cyrus the Father and Babylonia,” Cameron describes: “When Cyrus, on his way to Babylon, came to the River Gyndes [modern Diyala], and attempted to cross it, one of his sacred white horses dashed recklessly in the river, but the river current overwhelmed it, swept it under, and drowned it in its depth. At this violent deed of the river, Cyrus was enraged, and threatened so to break its strength, that in the future women should be able to cross it easily without wetting their knee. Having so threatened, he put off for a time his march on Babylon and, dividing his army into two parts. He marked out by cords the plan of 180 canals on each bank of the river; then he set his army along the lines, and bade the dig. Since a great multitude was at work, the task was accomplished with all speeds; yet they wasted the whole summer season there before it was finished” (Herodotus i, 189).

We could realistically observe here that drowning of the horse stood as an excuse. In order to payback the horse’s worth and more particularly to address the poverty of the community Kurush took great initiative in community development by using his huge force rather than either to harm his force in crossing the river at that stage of ferocious currents; or to take them back and plan for the next chance. Next time they might had become less energetic. One more important point here is with regard to womenfolk that they shall not get their knee wet when they will come to cross the river. We could see a gender perspective here, too.

Such kind of work, construction of 180 canals on each side of the river is, of course, marvelous and how much positively those canals would have contributed to the local communities is a big but separate question. One thing we could deduce out of this phenomenon is mobilization of and getting local community sooner Kurush the Great, being liberator, invades Babylonia with the slogan of liberating them. Though, it is also said that the Jews and other suppressed community members were in contact with Kurush. That is why when Kurush the Great entered in Babylon, he was defender and liberator, not invader, of Babylonians and the natives welcomed him by opening gates of their strongholds. Kurush had not invader. He did not take any harsh actions on Babylonians as for example he had taken to curb the Lydian revolt repressively who had revolted against the Persians after their conquest of Lydia (Holland, 2005).

And there is no doubt that after occupation of Babylon, Kurush proved himself “as a model of righteousness and justices” (Holland, 2005:19). “His regime once established, there were no more pogroms. Executions were kept to the barest minimum. His diktats were couched in a moderate and gracious tone. To cities crowded with ancient temples, and scented with incense” (Ibid).

Such kinds of approaches led Kurush to win the hearts and minds of the native communities when he was seen as model. “Assorted priesthoods duly scrabbled to hail him as their own, and assorted people as the heir to their customs and concerns—the perfect gilding on his mastery of the world” (Holland, 2005:19).

Final Military Campaign and Death of Kurush the Great

The final military campaign of Kurush the Great take him back to his northeastern border region where he had marked his frontier with the ferocious Sakaka tribes of the steppes in Central Asia. He encountered the Massagetes. The queen of the area had warned Kurush and his force to stop vilating and entering in their domain already. An interesting event is narrated that the Sakas were ignorant about the wine. As part of their tactis, Kurush and his troop left abundant wines in an empty camp.

The rival forces of the queen, under her son who was commanding the force, came across that camp and thought the Persian forces have left it and fled. They therefore drank the wine and all of them intoxicated. Sooner, the Persian forces came and defeated the Massagete tribal forces. The commander/general was captured. When the general came out of his intoxication and found himself captive, he committed suicide. The queen denounced Kurush’s tactics and sworn to take the revenge from him. She therefore herself led her forces and fought the Persians. The Persian were defeated and Kurush the Great was assassinated. The queen’s thirst of blood revenge did quench even at this stage, she ordered to decapitate Kurush. His head she thus dipped in a wineskin so that it shall dip inside as a sign of the queen’s cordial revenge (Holland, 2005).

After his death, Kurush’s corpse was redeemed from the queen and brought to Persia. He was buried in Passargadae where Kurush was said to have defeated Astyage in his first battle.

Victory and Governance of Kurush the Great: Some Relevant Lessons of Pluralism to the Modern Nation States

What a wonder to look at, compare and observe today’s complex and globalized societies with those of the ancient times. Power of humankind, both intellectual and material, could be seen touching the sky by having access to the moon and Mars, and attempting to acquire advanced knowledge about other planets around our solar system. On the other hand, other phenomena are also witnessed that humankind has ben venturing to conqueri other facets in development, on and in the ground/earth: for instance, bridging the physical gulfs (such as construction of the longest bridge by the Chinese on the sea by connecting an Island with its mainland China; and construction of an artificial settlement in the sea in Dubai). Besides, we could also see that in socioeconomic and cultural realms such knowledge and technological advancement contributed enormously, though not equally or equitably; and we could thus observe grave poverty in a broad array of thematic areas: e.g., political poverty, governance poverty, social poverty, economic poverty, environmental poverty, intellectual poverty, spiritual poverty, honesty-poverty, justice poverty, tolerance poverty and the like.

Such poverty of various kinds has led to origins of various negative consequences (eg., frustration, dishonesty, discrimination, distrust, disharmony, disunity, intolerance, insincerity, unrest, aggressiveness, violence, wars and so on).

Though, in a holistic perspective, there are multiple dimensions and factors responsible for such kind of negative consequences and experiences, one of the main factors however can fearlessly be associated with and evidently experienced more in the fields of political pluralism and good governance in most of the modern nation states in the world.

However, the atmosphere of chaos and unrest in different forms could be evidenced these days more particularly in Asia and African than other contents. Interestingly, within both of these continents, political violence can be seen more specifically in Middle East, South and Central Asia, and North Africa which remained, once, constituents of the whole in the grat Persian Empire (550-330 BCE)—more than 2,500 years before, founded by its legendary founder Kurush II (r. 559-529 BCE) or also famously known as Cyrus the Great among the western records.

After acquisition of a grounding on Kurush the Great, this paper as strives to deduce lessons out of Kurush’s governance—which are relevant even today— who, in the words of Iranian Professor, Muhammad Ibrahim Bastani-Parizi, “ruled over the whole Middle East and over a country [that of] the size of the United States of America” and “reigned over 40 million people; possibly half of the total population of the world at that time” and that the vast land comprised on “so many droughts and so many natural obstacles.”

Now, let’s come to my question that what were the secrets of Kurush the Great in founding and governing the Persian Empire?

  1. According to Xenophon, as Bastani-Parizi quotes: “Cyrus believed that the defeated nations must be treated and attracted with special considerations. That is why he and many of dignitaries chose the traditions of Medians”.
  2. Very interesting to note here a mighty emperor’s behavior as Plutarch says: “Every morning a servant went to the Shah (Cyrus) and told him: “Shahan-shaha (O King of Kings)! Get up and for your people and your country work and struggle. That you are ordered by Ahura-Mazda as such” (Bastani-Parizi, ?).
  3. In a sharp contrast to the Assyrian and Median traditions of exterminating the conquered forces or enslaving them, Cyrus the great founded a tradition of magnanimity (mercy and forgiveness) as could be seen during his battles. A famous western historian, Tom Holland describes: “The King of Assyrian, honing the traditional rights of conquest to a peak of savagery, had prescribed unremarkable cruelties for defeated enemies, but Cyrus promoted by calculation and—no doubt—by temperament as well, preferred the course of mercy” (Holland, 2005:12). How much such enduring legacies of Kurush the Great are being considered and in practiced as we could evidence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, even Iran itself, Syria, Egypt and other countries that were under the ancient Persian Empire?
  4. After subjugation of his enemies, Kurush the Great, in contrast to the prevalent traditions, avoided, as per his principles, to enslave the captives. “Having lured important swaths of the Median aristocracy into his camp, he resisted the temptation to treat his countrymen as slaves. Even Astyages, rather than being flayed, fed to animals or impaled, was pensioned off into princely retirement” (Holland, 2005:12). Besides, when Lydia was conquered, Kuruh chose the Lydian king as one of his important advisors. So holds true for others in his cabinet.
  5. One of the most important features of Kurush’s pluralistic steps was giving the subjects religious freedom, as it wasn’t there especially in Babylonia, released the captives and prisoners and above all, resettled the Jews in Jerusalem who have been invaded in 580’s BCE, enslaved and imprisoned in Babylonia. Kurush reconstructed the temples of different communities in Babylonia that were destructed in Nebodus’ period and before him, as we know Kurush conquered Babylonia peacefully and liberated the people from the brutality of Nabonidus in 539 BCE.
    1. It had remained a tradition to storm, ablaze and devastate the cities once conquered. For instance, we could Assyria’s invasion on Elam and Elam’s obliteration; and in the aftermath, Media’s invasion on Assyria and its destruction and obliteration. Conversely, after the conquest of the imperial capitals and other places of importance, Kurush strictly restrained from such practices as could be seen at different conquering sites from Ecbatana to Lydia and from Sogdiana and Bactria to Babylonia. Though, the treasury was carted t o Anshan after its conquest, Ecbatana was spared and its situation was not like that of the Nineveh (the Assyrian capital), which the Medians had devastated and razed (Cf. Holland, 205:13).
  6. Kurush the Great was very receptive towards and respected different cultural traditions, whether within the Aryans or non-Aryans. He neither did undermined or banned them as could be seen by different regimes. One of the living examples of the times by taking an emic-approach could be witnessed so. “[Persian] administrative traditions flourished during the powerful Aryan rule under the Median Empire and, particularly, the world-state Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great” (Farazmand, 1998:25; DiCICCO, 2003: 27). Here we could evident that the functional administrative traditions Kurush owned rather than transplanting something else.
  7. Among the Persians, education could be seen as a life long learning tradition. For groups in different stages of life were there in the education system among the ancient Persians for all that included 1) boyhood, 2) youths, adults, and 4) elderly (those retiring from the military). It seems very impressive gain that “Progression from one group to the next [stages of education] was not automatic but was based upon a student’s merit and integrity at each stage. Therefore those men reaching the final school, the order of elders, must have exhibited the higher level of achievement” (DiCicco, 2003:33). The contents of education were varying, but “Ethics, morality, justice, character-building played crucial roles in the Persian education system in addition with to military and management skills” (DiCicco, 2003:34).
  8. Kurush the Great respected his subjects and listened carefully and addressed their issues. He repatriated the people of Babylonia who had either fled the repressions by their king Nabodnidus and/or before him.
  9. Kurush allowed the people to practice their religious cults and customs. He encouraged and practically support justice over injustices.
  10. Kurush the Great very strongly emphasized and desired to have and produce leaders in different fields (princely, military, administrative/bureaucracy or otherwise) who possess high qualities such as morality, ethics, wisdom and character-building. A person could not be termed leader if he was not able to produce in his followers with “willing obedience” and NOT “forced obedience.” This is what the Persian way of conceptualization of leadership; and the leaders could be legitimized only if they really do so. According to Xenophone in his Cyropedia: “To obtain ‘willing’ obedience, Cyrus held that citizens and soldiers alike must believe that the leader is wiser and stronger than they are” (DiCicco, 2003:34).
  11. Kurush the Great described the leadership further simply as can be noted in Xenophone’s description: “I think no virtue is practiced by men except by the aim that the good, by being such may have something more than the bad, and I believe that those who abstain from present pleasures do this not that they may never enjoy themselves but by the self-restraint they prepare themselves to have many times greater enjoyment in time to come. And those who are eager to become able speaker study oratory, not that they may never cease speaking eloquently; but in the hope that by their eloquence they may persuade men and accomplish great good. And those also who practice military science undergo this labor, not that they may never cease from fighting, but because they think that by gaining proficiency in the arts of war the will secure great wealth, happiness and honor, both for themselves and for their country” (DiIcco, 2003:35).
  12. One of the most significant dimension of the Persian Empire was its topmost priority to the education profession. “..teaching to the Persians is evident from the fact that only the elderly were allowed to teach” (DiCICCO, 2003:33). “The schools for elders was for the graduates over fifty. At this level, the elders were responsible for selecting magistrates as well as dispensing justice” (Ibid).
  13. This is noteworthy that the Persians implanted ethics, morality and character-building not at the later stages of life but rather it was part of their education system from the base. As DiCicco (2003:33) states: “Ethics, morality, justice and character-building played crucial roles in the Persian education system in addition to military and management skills.”
  14. The concept of virtues among the Persians was not confined an individuals’ business, rather it was linked broadly then at the state level. As Dcicco (2003:34) further narrates: “The Persians viewed virtue as leading both to good for the empire and the rewards for the individual and sought to educate leaders in lessons of character as well as administrative and military proficiency.”
  15. Another fantastic feature of the Persian Empire was the civil system exam that paralleled at that time with the ancient China and Rome.
  16. One of the secrets of he Persians in the later phases was their “mastered the statecraft of both the military and administrative system based on the trained bureaucracy with high expertise and prestige’” (DiCICCO, 2003:34; Farazmand, 1988:31).
  17. It is therefore interesting to observe that how many of the leaders of the Persian Empire around its founder’s vision stool not only competent military leaders but also capable and accomplished administrators. Those possessing inability of such qualities were therefore debarred from advancing ahead or getting promoted in their career in a contrast to “those capable of inspiring followers through knowledge, skill and oratory” were fortunate in acquiring the leadership positions (DiCIcco, 2003:34).
  18. During his military campaigns and invasion on Babylonia in the battle of Opis we could observe that Kurush the Great and his army stayed the entire summer of 539 BCE at the both banks of the Tigris River after drowning of one of Kurush’s while horse. In response, Kurush ordered his army to reduce the level of the river to the extent that a woman’s ankle shall not be wet even while crossing it. Kurush thus took a cord and planned to construct 180 water channels to both sides of the River. Here we get a very practical example of a leader that how he engaged his followers in development work even before capturing Babylon. This also lead to acquisition of public sentiments to his side before attacking their empire, or rather in their sane policy as liberating the people of Babylonia from their despotic king’s claws.
  19. Through his pluralistic approach, Kurush the Great succeeded in uniting the Iranian, Aryan and non-Aryan communities in one umbrella of his empire. He thus highly valued and respected the fundamental human rights which is a landmark, for the first time in human history. and this is why today Kurush is rated at the top of leaders in human rights protection.
  20. Due to his invaluable approach of inclusiveness, variety of tribal communities attracted towards him and played their most important roles in the formation of the Persian Empire that stretched “from the Caspian sea to the Indian ocean” (Dani, 2005) and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River, and from the Black Sea to the Caspian and Aral Seas and the Jaxateres River during Kurush’s own period.
  21. Strategic location counts enormously with regard to a state or empire. For the Persian Empire, the Persia’s location and wealth of Cyrus the Great found enabled him to play his vital role between the powers in the West and the East. He thus was enabled to overpower the last Babylonian ruler, Nabonidus but then won the hearts of the people (Dani, 2005:81).


Power struggle is a human nature but usage of power, material, intellectual or both, depends on man’s intents. Positive intents and purposes would bear bearable fruits and negative intents and aims would result unbearable fruits. The English proverb well said: “As you sow, so shall you reap.”

Kurush the Great remained, without doubt, a legendary leader—founded the Achaemenid or Persian Empire, more than two thousand five years ago (from today: 2011 CE)—who proved himself a man of iron will, a man of character and a man of faith in humanity. In contrast to Kurush the Great, we could also observe other characters in the forms of Astyages (the Median King), Croesus (the Lydian King) and Nabonidus (the Babylonian King) who misused their power, rather significantly abused their power against their subjects, against the humanity, and thus a man in the form of Kurush (or Cyrus) comes up on the throne and dethrones such despots and savagery kings.

Kurush the Great used his acquired power, being Empire of the First World Empire, for the betterment and welfare, liberation and basic human rights of his subject. He proved himself, being the Emperor, down to earth and used his power as servant to the people. He used his power for the inclusiveness of humankinds that belonged to different racial groups (Aryan & non-Aryan), different ethno-linguistic backgrounds (Indo-Iranians and Afro-Asiatic), and different belief systems (Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Shamans). Kurush the Great championed himself as an unprecedented, classical and legendary pluralist leader of the Persian Empire. In the words of Xenohone—an Athenian writer/historian— remarking on Kurush after two centuries of his death : “He [Kurush the Great] eclipsed all other monarchs, either before him, or since”.

The globalized world of today, which is experiencing serious issues related with good governance and a holistic pluralism. The modern nation states, especially those that were once under the great Persian Empires from Africa to Asia, can still look for and learn lessons from Kurush the Great’s doctrines and lessons, many facets of them in governance and pluralism endure relevance even in today world and will endure in the future.


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[1] The author developed this paper during his PhD coursework (in Spring 2011) from the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilization, Quaid-e Azam University, Islamabad.

[2] Originally, correctly and natively in Farsi, the name of Cyrus is “Kuruš (Kurush) while “Cyrus the Great” is termed as “Kuruš-e Burzurg” (Kurush-e Buzurg).

[3] The naturally decided political border, Halys River, between both Lydian and Median Empires emerged during a fierce and indecisive war between the forces of both empires in 585 BCE. The leaders of both forces reached a compulsory consensus and hurriedly signed the peace treaty fearing the solar eclipse, the natural power, that interestingly and coincidently hampering over their heads (Cf. Holland, 2005:6).

[4] Though, these former cities of Assyria, once very magnificent, dissembled silent and were watchful on the Kurush’s invigorated forces lest the power would again be negatively used for destruction of any other historical sites like them, they were internally protesting against the ruthless and savagery Median invaders that blazed and razed them in 612 BCE and the cities in north Syria in 610 BCE (Cf., Op. Cit).

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