11 September 2015
#History of World Civilization, Day Eleven
Empires of Persia
How did Cyrus manage to expand the Persian holdings so dramatically during his lifetime?
Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great and Cyrus the Achaemenid, was born in the early sixth century BC in Anshan, Persia (modern day southwestern Iran). He is credited with founding the Achaemenid Empire, sometimes called the New Persian Empire, the First Persian Empire, or the Medo-Persian Empire. Cyrus reckoned his empire as the successor to the reign of Achaemenes, the (perhaps mythical) king of Persis who is believed to have ruled in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BC. Cyrus greatly expanded the empire from the footprint of Achaemenes, eventually ruling an area from the Balkans to the Indus Valley. His first accomplishment was a successful rebellion against the Median Empire ca. 550 BC. Following his victory, he spared the life of the Median king and married his daughter, thus pacifying several of the lesser Median territories. Cyrus was known as a master military tactician, which helped the empire conquer the Lydian and Neo-Babylonian Empires, as well. Military conquest was a primary factor in the Achaemenid Empire’s rapid expansion.
Perhaps more than a conqueror, however, Cyrus was known as a great administrator and the first ruler of the ancient territory to attempt to understand and incorporate the diverse ethnic and cultural societies he conquered. After conquering Babylon, Cyrus allowed the captive Jews to return to their homeland, and the Hebrew Tanakh refers to Cyrus as “The Lord’s Messiah” (chosen one).
Cyrus built a political infrastructure that standardized administration of his massive empire, while styling himself as their “liberator,” rather than their “conqueror.” The efficient and stable political environment allowed trade to flourish and the areas he ruled largely prospered under Achaemenid administration. He appointed Persian satraps, or governors, but allowed them to employ local ethnic officials to oversee administration in their area, and allowed the satrapies a certain measure of autonomy. He also built a powerful, uniformly trained army that kept the peace. He allowed a remarkable (for the time) level of religious and personal freedom, and has been hailed by many scholars (deservedly or not) as one of the earliest champions of human rights. The administrative system he established provided substantial political stability to a massive geographical area for centuries to come.