(Cyʹrus) [Heb., Kohʹresh; Gr., Kyʹros].
The founder of the Persian Empire and the conqueror of Babylon; called “Cyrus the Great,” thereby distinguishing him from Cyrus I, his grandfather.
Following his conquest of the Babylonian Empire, Cyrus is represented in the cuneiform document known as the Cyrus Cylinder as saying: “I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four rims (of the earth), son of Cambyses, great king, king of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus [I], . . . descendant of Teispes, . . . of a family (which) always (exercised) kingship.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts by James B. Pritchard, 1955, p. 316) Cyrus is thus shown to be of the royal line of the kings of Anshan, a city or district of rather uncertain location, placed by some in the mountains to the N of Elam but generally considered as lying to the E of Elam. This line of kings is called the “Achaemenian” line after Achaemenes the father of Teispes.
The early history of Cyrus (II) is somewhat obscure, depending largely upon rather fanciful accounts by Herodotus (Greek historian of the fifth century B.C.E.) and Xenophon (another Greek writer of about a half century later). However, both present Cyrus as the son of Persian ruler Cambyses by his wife Mandane, the daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes. (Herodotus, Book I, sec. 107; Cyropaedia, i, 2, 1) This blood relationship of Cyrus with the Medes is denied by Ctesias, another Greek historian of the same period, who claims instead that Cyrus became Astyages’ son-in-law by marrying his daughter, Amytis.
Cyrus succeeded his father Cambyses I to the throne of Anshan, which was then under the suzerainty of the Median king Astyages. Africanus (third century C.E.) and Diodorus (first century B.C.E.) place the start of Cyrus’ reign in the first year of the 55th Olympiad, or 560/559 B.C.E. Herodotus relates that Cyrus thereafter revolted against the Median rulership and, due to the defection of Astyages’ troops, was able to gain an easy victory and capture the capital of the Medes, Ecbatana. This was in the sixth year of Nabonidus’ reign (550 B.C.E. in secular history) according to the Nabonidus Chronicle, which states that King Ishtumegu (Astyages) “called up his troops and marched against Cyrus, king of Anshan, in order to me[et him in battle]. The army of Ishtumegu [Astyages] revolted against him and in fetters they de[livered him] to Cyrus.” Cyrus was able to gain the loyalty of the Medes, and thus Medes and Persians thereafter unitedly fought under his leadership. In the following years Cyrus moved to establish his control over the western sector of the Median Empire, advancing all the way to the eastern border of the Lydian Empire at the Halys River in Asia Minor.
Wealthy King Croesus of Lydia, faced with the threat of this new Persian emperor, is said by Herodotus to have made a political alliance with King Nabonidus of Babylon and Pharaoh Amasis II of Egypt, as well as with the Spartans of Greece. Before these allies could render military aid, however, Cyrus defeated the Lydians under Croesus and captured Sardis. He then subdued the Ionian cities and placed all of Asia Minor within the realm of the Persian Empire. Thus, in a matter of a few years, Cyrus had become the major rival of Babylon and its king, Nabonidus.
Commenting on the quality of his leadership, The Encyclopœdia Britannica (1911, Vol. 21, p. 207) says: “Cyrus especially must have been an exceedingly able general. Obviously, also, he must have understood the art of organizing his people and arousing the feeling of nationality and the courage of self-sacrifice.”
CONQUEST OF BABYLON
Cyrus now girded for a confrontation with mighty Babylon and from this point forward, in particular, he figured in the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. In Isaiah’s inspired restoration prophecy concerning Jerusalem and its temple, this Persian ruler had been named as the one appointed by Jehovah God to effect the overthrow of Babylon and the release of the Jews who would be exiled there. (Isa. 44:26–45:7) Although this prophecy was recorded well over one and a half centuries before Cyrus’ rise to power and though the desolation of Judah evidently took place before Cyrus was even born, still Jehovah declared that Cyrus would act as His “shepherd” on behalf of the Jewish people. (Compare Romans 4:17.) By virtue of this advance appointment Cyrus was called Jehovah’s “anointed one” (a form of the Hebrew ma·shiʹahh, messiah, and the Greek khris·tosʹ, christ). (Isa. 45:1) God’s ‘calling him by his name’ (Isa. 45:4) at that early date does not imply that He gave Cyrus his name at birth, but, rather, that Jehovah foreknew that such a man by that name would arise and that Jehovah’s call to him would be, not anonymously, but direct, specific, by name.
Thus, unknown to King Cyrus, who was likely a pagan devotee of Zoroastrianism, Jehovah God had been figuratively ‘taking Cyrus’ right hand’ to lead or strengthen him, girding him and preparing and smoothing the way for his accomplishing the divine purpose: the conquest of Babylon. (Isa. 45:1, 2, 5) As the one “telling from the beginning the finale, and from long ago the things that have not been done.” Almighty God had shaped the circumstances in human affairs for fully carrying out his counsel. He had called Cyrus “from the sunrising,” from Persia (to the E of Babylon), where Cyrus’ favorite capital of Pasargadae was built, and Cyrus was to be like a “bird of prey” in swiftly pouncing down upon Babylon. (Isa. 46:10, 11) It is of note that, according to The Encyclopœdia Britannica (1911, Vol. 10, p. 454b), “the Persians bore an eagle fixed to the end of a lance, and the sun, as their divinity, was also represented upon their standards, which . . . were guarded with the greatest jealousy by the bravest men of the army.”
The Bible prophecies relating to Cyrus’ predicted conquest of Babylon foretold a ‘drying up of the watery deep and of the rivers, of gates being left unshut,’ of a sudden invasion of the city and a lack of resistance on the part of Babylon’s soldiers. (Isa. 44:27; 45:1, 2; Jer. 50:35-38; 51:30-32) Herodotus describes a deep, wide moat encompassing Babylon, relating that numerous bronze (or copper) gates provided entrance through the interior walls along the Euphrates River, which bisected the city. Laying siege to the city, according to Herodotus, Cyrus “diverted the river, by means of a canal, into the lake [the artificial lake supposedly made earlier by Queen Nitocris], which was before a swamp, he made the ancient channel fordable by the sinking of the river. When this took place, the Persians who were appointed to that purpose close to the stream of the river . . . entered Babylon by this passage. If, however, the Babylonians had been aware of it beforehand, or had known what Cyrus was about, they would not have suffered the Persians to enter the city, but would have utterly destroyed them; for, having shut all the little gates that lead down to the river, and mounting the walls that extend along the banks of the river, they would have caught them as in a net; whereas the Persians came upon them by surprise. It is related by the people who inhabited this city, that, by reason of its great extent, when they who were at the extremities were taken, those of the Babylonians who inhabited the centre knew nothing of the capture (for it happened to be a festival); but they were dancing at the time, and enjoying themselves, till they received certain information of the truth. [Compare Daniel 5:1-4, 30; Jeremiah 50:24; 51:31, 32.] And thus Babylon was taken.”—Herodotus, Book I, sec. 191.
Xenophon’s account differs somewhat as to details but contains the same basic elements as that of Herodotus. Xenophon describes Cyrus as deeming it nearly impossible to storm Babylon’s mighty walls and then goes on to relate his laying siege to the city, diverting the waters of the Euphrates into trenches, and, while the city was in festival celebration, sending his forces up the riverbed past the city walls, catching the guards unawares and gaining entrance through the very gates of the palace. In one night “the city was taken and the king slain,” and the Babylonian soldiers occupying the various citadels surrendered the following morning.—Cyropaedia, VII, 5:7-34; compare Jeremiah 51:30.
Jewish historian Josephus records an account of Cyrus’ conquest written by the Babylonian priest Berossus (of the third century B.C.E.) as follows: “In the seventeenth year of his [Nabonidus’] reign, Cyrus came out of Persia with a great army; and, having already conquered all the rest of Asia, he came hastily to Babylonia. When Nabonidus perceived he was advancing to attack him, he assembled his forces and opposed him; but he was defeated and fled with a few of his troops and was shut within the city of Borsippa [a sister city of Babylon]. Hereupon Cyrus took Babylon and gave order that the outer walls should be demolished, because the city had proved very troublesome to him and difficult to take. He then marched to Borsippa to besiege Nabonidus; but as Nabonidus delivered himself into his hands without holding out the place, he was at first kindly treated by Cyrus, who sent him out of Babylonia but gave him a habitation in Carmania, where he spent the remainder of his life and died.” (Against Apion, Book I, par. 20) This account is distinct from the others primarily due to the statements made concerning Nabonidus’ actions and Cyrus’ dealings with him. However, it harmonizes with the Biblical account that Belshazzar, rather than Nabonidus, was the king who was slain on the night of Babylon’s fall.—See BELSHAZZAR.
The cuneiform tablets found by archaeologists, though not giving details concerning the exact manner of the conquest, do confirm the sudden fall of Babylon to Cyrus. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, in the seventeenth year of Nabonidus’ reign (539 B.C.E.) in the month of Tishri (September-October) Cyrus attacked the Babylonian forces at Opis and defeated them. The inscription continues: “The fourteenth day, Sippar was seized without battle. Nabonidus fled. The 16th day, Ugbaru the governor of Gutium and the army of Cyrus entered Babylon without battle. Afterwards Nabonidus was arrested in Babylon when he returned . . . In the month of Arahshamnu [Marchesvan (October-November)], the third day, Cyrus entered Babylon.” By means of this inscription the date of Babylon’s fall can be fixed as Tishri 16 (October 5-6) 539 B.C.E., with Cyrus’ entry seventeen days later, occurring on Marchesvan 3 (October 22-23).
Aryan world domination begins
By this victory Cyrus brought to an end the domination of Mesopotamia and the Near East by Semitic rulers and produced the first dominant world power of Aryan origin. The Cyrus Cylinder, a cuneiform document historians consider to have been written for publication in Babylon, is strongly religious and in it Cyrus is represented as ascribing the credit for his victory to Marduk the chief god of Babylon, saying: “He [Marduk] scanned and looked (through) all the countries, searching for a righteous ruler willing to lead him (in the annual procession). (Then) he pronounced the name of Cyrus, king of Anshan, declared him (literally: pronounced [his] name) to be(come) the ruler of all the world. . . . Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his people/worshipers, beheld with pleasure his good deeds and his upright mind (and therefore) ordered him to march against his city Babylon. He made him set out on the road to Babylon going at his side like a real friend. His widespread troops—their number, like that of the water of a river, could not be established—strolled along, their weapons packed away. Without any battle, he made him enter his town Babylon, sparing Babylon any calamity.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts by James B. Pritchard, 1955, p. 315.
Despite this pagan interpretation of events, the Bible shows that, on making his proclamation authorizing the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple there, Cyrus acknowledged: “All the kingdoms of the earth Jehovah the God of the heavens has given me, and he himself has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:1, 2) This, of course, does not mean that Cyrus became a Jewish convert but simply that he knew the Biblical facts regarding his victory. In view of the high administrative position in which Daniel was placed, both before and after the fall of Babylon (Dan. 5:29; 6:1-3, 28), it would be most unusual if Cyrus were not to be informed of the prophecies that Jehovah’s prophets had recorded and spoken, including Isaiah’s prophecy containing Cyrus’ very name. As regards the Cyrus Cylinder, quoted above, it is acknowledged that others aside from the king may have had a hand in the preparation of this cuneiform document. The book Biblical Archaeology by G. Ernest Wright (p. 200) speaks of “the king, or the bureau which framed the document” (compare the similar case with Darius at Daniel 6:6-9), while Dr. Emil G. Kraeling (Rand McNally Bible Atlas, p. 328) calls the Cyrus Cylinder “a propaganda document composed by the Babylonian priests.” It may, indeed, have been drawn up under the influence of the Babylonian clergy (see Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 315, ftn. 1), thereby serving their purpose of explaining away the utter failure of Marduk (also known as Bel) and the other Babylonian gods to save the city, going even to the extent of attributing to Marduk the very things that Jehovah had done.—Compare Isaiah 46:1, 2; 47:11-15.
CYRUS’ DECREE FOR THE RETURN OF THE JEWISH EXILES
By his decreeing the end of the Jewish exile, Cyrus fulfilled his commission as Jehovah’s ‘anointed shepherd’ for Israel. (2 Chron. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-4) The proclamation was made “in the first year of Cyrus the king of Persia,” meaning his first year as ruler toward conquered Babylon. The Bible record at Daniel 9:1 refers to “the first year of Darius” and this appears to have intervened between the fall of Babylon and “the first year of Cyrus” over Babylon. This would mean that Cyrus’ first year may not have begun until late in the year 538 B.C.E. Even if Darius’ rule over Babylon were to be viewed as that of a viceroy, so that his reign ran concurrent with that of Cyrus, Babylonian custom would still place Cyrus’ first regnal year as running from Nisan of 538 to Nisan of 537 B.C.E.
In view of the Bible record, Cyrus’ decree freeing the Jews to return to Jerusalem likely was made late in the year 538 or early in 537 B.C.E. This would allow time for the Jewish exiles to prepare to move out of Babylon and make the long trek to Judah and Jerusalem (a trip that could take about four months according to Ezra 7:9) and yet be settled “in their cities” in Judah by the “seventh month” (Tishri) of the year 537 B.C.E. (Ezra 3:1, 6) This marked the end of the prophesied seventy years of Judah’s desolation that began in the same month of Tishri of 607 B.C.E.—2 Ki. 25:22-26; 2 Chron. 36:20, 21.
Cyrus’ cooperation with the Jews was in notable contrast with their treatment by earlier pagan rulers. He restored the precious temple utensils that Nebuchadnezzar had carried off to Babylon, gave royal permission for them to import cedar timbers from Lebanon, and authorized the outlay of funds from the king’s house to cover construction expenses. (Ezra 1:7-11; 3:7; 6:3-5) According to the Cyrus Cylinder, the Persian ruler followed a generally humane and tolerant policy toward the conquered peoples of his domain. The inscription quotes him as saying: “I returned to [certain previously named] sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris, the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which (used) to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I (also) gathered all their (former) inhabitants and returned (to them) their habitations.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts by James B. Pritchard, 1955, p. 316.
Aside from the royal proclamation quoted in Ezra 1:1-4, the Biblical record speaks of another document by Cyrus, a “memorandum,” which was filed away in the house of the records at Ecbatana in Media and discovered there during the reign of Darius the Persian. (Ezra 5:13-17; 6:1-5) Concerning this second document, Professor Wright says, “[it] is explicitly entitled a dikrona, an official Aramaic term for a memorandum which recorded an oral decision of the king or other official and which initiated administrative action. It was never intended for publication but solely for the eye of the proper official, following which it was filed away in governmental archives.”—Biblical Archaeology, p. 200.
DEATH, SUCCESSOR, AND PROPHETIC SIGNIFICANCE
Cyrus is believed to have fallen in battle about 530 B.C.E., though the accounts are somewhat obscure. Prior to his death, his son Cambyses evidently became coregent with him, succeeding to the Persian throne as sole ruler when his father died.
The prophecies concerning the sudden fall of symbolical “Babylon the Great” as set forth in the book of Revelation parallel in major respects the description of Cyrus’ conquest of the literal city of Babylon. (Compare Revelation 16:12; 18:7, 8 with Isaiah 44:27, 28; 47:8, 9.) The king at the head of the mighty military forces described immediately after the account of symbolic Babylon’s fall, however, is no earthly king but the heavenly “Word of God,” Jehovah’s true anointed Shepherd, Christ Jesus.—Rev. 19:1-3, 11-16.