Cyrus the Great, otherwise known as Cyrus II, or Kurush,
was the first Achaemenid king of the peoples of Persia, a region of
Iran to the south-east of the former Elamite capital at Susa.
Born in 580 BC, he came to power amongst the
Persians in 559 BC, moving his capital to Susa. Initially he ruled
as a subject of the Medes who were situated to the north and who
apparently held great swathes of Iran and northern Mesopotamia under
According to Herodotus, Cyrus was the
grandson of the Median king, Astyages. When Cyrus rebelled in 553 BC, he
removed the Persians from Median control, but it took three more
years to decide the issue of who was in control in the Iranian
In 550 BC Cyrus won a decisive victory
and Astyages was captured by his own nobles and handed over. Harpagus,
a Median of the royal house, was the main cause of Astyages' defeat; his
motive being revenge on the king who had killed his son and
Cyrus adopted a policy of treating the two peoples,
Persian and Median, equally, and many Median officials gained
positions in his administration. Harpagus was created one of Cyrus'
generals and conquered Anatolia for him in 547-546 BC, destroying the
mighty Lydian empire in 547 BC. His descendants reigned
as satraps (or governors) in Lycia thereafter.
Cyrus campaigned to the east between about 546-540
BC, but while his campaigns in the west were well documented by the
Greeks, there was no equivalent in the east, so few concrete facts
have survived. However, it is known that he conquered Drangiana,
Arachosia, Margiana and Bactria.
The Babylonians virtually invited him into southern
Mesopotamia in 539 BC. Invading the unsettled empire, Cyrus fought just
one major battle near the confluence of the Diyala and Tigris rivers. On
either 12 or 13 October (sources vary), Babylon was occupied, suddenly
creating an empire far larger than even the Assyrian Empire
which the Medes had helped destroy.
With Babylonia, Cyrus also gained Phoenicia and the
Mediterranean coast (although Arabia and Cilicia were lost). Unlike
the Assyrians, Persia made Phoenicia part of a satrapy, thus ending
the semi-independent existence the Phoenician city states had
enjoyed under previous regimes.