Courtesy: History Time


Today’s Pivotal Person is Cyrus the Great, the King of Kings.
The year is 539 BC. King Cyrus, the latest Achaemenid ruler of Persia, one of the most powerful dynastic families in history, has achieved the unthinkable. By conquering the Neo-Babylonian Empire, in addition to his previous conquests of Media and Lydia, Cyrus has forged the largest empire the world has ever seen, and begins to use the title ‘King of the Four Corners of the World’. It is from this point onwards that he is no longer a mere king, but a king of kings. 
Cyrus’ story begins much earlier. From around the 9th Century BC onwards, the Achaemenid family of Persia began amassing power around their heartlands of modern day southern Iran. The Middle East had long been dominated by powerful states which existed to the west, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern day Iraq, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians. Persia on the other hand, had never before been in the historical limelight. This would all change upon the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Neo-Assyrian Empire which had dominated the known world for hundreds of years promptly fell, never to rise again, after a last alliance of kingdoms and states brought it to its knees. In its place came the Median Empire, a much newer and less well-established state which had its power base in modern day northern Iran. Like most other states of the time, the fledgling Persian Kingdom of southern Iran, became a vassal state to Media.
Media and Persia were linked by marriage and custom however, and Cyrus was quick to capitalise upon internal instability within Media to conquer it entirely by 550 BC. The Median and Persian people likely had much in common and the transition seems to have been fairly smooth, with much of the nobility recognising Cyrus’s overlordship, particularly after a diplomatic marriage between Cyrus and the daughter of the Median ruler, Astyages, whose life was also spared upon his defeat. The common people likely also merged together to a certain extent. Median overlordship had also extended over much of Central Asia to the east, and the eastern portion of Asia Minor to the west. Cyrus claimed these lands also, through masterful diplomacy, and soon looked further afield, to the other civilised states of the world.
Just a couple of years later, likely in 547 BC, Cyrus began the conquest of the Kingdom of Lydia, a powerful and ancient state which encompassed the western portion of Asia Minor. After this he took Cilicia, and Phoenicia, using cutting edge siege technology to conquer the city states of these rich lands on the shores of the Mediterranean. By 540 BC he set his eyes upon his final prize; Babylon, then the primary centre of world civilisation; a powerhouse of knowledge and culture. After its conquest he was legitimately able to proclaim himself the King of Kings.
The empire Cyrus had created stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caspian. From modern day Bulgaria in the west to India in the east. Unlike his predecessors however, his success came not from the brutality of his rule, but from the just rule of law and from a respect and tolerance of the differing cultures that came under his rule. He tended to largely leave local infrastructures intact, preferring to install local Satraps, or governors, to rule in his stead, who would report back to him and ensure the acknowledgement of his overlordship.
Contrary to later hostile Greek reports of the Persians, the overwhelming consensus of their rule is of peace, religious tolerance, and mercy towards defeated foes. They also accomplished many great feats of architecture and technology, some of which still remain today at the vast ruins left behind. Not fully content with the existing Persian cities, Cyrus began construction of his own personal royal capital at Pasargadae in 546 BC. It represented the pinnacle of engineering at the time, encompassing vast ambitious temples and palace complexes as well as ingenious stepped gardens. He wouldn’t live to see its competition however, dying in battle at the age of around seventy in 530 BC.
Such was the ingenuity of the society Cyrus had put in place, his empire didn’t fall apart upon his death, as many had before him and many more would in the future. His son Cambyses II inherited his titles and swiftly conquered Egypt, Nubia and Cyrenaica, and even attempted to conquer Kush in modern day Sudan. It was under the Great King Darius that the empire would reach its pinnacle however. It’s been theorised by demographers that under Darius’ rule, as much as 44% of the worlds population lived and died under the rule of the Achaemenids, whose supremacy stood unrivalled until the ascension of Alexander the Great in the latter half of the Fourth Century BC, who utilised much of the infrastructure put in place by Cyrus all those years ago.

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