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I am Kurush - part one

By A. J. Cave

"Whoever you are, from wherever you have come, for I know you will come."


I am Kuruš


Tomb of Kuruš in Iran's Fars province



They say Alexander III [336-323 BCE], the Macedonian King who had defeated Dāriuš III [336-330 BCE], the Achaemenid Great King, in 3 pitched battles and savagely burned Pārsā [Persepolis] to ashes, admired Great Kuruš [Cyrus II, the Great, 559-530 BCE] - the first Great King who had brought most of the known world under the sway of the Persians over 200 years earlier.


They say when Alexander returned from an ill-fated attempt to conquer India, Land of the Seven Rivers, all battered and bruised, he trekked half of his army through Makran, the Desert of Death [modern Baluchestan and Kerman], just to follow in the footsteps of Great Kuruš [pronounced Kou'rosh, Latin Cyrus].  


Local folk tales had it that Great Kuruš had attempted a similar path through the barren desert and had survived with only a handful of men. 


Tens of thousands died, reportedly some 65,000, including many camp-followers and most of women and children who were a part of a campaigning army, so that a young Macedonian conqueror could measure himself against the best of the Persian 'Great Kings'. 


From Karmāna [modern Kerman], what was left of Alexander and his army trekked back to the heartland of the Persian Empire.  They probably traveled along well-known royal roads that the imperial Achaemenids had built to connect all the cities of their vast kingdom to the Royal Cities of the Empire:  Pasargadae, Pārsā, Susa, Ecbatana and Babylon. 


They say Alexander stopped at Pasargadae [Elamite Batrakataš] to visit the Tomb of Great Kuruš. 


According to Arrian of Nicomedia, 2nd century Roman military commander and historian, who wrote Anabasis of Alexander using records already over four hundred years old, the imperial Tomb of Great Kuruš at the time of Alexander was in a well-tended and well-watered lush grassy grove with all sorts of trees planted around it.  A tree-lined Persian paradayadā.  Paradise.  He said the imperial tomb was inside an ancient temple.


Whether the setting of the imperial tomb was chosen by Great Kuruš himself or by his son and heir, Kambujiyā (Cambyses II), we do not know.  But the spot, set apart from all other imperial buildings on the highlands of Pasargadae, was masterly. 


It was the first sight to come in view of those who were approaching the plains from the south.  Before reaching the magnificent bridges, gates, palaces, columned halls, pavilions and gardens that used to grace the once fertile plains, Persians stopped at the imperial tomb first and paid their respects and said a prayer by the fire altars for the Father of their Empire.


Those approaching from the east on a well-established wide road, crossed the River Pulvār on a majestic bridge built on three rows of five columns, and entered the imperial paradise through a monumental gatehouse, protected by winged guardians on door jambs.


Pasargadae, known as Batrakataš in the Achaemenid Administrative Archives, was not just the first Royal City, an Achaemenid capital, but the site of the first and final victory of the Persians over the Medes.  It was where the seeds of the first Persian Empire were planted.  Where it all started.


The Greek historians, who had followed the bloody footprints of Alexander through the invasion of the Persian Empire, did not bother to write much about the city of Pasargadae or the large or small villages that the Achaemenid Administrative Archives [Persepolis Fortification Archive - PFA] attest to their existence around Pārsā and Pasargadae. 


Battle over Persepolis Fortification Archive: Achaemenid Administrative Archives

By Hellenic accounts the region had been devastated, plundered and raped by the Macedonians some 6 or 7 years earlier when Alexander had first passed through the area, looting some 6,000 talents [360,000 pounds] of gold from Pasargadae Imperial Treasury.  


What has survived in the accounts of later Greek and Roman historians is that Alexander wanted to pay honors to the memory of Great Kuruš. 


They say Alexander climbed up the six high limestone steps and entered the imperial tomb through a small door, too small for most.  But Alexander was reportedly not too tall and somewhat small and boyish compared to the rest of the Macedonians. 


A narrow small passageway led to the innermost of the modest gabled roof tomb chamber.


Inside, Alexander reportedly found a desecrated golden casket on the floor between a couch with golden feet and a small table, some scattered bones, a purple carpet, royal clothing, daggers, earrings, and other grave goods. 


Alexander ordered the imperial tomb to be repaired and left.


They say a Macedonian was severely punished for desecrating the Tomb of Great Kuruš.  The priestly Maguš [Magi] who were the guardians of the imperial tomb were tortured and later released when found innocent of any wrong-doing. 


Arrian wrote that there was an inscription on the tomb in Persian writing that might have read:


"I am Kuruš, who founded the Empire of the Persians.

Grudge me not therefore, this little earth that rests under my body."


Modest words for a man who had once ruled the world.  No?


They say Alexander wanted his subjects to worship him as a Greek god for conquering the Persian Empire.  


Well, the imperial Persian Achaemenids must have been some formidable kings whose demise had created such delusions of grandeur in the heart and mind of the young Macedonian conqueror.


Alexander died the following year in Babylon.  He was a month short of his 33 birthday.  His body was mummified and worshipped for a while in Alexandria in Egypt and finally disappeared sometime after Egypt fell to the Romans [30 BCE]. 


To this day no one really knows what happened to Alexander's remains and where he was finally buried or even if he was ever buried.  A prophecy said that the land that was to become his grave would never see peace.


Many classical historians would like us to believe that if Alexander had not died young, he might have done great things by uniting the Persians and Macedonians. 


But we will never know. 


What we do know is that his actions were those of a conqueror who enjoyed constant warfare.  From the surviving accounts of his battles during the first known invasion of Asia by a 'European' power, an estimated half a million men, women and children were either slaughtered or sold into slavery. 


But there is no need to guess at what Great Kuruš could have accomplished.  He achieved greatness in his own lifetime by creating a magnificent peaceful empire of many lands and many people:  envied and feared, but above all, loved.


Macedonians in turn fell to the Romans and Macedonia became a Roman Province in 149 BCE.  Romans gave the epithet of 'Great' to Alexander for the sheer size of his bloody conquests.


While Great Kuruš unified Asia and the imperial Persian Achaemenids created the first great world empire that prospered for over two hundred years, 'Alexandrian' empire did not survive Alexander.  Bloody wars that broke almost immediately between his Macedonian generals after his death, shattered the territorial integrity of the Persian Empire. 


Asia literally broke into hostile pieces.


Regional hostilities that were successfully suppressed by Great Kuruš and the imperial Achaemenids, resurfaced during the period of continual wars between Alexander's successors, known as Diadochi. Macedonian rivalries soaked the lands with more blood for decades.


Macedonian invaders still left in Persia were finally defeated by the Parthids [Aškāniāns] in 247 BCE. Parthids were another great Iranian dynasty who tied themselves to the imperial Achaemenids.  Later, Parthids cavalry withstood the Roman aggressors, often defeating the Roman legions.


No one can say with any certainty that the royal Parthids were really related to the imperial Achaemenids by blood.  But the memory of the Persian Achaemenids was still so powerful that the two successive Iranian dynasties of Parthids and Sassanids, both claimed to be heirs to the imperial Achaemenids.  


Sassanids [Sāssānians] rose to power from the same region as Achaemenids [modern Fars] in the 3rd century and became known as the second great Persian Empire in the history.  For four centuries, Sassanids battled the Romans and then the Byzantine Empire.


There are no records of what happened to what was left in the imperial Tomb of Great Kuruš after Alexander's visit. 


One could only hope and pray that the Mazdean Athravans [Zoroastrian priests] quietly removed, purified, blessed and buried the mortal remains of the beloved Great King of the Persians in a secret grave nearby, so that it was never to be desecrated again by Anāryā [non-Aryans, foreigners] - ignorant of the religion of the Achaemenids and the sanctity and purity of burial chambers. 


The Tomb of Great Kuruš is empty today. 


It has been empty for many centuries. 


It has withstood the brutal hands of time and wave after wave of bloody conquerors that came after Alexander. 


But the Iranians have always outwitted gods and men to protect the imperial Tomb of Great Kuruš. 


According to ancient folk tales, when the Bedouin Arab invaders came to destroy the Tomb of Great Kuruš in the 7th century, Iranians protected the tomb of the beloved emperor by renaming it: "Ghabr_e Mādar_e Sulaiman" [Grave of the Mother of Prophet Solomon].  The ancient tomb was spared and declared sacred.


The passage of time eventually erased the memory of the imperial Achaemenids from the written pages of Iranian history, but their oral legends were reinvented by the remarkable Iranian poets culminating in the magnificent Epic of Shāh Nāmeh [Book of Kings] by the incomparable Ferdowsi, as the mythical and legendary Iranian dynasties. 


In the 13th century, the ancient tomb was tuned into a mosque.  Women prayed in the mosque and burned incense.  Men were not allowed inside.


Many years passed... and then many centuries...


Lush meadows dried and tall trees withered.


Walls of the aging tomb cracked; portions of the gabled roof broke; the ceiling leaked and stone steps chipped. 


Imperial Achaemenid inscriptions, if any, disappeared altogether.


Whatever that could be done to mend the aging tomb and preserve it for the next generations, was done.  No, not everything was done according to some ancient code of building, long forgotten.  But the best that could have been done by whatever means that were available. 


While some cursed hands deliberately damaged the ancient tomb out of malice or ignorance or both, other blessed hands prayed and spackled and mended the beloved treasure.  Somehow many knew it was imperative to protect the ancient tomb at any cost... that it once belonged to someone who meant the world to his people...  


It did.


And it does. 


There is a timeless beauty and dignity in the austere massive stones that have seen some 2,500+ cycles of the sun.


A faded, damaged and barely visible 12-petaled stone rosette still stubbornly hangs to the ancient stone above the small door to the tomb chamber.  Some say it is a symbol of the twelve months of the year - a full cycle of the sun. 


But the modest unpretentious tomb was never admired solely for its own simple beauty and majesty.  It was treasured for what it once kept lovingly within its stony bones: the mortal remains of a man loved by the Persians who called him their king and father of their first glorious empire.  


Even when his name was forgotten, the love of his subjects shielded his tomb from the ravages of the merciless god of time and hands of pitiless destruction.


Love never dies.


The ancient tomb remains a small monument to the larger-than-life memory of Great Kuruš.  A modest celebration in remembrance of a man who belongs to the greater mankind who loves and admires the humanity of an ancient Persian Great King.  An emperor who was magnanimous to his friends and foes alike.


Another round of restorations started recently to mend the ancient ceiling of the imperial tomb that had been leaking again during the rainy season.


The alarming news and photographs of damages done to the ceiling of the Tomb of Great Kuruš during the course of this restoration surfaced in November of 2008 by Mehr News Agency.    



The authorities of the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (ICHTHO) and the Parsa Pasargadae Research Foundation (PPRF) denied the news.  They claimed that to the contrary, the same photographs showed the real story and the public could independently judge the restoration or destruction of the cultural inheritance of the country for themselves.


The Tomb of Great Kuruš is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


While a report of the latest restoration has been filed with the international agency, such report has not been made available publicly.


The issue remains open.


So while we patiently await the availability of all official reports, we recognize that still much work is needed to fully restore the imperial Tomb of Great Kuruš. 


The greater community of the world eminent scholars and archeological experts are very eager to help.  Many are even willing to generously donate their valuable time and efforts for free.


There is no pre or post Islamic history of Iran.  Like a magnificent Persian carpet, it is all the history of the great Iranian people woven together with a single glorious thread.


Good thoughts, good words, good deeds... and the freedom to choose. 


Let us choose well.



Part Two:  I am Kuruš


So, who was Great Kuruš who meant so much to his people?



About the author: A. J. Cave is an Iranian-American writer based in California, USA and a member of Stanford University's World Association of International Studies (WAIS).  She is currently working on her second historical novel Cyrus Romance: Kuruš Nāmeh.  Information about her first historical novel Roxana Romance: Rošanak Nāmeh is available at



Selected Sources


Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, translated by Aubrey De Sélincourt (London: Penguin Books, 1958)


Bosworth, A. B.: Alexander and the East (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998)


Bosworth, A. B.: Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)


Briant, Pierre: From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, translated by Peter T. Daniels (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2002)


Heckel, Waldemar: The Wars of Alexander the Great, 336-323 BC (New York: Routledge, 2002)


Kuhrt, Amélie: The Persian Empire: A Corpus of Sources from the Achaemenid Period, 2 Vols. (New York: Routledge, 2007)


Matheson, Sylvia A.: Persia: An Archaeological Guide (New Jersey: Noyes Press, 1973)


Mehr, Farhang: Zoroastrian Tradition: An Introduction to the Ancient Wisdom of Zarathushtra (Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, Inc., 2003)


Sami, Ali: Pasargadae, The Oldest Imperial Capital of Iran, translated by R. N. Sharp (Shiraz: Musavi Print, 1956)


Stronach, David: Pasargadae: a report of the excavation conducted by the British Institute of Persian Studies, from 1961 to 1963 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1978)


The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, edited by Robert B. Strassler with an introduction by Rosalind Thomas (New York: Pantheon Books, 2007)

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