Iran News ...


I am Kurush - part two

I am Kurus: Part 2

By A. J. Cave



I am Kuruš

a-na-ku mKu-ra-âš



"Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,

whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him

and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him―

and the gates shall not be closed:

I will go before you and level the mountains,

I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,

I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places,

so that you may know that it is, I, the Lord,

the God of Israel, who call you by your name."


Isaiah 45:1-3


Tomb of Kuruš in Iran's Fars province



Second Isaiah's prophecy that the divine action to release the Judean exilic community in Babylon from bondage was to be through the human hands of the 'Persian Cyrus' must have come as a surprise to Judeans.  


This 'Cyrus', the mythic figure of the Holy Bible, was no other than the historical King Kuruš II [559-530 BCE], namesake of his grandfather, King Kuruš I.  Kuruš was given the epithet of 'Great' by the Romans of the Roman Empire centuries later and became known throughout the history of the world as the Latinized 'Cyrus the Great'. 


Great Kuruš, (pronounced Kou'rosh), Kuros in Greek, Ku-ra-âš in Akkadian, Kou'rosh_e Kabir in modern Persian, from the Royal House of Hakhâmaneš (Achaemenids) was the founder of the first Persian Empire.  Cyrus (pronounced See'roos in Persian) made its way to Iran in late 19th century and bacame a variation of the modern Iranian name Kourosh.


Great Kuruš was the son of Kambujiya [Cambyses I], King of Anšan, and traced his royal blood to the long line of the Kings of Anšan [Anshan], an ancient Haltamti [Elamite] territory and the modern region of Fars in Iran.  More than likely, his mother, Mândâna [Mandane], was the royal daughter of Ršti-vęgu [Astyages], King of Mâdâ [Mede], making Great Kuruš union of two Royal Houses of Anšan and Mâdâ, both of Âryâ [Aryan] stock, from the Iranian tribes who had migrated to the Iranian highlands long ago.


'Kuruš' is believed to be an Elamite name, meaning 'He gives fortune' or 'He bestows care', but the origin and history of the name are not known.  According to Plutarch, the 1st century Greek biographer, Great Kuruš got his name from 'Sun', because the Persians called the sun, Kuruš.  While this meaning is uncertain, in the Babylonian tradition some ancient kings were the 'Sun' of their people. 


When Great Kuruš inherited the royal throne of Anšan from his father in 559 BCE, he was a young man, maybe born around 579 BCE.


The real causes of hostilities between Great Kuruš and his maternal grandfather, King Ršti-vęgu (Akkadian Ištu-megu) are obscure.  But according to the Nabű-nâ'id [Nabonidus] Chronicle, a series of battles against the young King of Anšan were initiated by his grandfather over a period of few years.


King Ršti-vęgu was delivered by Medean generals to Great Kuruš after the defeat of the Medes at Batrakataš [Pasargadae], paving the way for consolidation of Anšan and Mâdâ kingdoms in 550 BCE.


They say that Great Kuruš wore a 'kidaris', an upright crown, after consolidating the two royal kingdoms - perhaps the same kingly crown that the later Achaemenid Great Kings wore, still seen on the remaining walls of the Palaces of Pârsâ [Persepolis].


Not much is known about the Persians prior to the accession of Great Kuruš to the throne of his father. 


According to Herodotus, the Hellene [Greek] historian of the 5th century BCE, there were many tribes of Persians, mostly agriculturalists and pastoralists.  The clan of the imperial Achaemenids belonged to the noblest Persian tribe: Pasargadae.  More than likely, Great Kuruš could have spent the first decade of his royal rule as one of the many kings, maybe members of a Royal Council of Elders, who governed the many tribes of Persians.  It is possible that Great Kuruš consolidated the Persian tribes under his command during this period.


Croesus (Kroesos), King of Lydia, whose sister Aryęnis was married to King Ršti-vęgu, took advantage of the fall of the Medes to attack the Persians.  They say he consulted the Oracle at Delphi a few times.  When the oracle vaguely answered:


"If Croesus made war on the Persians, he will destroy a great empire,"


Croesus interpreted the oracle as a sign of his own victory. 


While the date is not certain, it is said that Croesus was defeated in 547 BCE and the Lydian Kingdom became a part of the growing Persian Kingdom of Great Kuruš.


Herodotus said that Croesus became a part of the Persian court and Great Kuruš sought his counsel on various occasions.


When Babylon fell into the hands of Great Kuruš in 539 BCE, peace was imposed in Babylon, the Gate of Gods, the meaning of Akkadian Bâb-ilim. 


Like other accounts of Great Kuruš' life, the source(s) of hostilities between Babylon and Persia are obscure. 


Reportedly, Babylonian King Nabű-nâ'id, had prepared Babylon for a long siege.  But Babylon was not sieged.


Whatever that had happened in the bloody encounters of the Persian and Babylonian royal armies prior to the fall of Babylon, paved the way for a peaceful Persian entry into the magnificent royal city that was already a few thousand years old.


Medean troops guarded the Babylonian sacred temples so that temple services were not interrupted. 


When Great Kuruš finally entered the Gate of Gods through the monumental Ištar [Ishtar] Gate, decorated with deep blue glazed bricks, adorned with rows of golden tiled bulls and mušhuššu [the dragon sacred to Bęl Marduk] days later, he was no longer just a king. 


He was The King, the new Master of Asia.  


All eyes, high or low, near and far, were on him.


As recorded in contemporary Nabű-nâ'id Chronicle:


"... on the 3rd day of the month of Arahsamnu, Ku-ra-âš entered TIN.TIRki.

There was peace in the city when Ku-ra-âš spoke greetings to all of Bâb-ilim..."




"... on the 29th day of the month of October, in the year 17th of Nabű-nâ'id, King Kuruš entered Babylon.

The king's peace was placed upon the city.  The proclamation of Kuruš was read to all of Babylon..."


No doubt all of Babylon, free, captives, or slaves, waited anxiously to witness the victorious Persian King enter Babylon amidst royal pomp and to hear the proclamation of the new Master of Babylon.  


While Babylon had fallen to the Assyrians before and reclaimed, this was the first time in their ancient history that Babylon had fallen to a foreign king worshipping 'other god(s)'.


"What will happen to me? To my wife? To my husband? To my children? To my family?

To my city? To my land? To my property? To my position?

To my great gods?"

"Will Babylon be sacked and razed?  Looted and burned?"

"Will there be mass deportations?"

"Will great gods of Babylon be taken away to foreign lands?"

"Will Babylonian warriors be massacred?"

"Will the women be raped and enslaved?"

"What will happen to the children?"

 "Will the head of King Nabű-nâ'id be cut off and hung from a post?"

"Will I have to learn a new language?"

"Will I be forced to worship a new god?"


But none of these fears materialized.  


After the royal proclamation, Great Kuruš appointed a new Persian governor to administer Babylon as a privileged part of the bigger Persian Empire. 


According to Bęl-re'uša [Berossus], Babylonian author of Babyloniaca writing around 280 BCE, Babylonian King Nabű-nâ'id surrendered to Great Kuruš and was received graciously.  Nabű-nâ'id was exiled from Babylon and received Karmâna [Kerman] instead where he spent the rest of his life and died there.


Statues of the great gods that had been brought to Babylon by King Nabű-nâ'id, to safeguard both Babylon and the great gods from falling into the hands of the Persians, were all returned to their cities and temples by imperial decree.


All the captives who had been brought to Babylon by the previous Babylonian kings were freed too.


Divine action indeed unfolded through human hands of 'Persian Kuruš'.  Second Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled. 


The calendar of Babylon was changed to show the year as the first regnal year of Šarru mKu-ra-âš (King Kuruš) according to Babylonian traditions.  


Great Kuruš assumed all the titles of a Babylonian King and all the royal responsibilities of one too.  He rolled up his sleeves, so to speak, and went to work on mending Dur Imgur Enlîl, the Great Wall of Babylon. 


As written on line 38 of Cyrus Cylinder in Akkadian [transliterated]:


"...i-šam ű-ta-ah-hi-id dur im-gur-dEN.LÎL dur GAL-a ša TIN.TIRki ... ar-ta-šű du-un-nu-nű âš-te-'e-e-ma"


"...I sought out to strengthen the defense of Dur Imgur-Enlîl, the Great Wall of Babylon..."


Ships were rented.  Date groves were bought and sold.  Men and women married.  Babies were born in peace.


Life went on more or less as usual. 


Kuruš the King said... exactly what to the Babylonians?


Well, no one really knows.  No historical records have been found to-date that proclaims: "Kuruš the King says..." in the familiar manner of the traditional Achaemenid imperial declarations that have survived from the later Great Kings.  We might simply never know what was proclaimed and what was understood by the Babylonians, Judeans and other subjects of the Empire.  


But there are some scattered clues.


As written in the Holy Bible:


"In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: "Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: the Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him!  Let him go up."


2 Chronicles 36:22-23


Whatever was so communicated led to the release of the Judeans from their Babylonian captivity and paved the way for them to return to their ancestral lands.  Judeans took the sacred objects of their faith with them - objects that were taken as punishment by the Babylonians before the destruction of the First Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem in 587 BCE.  


The Holy Bible records the "Decree of Cyrus" as not only the imperial permission allowing the Judeans to return to Jerusalem, but also the permission to rebuild their temple with funds from Achaemenid Imperial Treasury.


Provision of imperial funds seems to have been an imperial Achaemenid policy.  When dispute rose in Jerusalem over the construction of the Second Temple years later, a copy of the original decree was found in Hagmâtâna [Ecbatana].  Great Dâriuš [Darius the Great] reconfirmed the imperial decree of Great Kuruš. 


We read in the Holy Bible:


"Then King Darius made a decree, and they searched the archives where the documents were stored in Babylon.  But it was in Ecbatana, the capital in the province of Media, that a scroll was found on which this was written: "A record.  In the first year of his reign, King Cyrus issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought; its height shall be sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits, with three courses of hewn stones and one course of timber; let the cost be paid from the royal treasury.  Moreover, let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple in Jerusalem, each to its place; you shall put them in the house of God."


Ezra 6:1-6


It was so written in Ezra 6:12: "May the God who has established his name there overthrow any king or people that shall put forth a hand to alter this, or destroy the house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, make a decree; let it be done with all diligence."  


Additional imperial funds were provided by the order of Great Dâriuš for the completion of the Judean Second Temple [515 BCE].   "And this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius."  Ezra 6:15


Judeans remained the loyal subjects of the Persian Empire until the time of Macedonian invasion, some two hundred years later.  The Biblical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah further attest to Judeans rising to high ranks within the administration of the imperial Achaemenid court.


The victorious addition of Babylon to the Lands and People of the Persian Empire turned a king into a Great King, a king above all others, and consolidated the known Asia under one powerful imperial command - a truly extraordinary event that forever changed the face of Asia.


According to Herodotus, Great Kuruš was married to the Persian Kassandâna (Kassandane), daughter of Farnâvâzda (Pharnaspes), possibly the uncle of Great Dâriuš. 


Great Kuruš must have married young.  His eldest son and heir, Kambujiyâ, was left in Babylon as the King of Babylon for about a year in 538 BCE


From various Hellenic records, we gather that Great Kuruš and Kassandâna had at least two royal sons: Kambujiyâ and Bardiyâ, and two royal daughters: Udusana and Irtašduna [Cambyses, Smerdis, Atossa, and Artystone].


According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Kassandâna died in Babylon in spring of 538 BCE, most likely in March, but the exact month has not survived. 


The grieved Kuruš ordered official mourning to be held throughout Babylonia.  


And so Babylonia mourned from 20th to 27th of March, as recorded in contemporary Babylonian Chronicle 7:


"... Aššat Šarri mitatat..."


"In the month ... King's Wife died.  From the 27th of the month of Addâru to the 3rd of the month of Nîsannu, there was official mourning period in Akkadaî.  All the people bared their heads..."


Great Kuruš died 8 years later in 530 BCE and was buried in a modest tomb in Pasargadae.  


He was 49 years old.


The circumstances of death of Great Kuruš were obscured by Herodotus who picked a legend that suited his own vivid imagination among four he had heard.


We probably would never know what really happened and how Great Kuruš died.





Treasures of Darkness...


No contemporary Persian accounts of Great Kuruš have survived and what is mostly known about him is the stuff of romantic legends.  


Historical events of the Persian Empire were recorded in the traditional eastern royal annals and chronicles of the era.  These historical texts of the Persian Achaemenids, referred to in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Judeans, are either entirely lost or not found yet.  


The fire that Alexander and the Macedonian invaders unleashed at Pârsâ could have very well destroyed precious Persian archives written on perishable materials, such as leather, papyrus and parchment.  


Royal storehouses and archives that existed at various Achaemenid Royal Cities of the Empire could have been looted during the conquest of Alexander, or later fallen to the ravages of time and circumstances of history.  


The intent of the Greek historians, who followed Alexander during the invasion of the Persian Empire, was not to shine the light on the object of their unjustified destruction, only to record the deeds of Alexander and the Greeks.  


We know how many camels and mules carried away the massive 120,000 talents [3,600 tons] of glittering gold and silver of the Achaemenids from Pârsâ Imperial Treasuries.  But we do not how many Persians were massacred by the Macedonians.  By the account of their own historians, Macedonians sacked, looted, raped and killed blindly in their murderous bloodlust for golden Persian riches when they reached Pârsâ.


However, since not much of Persian records from the reign of Great Kuruš and the Achaemenids have survived, it would be petty not to acknowledge a small debt to ancient Hellenic historians, no matter how prejudicial and biased.


The scanty reports are mostly by Herodotus, who wrote Histories, an account of the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century BCE, some 100+ years after Great Kuruš.  Herodotus generously mixed fact and fiction and wrote his historical romance to please his Greek audiences by telling tales about the 'others', the non-Greeks.  He did, however, manage to preserve some nuggets of historical 'truth' about Great Kuruš and the Persians and the Great Kings. 


Fortunately other disparate materials with various historical value have survived: Fragments of Babylonian Chronicles, astronomical diaries and literary texts, Biblical accounts, imperial inscriptions, civic inscriptions, private letters, legal documents, administration records, seal inscriptions, and archaeological sites and finds.


The breadth and depth of the surviving documents from and about the Persian Achaemenids range from ordinary administrative records to imperial inscriptions, written in Âryâ [Old Persian], Akkadian, Aramaic, Elamite, Egyptian, Hebrew, Phoenician, Greek, Latin, Lycian, Lydian, Phrygian, Carian and still some undecipherable languages.


Full decipherment of Achaemenid Administrative Archives, more commonly known as the Persepolis Fortification Archive (PFA), the largest ancient archive of its kind, will provide additional invaluable clues to the inner workings of Achaemenid Empire. 


Historians skilled in cultural, economical, ideological, political, and theological analysis, and philologers skilled in all the official languages of the Persian Empire, as well as eastern and western modern languages, are needed to reconstruct the latest advances in Achaemenid studies into new narrative history of the Persians.


All that have been recovered so far from Great Kuruš, in his own words, have been a few stamped bricks and a clay foundation deposit from ancient Babylonia, modern Iraq and Syria.


The code of the Akkadian language was just cracked in 1860s following the decipherment of the tri-lingual imperial inscription of Great Dâriuš at Behistun [Bagastâna - Place of Gods] - less than just two decades prior to the recovery of Cyrus Cylinder.  Anything written in cuneiform was novel, exotic and highly sought after by western museums.


The excavation of ancient sites was not always motivated by intense desire to study the ancient cultures in their own terms and learn about the history and cultures of mankind.  They were mostly motivated by the desire of the world-class museums to add to their antiquities and cuneiform collections.  


The original raiders of the ancient civilizations...


The foundation deposit, written in 539 BCE by the Babylonian scribes in Akkadian cuneiform language, was recovered in 1879 by Hormuzd Rassam, an Assyrian-British excavator - in shape of a clay cylinder, broken carelessly into two pieces during the dig.  


The bigger fragment of this cylinder, known as Fragment A, was 'acquired' by the British Museum in 1880.  Later the smaller fragment, Fragment B, became the property of the Yale University Museum.


Cyrus Cylinder



It was not until a few months later after receiving the broken clay cylinder that the British Museum scholars, armed with newly acquired key to the Babylonian language, realized that the humble broken piece of clay -  probably a foundation deposit - had recorded the deeds of no other than Great Kuruš II, the Great King who had founded the first Empire of the Persians.


Discovery of Cyrus Cylinder was further a boon to the Biblical Archaeology.  The cylinder became material evidence to the historical existence of 'Cyrus the Persian' and fall of Babylon that was mentioned in Hebrew Bible.  It confirmed that the Judeans were one of the captive people who were returned to their homelands by Great Kuruš.


Well, this accidental recovery was indeed the most fortunate find of a lifetime!  British Museum scholars must have been dancing under the dome of the beautifully redesigned museum. 


The scholars at the Yale Museum were not that fortunate.  Having acquired the smaller broken clay piece, probably as a part of a larger lot, probably remained unaware of the connection of their piece to the bigger piece at the British Museum until much later. 


Such is life.


We can imagine the piece in the possession of the British Museum was promptly dusted off and the cuneiform markings were meticulously recorded.  The clay cylinder was put under a glass cover and exhibited proudly in the 'Oriental' section of the British Museum.  A display note read: "Cyrus Cylinder".


Many may remember 1971 as the year of the celebration of the 2,500 Anniversary of the Persian Empire and the lavish royal tents spread across the highland of Pârsâ, hosting the royals, heads of states and dignitaries from many countries. 


But only a few might remember the smaller celebration in the British Museum where both fragments of the Cyrus Cylinder were reunited: Yale Fragment B (lines 36 to 45), joined British Museum's Fragment A (lines 1-35): a match made in clay heaven. 


Cyrus Cylinder was now whole or as whole as it was ever going to get. 


The originals were housed at the British Museum in London.  A replica was made and gifted to the United Nations in New York.


When the translation of Fragment B finally became available in 1975, it positively identified the Cyrus Cylinder as a dedicatory foundation tablet written in traditional Akkadian formulae.


So, after all those years, Cyrus Cylinder finally belonged to a long tradition of writing and burying tablets of clay, gold or silver in the foundations of palaces and temples and walls... it was to leave an account of the great deeds of one king for the great gods and the future kings who would come upon the foundation tablet in due course of mending an old palace or a decaying temple or a ruined wall: 


"This is what I have done.  Remember me.  Do not forget me."



Etched on Clay...


What is written on Cyrus Cylinder?


First 3 lines are badly broken.


Cyrus Cylinder then continues by establishing how Nabű-nâ'id, the previous Babylonian King, has offended Bęl Marduk.  The great patron god of Babylon in turn looks for a virtuous replacement.  Bęl Marduk takes the hand of Kuruš, King of Anšan, calls him by his name and gives him victory over the black-headed people, the Babylonians.  Great Kuruš enters Šuanna [Babylon] without a battle and saves Babylonians from oppression (lines 4-19).


Then Great Kuruš himself presents his claim to rightful kingship of Babylon and the world, as a king from a long line of Kings of Anšan, providing the only surviving source on his royal lineage.  The great gods of Babylon rejoice in his kingship (lines 20-22). 


Great Kuruš acts as a proper Babylonian King, piously returning all other great gods to their temples and all the captive people to their lands.  His royal army marches peacefully through Babylon.  The whole of Sumer and Akkad has nothing to fear.  All the kings who sit on thrones, from all parts of the world, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea... all the kings of Ammuru [west of Babylon], who dwell in tents, bring him tributes and acknowledge his sovereignty over them.  Great Kuruš starts to rebuild Babylon (lines 23-34 and 37-42). 


Great Kuruš prays for himself and his eldest son and heir, Kambujiyâ (lines 34-35). 


All lands are at peace again (line 36).


Great Kuruš finds a clay foundation tablet of Aššur-bâni-apli... (line 43).


Line 44 is missing.


Last line is: ... [... for] ever (line 45).


Maybe we can imagine that during the course of restoration of Dur Imgur Enlîl, the Great Wall of Babylon, an old clay foundation tablet from Ashurbanipal (Akkadian Aššur-bâni-apli, 669-630 BCE), the Assyrian King, was found and brought to Great Kuruš. 


Another foundation cylinder was routinely prepared by the Babylonian scribes who were now under the command of the Great King:  A message from Great Kuruš to the next king, maybe even his own royal son and heir, who was going to do his kingly duty and repair the Great Wall of Babylon when needed.


Some historians have interpreted the reference to Ashurbanipal as a sign of Great Kuruš casting himself in the manner of the Assyrian King, hence dispelling any notion that the Persian Emperor presented himself in a new light of imperial governance and tolerance.  But with a full line 44 missing and only a handful of cuneiform markings and words readable from the fragmentary lines before and after, it is not clear what the reference to the Assyrian King really could have meant.


Here is the latest translation of line 43 of Cyrus Cylinder:


I s[aw within it] an inscription of Aššur-bâni-apli, a king who preceded me...


Arukku, eldest son of King Kuruš I, grandfather of Great Kuruš was sent as a hostage to Ashurbanipal's court, after the Assyrian King had devastated the Kingdom of the Elamites in 646 BCE, over hundred years earlier.  The young royal son was never heard from again. 


The Assyrian King had bragged that he had turned Elam into a wilderness, covered the lands with salt, and dragged not only people as slaves back to Assyria but the bones of long dead Elamite kings.


Was Great Kuruš perhaps thinking that he had finally avenged the innocent blood of a young uncle?  Or revenged the Elamites who were so closely tied to the people of Anšan?


Or maybe it was just a factual statement about having recovered an older foundation deposit that allowed new restoration to take place according to long-standing Babylonian traditions.


Here is something the Assyrian King said about himself that has survived on a clay tablet:


"I am Aššur-bâni-apli, King of Assyria.  After I made an offering for the goddess Šatin and celebrated the festival of Akîtu... with the severed head of Te-umman, King of Elam-tu whom Ištar, My Lady, had given into my hand, I made my entry into Arba-ilu with jubilation."


When Ashurbanipal entered the City of Arbela, he was displaying the decaying head of the Elamite King, Tepti-Humban-Inšušinak [Akkadian Te-umman] - his enemy fallen in battle.  


Great Kuruš, however, spoke of a peaceful bloodless imperial entry into Babylon - a harbinger of peace amidst public celebration.  No severed head of a defeated Babylonian king on display to horrify the new subjects of the Empire. 


The two monarchs do not seem to have had much in common.  Do they?


Great Kuruš and all the hands that bricked and mortared the legendary Great Wall of Babylon must have either done such an incredible job that the great wall did not need any repairs for centuries until Babylon was buried under sands of time and forgotten.  Or maybe those future kings, who came after, left the Cyrus Cylinder where it was buried without disturbing it - a sign of royal respect.


Whatever the case might have been, the Cyrus Cylinder remained buried for over twenty two centuries.  No one even knew of its existence or was looking for it.


While in 1880s the knowledge of the Akkadian language was less than two decades old, today the inflective language of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians has become better known to linguists and philologers. 


The transliteration and translation of Cyrus Cylinder, first published in 1880, has gone through a number of revisions.


The latest English translation of Cyrus Cylinder [2009] by Dr. Irving Finkel, who is the British Museum's curator in charge of cuneiform inscriptions on clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, is provided on the website of the British Museum. 


A short physical description [length 22.5 cm, roughly 9 inches] and the current view of the British Museum about the historical value of Cyrus Cylinder are also provided.


From British Museum Website:


"A declaration of good kingship


This clay cylinder is inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform with an account by Cyrus, king of Persia (559-530 BC) of his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC and capture of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king.


Cyrus claims to have achieved this with the aid of Marduk, the god of Babylon. He then describes measures of relief he brought to the inhabitants of the city, and tells how he returned a number of images of gods, which Nabonidus had collected in Babylon, to their proper temples throughout Mesopotamia and western Iran. At the same time he arranged for the restoration of these temples, and organized the return to their homelands of a number of people who had been held in Babylonia by the Babylonian kings. Although the Jews are not mentioned in this document, their return to Palestine following their deportation by Nebuchadnezzar II, was part of this policy.


This cylinder has sometimes been described as the 'first charter of human rights', but it in fact reflects a long tradition in Mesopotamia where, from as early as the third millennium BC, kings began their reigns with declarations of reforms."


Not much else the British Museum could really say about their magnificent holding, other than a transliterated and translated record of what is etched on the Cyrus Cylinder. 


Unlike the Achaemenid Administrative Archives, the pride of the place in Room 52: Ancient Iran, in British Museum is a historical object without context.


While Achaemenid Administrative Archives were found during a scientific excavation in 1933 by the archaeologists from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute legally excavating in Pârsâ, Cyrus Cylinder was found during a highly questionable dig.


Findspot was not recorded.  So, the priceless cylinder became a historical object without archaeological context that could have tied it to its proper time and place in history and given it its 'story'. 


No one really knows where, when and how Cyrus Cylinder was found.  It could have been found in the buried ruins of the Great Wall of Babylon or maybe somewhere in E'sagila, the Temple of Bęl Marduk, great god of Babylon. 


All we know with some degree of certainty is that the historical clay cylinder was damaged during the excavation and a chunk of it was unknowingly broken off. 


We can somewhat imagine poor native workers laboring under hot Babylonian sun, digging up ancient sites with sharp shovels, tossing whatever they found into a crate and shipping it off to western museums, unknowingly handing over the splendid symbols of their own ancient cultural identity to be put on display, forever removing such objects from the reach of their rightful cultural owners. 


Even today, boxes and boxes full of ancient cuneiform tablets and artifacts are, no doubt, turning into dust in the basements of world museums, waiting to be read and deciphered, catalogued and published.


A genuine nightmare and heartbreak for any true scholar of the Achaemenid history who could have used the Cyrus Cylinder as a key to unlock some of the hidden mysteries of the imperial Persian Achaemenids.


We wonder what else could have been destroyed by the same mindless digging in search of ancient buried treasures by the same sharp shovels that irreversibly damaged and broke the Cyrus Cylinder.


Unfortunately, we would never know.



Writing on the wall...


So, what does it all mean?


Is Cyrus Cylinder a ancient declaration of human rights?  Or an elaborate piece of Persian political propaganda after the fall of Babylon?  Or is it just that: a clay foundation tablet, written by Babylonian scribes, who produced a typical royal declaration with the knowledge of previous Assyrian and Babylonian kings?  A piece that has miraculously survived the ravages of time.


Well, let's look at something else first.




When the fingers of a hand appeared in the drinking feast of Bęl-šar-uşur [Belshazzar], royal son and regent of Nabű-nâ'id, King of Babylon, and began writing on the wall, the prince went pale, terrified.  He promised:


"Whoever can read this writing and tell me its interpretation shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around his neck, and rank third in the kingdom."


All the wise men of Babylon entered, but none could read the words to interpret for the royal prince.


In the Biblical Book of Daniel (5:1-31), it was not the appearance of the severed hand writing on a wall that was disturbing, but the inability of anyone at the royal court, including Bęl-šar-uşur himself to read the handwriting on the wall.  


Its implied symbolic meaning was:


"How could the heir to the royal throne hold a kingdom within his grasp when he was not able to read a divine message sent by all powerful god(s)?"


And this is exactly how it was interpreted by Daniel, an exiled Judean in the court of Babylon, when he was brought in to read the writing; an interpretation well within the Judean tradition, mostly critical of mortal kings and rulers.


While the words by themselves were no more than ordinary measures of Babylonian weights written in Aramaic:  Mene=minah, Tekel=shekel and Peres [singular of Parsin]=1/2 minah, this is how Daniel interpreted them:



God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.



You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.



Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.



According to the Book of Daniel, on that very night, Bęl-šar-uşur was assassinated.  And presumably Babylon fell into the hands of Great Kuruš soon afterward.


While the Biblical accounts in the Book of Daniel and similar books were not exactly historical, they were understood by their contemporaries in the context of time and place as demonstration of the power of a heavenly all-knowing God over the power of a worldly ignorant king.


Such could very well be the case with the interpretation of the imperial inscription on the Cyrus Cylinder.


Like all inflective languages, interpretation of Cyrus Cylinder lies not only in the strict translation and transliteration of the words, but more importantly in the cultural context within which the 'document' was written.  


Moreover, the importance of the strong oral traditions of the ancient Persians and Babylonians cannot be underestimated.  The 'message' and 'meaning' of Cyrus Cylinder is beyond the written text.


Eminent scholars who think of Cyrus Cylinder as just another 'typical' Babylonian foundation tablet seem to forget that:

Persians were not Babylonians.

'Asians' are not an undifferentiated mass of people.


So, while Cyrus Cylinder is a clay foundation deposit, written in traditional Babylonian formulae, its interpretation remains in the eye of the beholder.


As Thomas Young, one of the British scholars working on deciphering the Rosetta Stone in 19th century said in frustration:  


"The key is turned in the lock, but the door can never be opened."


Young recognized that the path to deciphering ancient texts and understanding ancient cultures was not easy and unambiguous.  


The ability to transliterate and translate does not necessary lead to a meaningful interpretation.


Knowledge does not necessarily lead to insight.


While Cyrus Cylinder is written in Akkadian according to Babylonian formulae, there is simply no way of knowing 'what' exactly Great Kuruš had intended to 'communicate' with this inscription and to whom?


Those who are familiar with Babylonian corpus of documents know well that Babylonian scribes wrote documents based on formulae that they had memorized since childhood or had learned as court or temple scribes.  


So, is it not possible that the Akkadian language of the Babylonians could not simply render the political and theological concepts of the Persians at the beginning of the Persian authority in Babylon and the proper shorthand signs had to be developed later?


As noted by Dr. Matthew Stolper, one of the world's leading experts in late Babylonian historical and legal texts and the custodian of the Achaemenid Administrative Archives at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute, in the Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, the Akkadian of the imperial Achaemenid inscriptions is not quite the language of Babylonian royal inscription, literature and scholarship - it has many peculiarities of form, syntax, vocabulary and style.  Even Cyrus Cylinder, written by Babylonian scribes in Akkadian following Babylonian models contains grammatical anomalies.


Maybe an account of the 'good deeds' of the new king was rendered in proper Babylonian format by Babylonian scribes who probably had no idea how else to 'record' the new king's imperial words, even with the best of intentions.


The cuneiform language of Âryâ [Old Persian meaning Noble, Iranian] was a royal language that belonged to the Indo-European family of languages.  Most philologers believe Âryâ to have been 'invented' by the imperial Achaemenids to express their political views.  


But while some scholars believe that Âryâ was an artificial language strictly used for imperial inscriptions that was not spoken but written and drew from several Iranian dialects, discovery of an ordinary administrative fragment written in imperial Âryâ in the clay piles of the Achaemenid Administrative Archives casts doubts on this speculation.  There are still thousands and thousands of clay tablets and fragments in the Achaemenid Administrative Archives that need to be read and translated.  Hopefully, we could find more Âryâ fragments.


Perhaps Âryâ language was a real language that was used like all other official languages of the Persian Empire, albeit more sparingly.  Maybe the evidence sadly perished in fire like all other imperial records.


But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


While often credited to Great Dâriuš, without any definite evidence, it is equally likely that the 'invention' of Âryâ could have dated back to Great Kuruš, when he realized that the Akkadian language, a Semitic language, was inadequate in articulating Persian political and theological concepts - a foresight that benefited Great Dâriuš later. 


Curiously enough, the only 5 known logograms of Âryâ are: Ahuramazdâ, God, King, Earth and Country.


Later imperial Achaemenid inscriptions of Great Dâriuš in Âryâ were declarations of the timeless order of the world created by Ahuramazdâ, who created the Persian Great Kings to maintain this divine order.


A more meaningful interpretation of Cyrus Cylinder would ultimately rest on a better understanding of Mazdaism (Zoroastrianism), believed by some Mazdean scholars to have been the religion of Great Kuruš and the Persian Achaemenids, who believed in:  


"Man follows his own moral convictions and earns his own heaven and hell by his own good and evil deeds."


Until then, it seems that the Cyrus Cylinder is literally what it is:


A source of immense national pride to the Iranians everywhere,

and a reaffirmation of the favorable contemporary accounts of the reign of Great Kuruš

by the subjects and enemies of the imperial Persian Achaemenids.


It is the physical symbol of the start of the Persian power and splendor.




From Great Kuruš to Cyrus the Great...


Well, it is impossible to uncover and read everything that has been written about Great Kuruš over a period of nearly 25 centuries.  But it is interesting to finger through the pages of history books and see how his historical image was developed during his time and later evolved throughout the ages.  


Ancient Greeks were present in the imperial court of the Achaemenid Great Kings since mid 500 BCE and no doubt had a greater understanding of the Persian Empire than openly acknowledged.  By the 4th century BCE, reportedly there were as many as 20,000 Greek mercenaries in the service of the Persian Great Kings.  But unfortunately no contemporary accounts have survived, except for bits and pieces in later accounts of Hellenic historians.


The first known narrative account of Great Kuruš is as preserved in Histories [Historię meaning inquires]  by Herodotus [485-425 BCE].


Some say Herodotus was the 'father of history'.  Others call him the 'father of lies'. 


In antiquities, he was admired for the art of storytelling.


We don't know much about Herodotus.  He was from Halicarnassus, Bodrum in modern Turkey, which was a part of the Persian Empire at the time and for some reason he either left voluntarily or was forced to leave his hometown by the Persian satrap.  They say he traveled here and there.  But exactly where and when is uncertain.  According to the 10th century Byzantine Suidas Lexicon, Herodotus had a brother named Theodorus.  


Thucydides [460-395 BCE], the Athenian general and historian, who wrote: History of The Peloponnesian War, one of the finest military histories of the period, did not care much for Herodotus.


Now while history of mankind did not start with the Histories of Herodotus, historiography probably did: not what happened, but what people thought had happened and wrote a narrative account of it.  With only limited access to low-level officials in the fringes of the Persian Empire, if any, generations after actual events had long faded even from the best of memories, 'why' was ignored in favor of superficial 'how' by the Hellenic writers.


Narrative history as we know it today is the result of the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians and how the Hellenic writers, starting with Herodotus, wrote their own versions of it.  Historical romance: more fiction than fact.  Maybe just plain wishful thinking.


With their vast Empire, covering so many lands and so many people, the Great Kings could not, however, have given as much thought to the provincial Greeks as the ancient Hellenic writers seem to have imagined. 


Curiously enough Herodotus himself hinted at this in Histories (Book 1:134):


"After their own nation [the Persians] hold their nearest neighbors most in honor, then the nearest but one - and so on, their respect decreasing as the distance grows, and the most remote being the most despised."


However, since most of the information about Great Kuruš and the early part of the Persian Empire [about 80 years, roughly from 559 to 479 BCE] are derived from Histories, Herodotus is a source that cannot be ignored, even though his hostile bias toward the Persians is well attested to.  But every line must be carefully weighed and measured for grains of truth.


Narrative structure of Histories seems to have a close affinity with the known Greek literature of his time:  a literary account for the purpose of personal glory set within a very specific Greek context, where any extraordinary success and wealth was sure to bring on the wrath of jealous vengeful Greek gods. 


The endless 'digressions' in Histories is a well-known structure common to the Persian literature of the later periods, where smaller stories are woven within the frame of a larger story, even though it was poorly executed by Herodotus.


He glossed over complexities of major wars to form the vast Persian Empire and the meddlesome interference of the Greeks with the Persian subjects in favor of telling irrelevant tales and glorifying a few minor military victories on the western fringes of the Persian Empire.


Herodotus wrote that he knew the name of all the '300' Spartans who had died at the Battle at Hot Gates [Thermopylae], but curiously enough he thought the old pass ran from north to south. Was he ever there?  Or to many other places he had written about?  Or was it pure nationalistic romance?  Or did the later Hellenic or medieval editors and translators of Histories corrupt his original document?


The most ancient medieval manuscript of Histories was produced in the 10th century mixing Attic and Ionic words.  It is highly likely that the original version was corrupted by ancient editors who changed the language to make the 'Book' easier to read.  Division of Histories to 9 books after 9 muses can also be attributed to the Librarians at the royal Library of Alexandria in 3rd or 2nd BCE.


The version of Histories we have today is mostly embellished with typical Greek formulaic pairing of opposites: a heroic rise to power followed by ignoble fall due to 'hubris', Greek word for divine retribution.  


What captured the imagination of the ancient Greeks and the later Roman writers was not the spectacular rise of such an unprecedented world ruler, but the bloody fall of a greedy barbarian king: the 'story' of the violent death of Great Kuruš at the hands of the 'fictional' Tomyris, defending her lands and revenging her dead son.  It was a 'story' that later found its way into western arts and crafts: in paintings and tapestries of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period.  


Here is what Herodotus wrote in Histories [Book 1:201-214] compiled from various translations:


"After Cyrus conquers the Babylon, he covets the subjugation of Massagetai, perhaps a Scythian tribe on the eastern fringes of the Persian Empire. 


At the time, the Massagetai were ruled by a woman named Tomyris, whose husband had died and she was now their ruler.  Cyrus sends a message to her pretending courtship and claiming that he wants her to be his wife. 


An offer that Tomyris refuses - perhaps the King of the World did not suite a 'queen' whose tribe  reportedly [by Herodotus] shared their women in common and sacrificed their elderly together with some sheep, stewed their flesh and feasted on it, thinking this was the most blessed way to end one's life. 


'Jilted' Cyrus builds a bridge over the River Araxes, crosses into the Massagetai territory and begins overt hostilities.  He and the best of this army march some distance back toward Araxes, leaving behind the sick and weak warriors - a strategy recommended by Croesus, the former Lydian King now in Cyrus' service, to lure the enemy into a trap.  These Persians left behind are attacked by one third of the Massagetaian army, and although they defend themselves, they are all massacred. 


After the Massagetai has finished killing, they start eating, drinking and feasting on Persian provisions until they all pass out drunk. 


Cyrus and the Persians returning to camp attack the murderous drunkards.  They kill some and capture many more, among them the son of Tomyris, a general of the Massagetai. 


Tomyris sends a message to Cyrus to return her son and even though Cyrus has 'unjustly' wreaked damage on one third of her army, he could leave her lands unharmed. 


An offer Cyrus ignores.


When the son of Tomyris finally sobers up and realizes his predicament, he begs to be released from his fetters.  Cyrus agrees and as soon the young Massagetai general is free, he somehow kills himself. 


Tomyris gathers her army and attacks Cyrus.  They fight hard.  The Massagetai prevails and many Persians are killed, including Cyrus, ending his imperial reign of thirty years less one (29 years). 


But Tomyris is not done yet.  She fills a wineskin with human blood and searches high and low on the battlefield for the body of Cyrus among the dead.  When she finds him, she thrusts his head into the wineskin and tells him to quench his thirst for blood."


Herodotus wrote: "Of the many stories told about the death of Cyrus, this account seems to me to be the most credible version."




Does it not sound more like another moralizing Hellenic 'story' about the Persians and women - both considered a serious threat to the masculine world of the 5th century BCE Greeks?  A 'Persian' king who greedily covets the lands of others and a 'woman' who savagely desecrates the bodies of the fallen male enemies in battle with outmost brutality and cruelty?  


It was Herodotus himself who wrote: "... no Persian ever thought himself worthy to be compared with Cyrus."  [Book 3:160]


If so, shouldn't we expect to have heard of the Persians avenging the death of Great Kuruš under such bizarre and bloody circumstances?  A beloved and revered Emperor who had brought most of the known world under the sway of the Persians and had made them Masters of Asia?


But there is nothing mentioned in Histories and no such records found yet in Babylonian clay tablets and fragments still waiting to be deciphered. 


Nothing mentioned in the Holy Bible either.


Wouldn't the horrific death of 'God's anointed' have merited a small foot print in the Biblical Books of Isaiah or Ezra or other Judean prophets?


With imagined and invented stories about cannibalism, incest, castration, wickedness, hubris, and what not, Herodotus, like so many like him throughout the recorded 'history', put his penmanship in the age-old service of dehumanizing the enemy so the killing of the innocent could be justified and vindicated.


Histories starts and ends with Great Kuruš.  The ending is rather abrupt with an anecdote from Great Kuruš, after a story about the Persian governor of Sestos, a small port in Hellespont.  "The Athenians... led him [Persian governor] to the hill overlooking the city of Madytos.  There they fastened him to a wooden plank, and hung him up on it, and then they stoned his son to death before his very eyes."  [Book 9:120]  One wonders how 'civilized' these Athenians were.  


Herodotus is believed to have been alive during the early years of the Peloponnesian War [431-404 BCE]. 


No matter what he had written about the Persians, by the time of his death, the Persian Empire was not only not destroyed, it was stronger and more splendid than ever, while the Athenians and Spartans and their allies were arming to engage in one of the bloodiest and longest civil wars of their history. 


Maybe Histories was just a desperate attempt to persuade the Athenians and Spartans to fight the Persians, a foreign enemy, instead of turning their bloody swords on each other.


Herodotus said: "... for it would seem to be easier to deceive and impose upon a whole throng of people than to do so to just one individual..." [Book 5:97.2]


Interestingly enough, all the 'hidden' messages of eternal conflict between east and west in Histories were not detected by ancient historians, but by the late 19th century western classical historians.   


A bit of Histories to reflect on.


Apparently Kambujiyâ II peacefully succeeded his father to the imperial throne of the Achaemenids.  Nothing connects him to a campaign in Central Asia where his father seems to have met his 'bloody' end.  But from the imperial inscriptions of Great Dâriuš at Bagastâna, we know that this eastern territory of the Empire was firmly in the hands of the imperial Achaemenids eight years later with Persian satraps governing the region.


The first known account conflicting with Herodotus surfaced in Kyropaideia [Cyropaedia - Education of Cyrus], written by the pro-Spartan Athenian mercenary, Xenophon, the contemporary of the Younger Kuruš [Cyrus the Younger] in the 5th century BCE


Kyropaideia was a literary work, meant as a model for educating good rulers.  Great Kuruš, the good king, was son of Cambyses, the King of Persians, from tribe of Persidae who were named after Perseus, son of Greek god Zeus and mortal Danaë.  Great Kuruš died of old age in bed after a long and typically moralizing Athenian speech.  "When he was asleep, he had a vision telling him to prepare to die.  He immediately got out of bed, sacrificed to Zeus, gave a very long speech, gave his right hand to everyone, covered himself, and so died."  His royal sons, the bad kings, immediately set out to destroy the Persian Empire through luxury and decadence.


Although the authorship of the last chapter of Kyropaideia is in dispute, it reflects both the general attitude of the contemporary Greeks about the Persians, as well as the development of a more complex web of relationships between them.  While Persian Achaemenid Queens were seen by the misogynist Greeks as the real powers behind weak Great Kings, by then the armies of Greek mercenaries were in the service of the Great Kings and contenders to the Persian throne.  Apparently there were no high-minded Hellenic ideals when it came to accepting the Persian gold. 


Xenophon, however, could have chosen a historical or a contemporary Athenian or Spartan to idealize as the best model for a 'perfect ruler'.  He chose Great Kuruš, a Persian. 




Even to a worldly pro-Spartan Athenian commander, a Persian Great King was still the 'Perfect Ruler'.  The 'Best' - possessing the same virtues that Xenophon claimed for himself.


Persica, the next known 'historical' account conflicting with both Herodotus and Xenophon about Great Kuruš was written by Ctesias, a Greek doctor serving in the imperial court of Artakhšaçâ [Artaxerxes II, 404-359].  Persica was a fanciful tale of eunuchs, Persian palace intrigues, and powerful Achaemenid queens who enjoyed influence with the Great Kings:  sort of a story that to the Greeks who had no regards for women and the mere mention of a woman was scandalous, was a sure sign of moral decay at the Achaemenid court.


After all what sort of men allowed women to interfere with the political affairs of an empire?


Ctesias wrote that the father of Great Kuruš was a bandit and his mother was a goat herder.  He wrote that when Great Kuruš campaigned in the unknown Land of Derbicae, the Persian cavalry was put to flight by elephants and the King fell off his horse.  An Indian drove a javelin below his hip joint into the upper part of his thigh.  On his death bed, Great Kuruš bequeathed the imperial throne on his elder son and appointed his younger son to rule over the Bactrians and urged them both to obey their mother in all things.  According to Ctesias, three days later, Great Kuruš died of his wound, having ruled for some 30 years.


Blinded by greed for glory and gold, the Macedonian Alexander and his deadly army arrived in mid 4th century BCE.  But unlike the previous Greeks and Spartans, they had not come to seek the golden favor of the Great King, but to steal the Persian gold and call themselves legitimate heirs to the Achaemenids.


In the 7th century, some ten centuries after the bloody Macedonian invasion of Persia, Muslim Arab armies brought the next wave of devastation to the Persians.  


Nearly three centuries later, the incomparable Ferdowsî revived the Persian language [New Persian: Farsi].  He recorded all the Persian history that was still remembered in astonishing 55,000 double verses in the Epic of Shâh Nâmeh, the Book of Kings:  A labor of love that took some thirty years to compose, divided into 3 sections of mythical, legendary and historical periods.  


While the memory of the Sassanid Emperors had survived the bloody swords of invading Arabs, the memories of Great Kuruš and the Persian Achaemenids, already over thirteen centuries old, had by then faded into myths and legends.  


The ruins at Pârsâ had become known as the seat of the mythical King Jamšid, as Takht-e-Jamshid.  Tomb of Great Kuruš in Pasargadae was now known as the Tomb of the Mother of Sulaiman, King Solomon of the Hebrew Bible. The rock-cut tombs of Great Dâriuš and his descendants had become Nagh'sh-e Rustam, after Rustam, the legendary hero of Shâh Nâmeh.


The Tomb of Great Kuruš was turned into a mosque in the 13th century.


Almost all who passed through the famed ruins of Pârsâ carved their own names into the legacy of Achaemenids, not knowing the wealth and wonder that had been destroyed by the their own hands of ignorance and greed.


Lizards ran where lions used to roam...


European visitors of the 14th centuries and later were the first ones who correctly identified the ruined palaces of the Persian Achaemenids at Pârsâ based on the writings of the ancient Hellenic historians.  Cuneiform writings were copied and chunks of still remaining stone monuments were broken off and hauled back to Europe to decorate private homes with 'artifacts' from exotic Persia.


In 1498, Giovanni Nanni da Viterbo, known as Annius of Viterbo, wrote Antiquitatum variarum volumina XVII cum commentariis (Antiquities) in Rome, producing a simplified forged history of ancient Persia, where Bible and ancient history were aligned.  While the nature of his dubious invention was commonly known, it became highly influential because it fitted well with the Biblical history - it was not true, but it could have been.


Kyropaideia of Xenophon was rediscovered by the Italians of the 15th century who ignored the fact that Great Kuruš was a Persian King.  In the cunning hands of Machiavelli, Great Kuruš became Cyrus, one of the princes in il Principe who had formed a state, using wars to keep soldiers and subjects happy and looting to be generous like Caesar and Alexander.  


Within a century, Cyrus the Great emerged as the ideal prince:  a model for contemporary European rulers. 


American Revolution and the loss of the colonial America, French revolution and the political realities of the 18th century Europe created a new interest in the history of ancient Greeks to explain the decline of the imperialistic colonialism and predict the future based on past history.  


Histories and Kyropaideia were translated again to English and French.


At first, Great Kuruš and the Persians received a favorable treatment, where Athenians became an example of political disorder and civil lawlessness.  In one hand Great Kuruš was a wise king; in the other was the failed Athenian democracy - the good kings of Europe would prevail over the waves of misguided revolutionaries.


William Mitford, a British historian of mid 18th century, who wrote History of Greece in 10 volumes, produced a more balanced view of the Persian Empire.  He was convinced that a written account by the Persians had existed at one time.  He regarded Histories as a source which selected history rather than writing it according to objective parameters: stories chosen by Herodotus were not to be taken as true stories that reported actual historical events.


But Great Kuruš and the Persian Achaemenids were 'Asians' at a time when secular colonization of Asia had replaced the failed religious crusades of the Middle Ages and a successful 'European' alternative had to be found.


So, the favorable tide quickly turned by the poison pen of John Gillies, the royal historiographer of Scotland in late 18th century, who found in ruthless aggression of 6th century BCE Philip of Macedon the characteristics that was needed for an 18th century European monarch.  In his History of Greece, translated into French and German, he wrote: "Persians were weak people without a culture of their own, incapable of holding political and military power... Persian army was like cattle... Zoroaster's religion was the extravagant doctrine of two principles... with innumerable absurd ceremonies... the Persians had been continuously degenerating from the virtues which characterize a poor and warlike nation..."


Well... imagine all this insight just from reading Herodotus and Xenophon in English.


Once the Macedonian Philip and Alexander were seen as the 'right' kind of kings for the Europe of the 18th century, then all their enemies became the 'wrong' kind of rulers: Persia and all of Asia were the kind of kingdoms that deserved to be destroyed in the hands of Alexander.  


The 'Oriental' Asia was everything that 'Occidental' Europe was not: rich, mystical, sensual and weak, where 'Classical' Europe was intellectual, strong, virtuous, and warlike.  


Colonization and plunder of the rest of the world by the Europeans was now sanctified by ancient history.


Soon, ancient Persia became just another 'Oriental Monarchy', part of a mysterious intriguing East, with perfumed secluded sensuous harems filled with half-naked women for the pleasure of Muslim rulers.


Persian Achaemenids became even more 'Oriental' than the Turkish Ottoman Empire.


Sadly, it was not until the 19th century when the true memory of Great Kuruš and the Persian Achaemenids was restored to the Persians themselves during the rule of Qajar [Ghajar] Dynasty.


In 1867, George Rawlinson, brother of Sir Henry Rawlinson, wrote in Fifth Oriental Monarchy about ancient Persia:


"The Persians seem, certainly, to have been quick and lively, keen-witted, capable of repartee, ingenious, and, for Orientals, farsighted... [but] we cannot justly ascribe to them any high degree of intellectual excellence... A want of seriousness, a want of reality, and, again, a want of depth, characterizes the poetry of Persia, whose bards do not touch the chords which rouse what is noblest and highest in our nature..."


Well, it seems Persians were not farsighted enough to be British.  


One wonders what kind of a chord Ferdowsî, 'the Persian bard', roused in the noble British, when he wrote centuries earlier:


"If it is not in Iran, let myself not be.  Calamity will it be if Iran is destroyed...

Well said the poet that to die with honor, is far better than to live under victorious foe."


But in all fairness, it is impossible to translate Persian poetry into English language while preserving its splendor, complexity, fullness and beauty.


Later, the strategic location of Persia dictated a more pragmatic British policy.  


In 1892, Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy to India, wrote in Persia and the Persian Question:


"If Persia had no other claim to respect, at least a continuous national history for 2,500 is a distinction

which a few countries can exhibit."


In 1908 oil was discovered by the British in the old territory of Elamites around Susa, modern Khuzestân and the interest of the world in Persia took an entirely new dimension.  And the rest is history.


In 1935, change of 'Persia' to 'Iran' by the Pahlavi Dynasty broke the western association of the modern country with her rich history.


In 1971, Cyrus Cylinder became the official symbol of the 2,500 Years Celebration of Iranian Monarchy, when during royal pomp, Muhammad Reza Shah, the last King of the Pahlavi Dynasty linked his rule directly to Great Kuruš and the imperial Achaemenids.


When the Iranian revolutionary fire raged and burned an ancient monarchy in 1979, flames engulfed the legacy of Great Kuruš and Cyrus Cylinder in controversy.


King of the four quarters of the world...


Great Kuruš said:


a-na-ku mKu-ra-âš


I am Kuruš

LUGAL kiš-šat


King of the world



Great King


LUGAL dan-nu


Powerful King




King of Babylon


LUGAL KURšu-me-ri ű ak-ka-di-i


King of Sumer and Akkad


LUGAL kib-ra-a-ti er-bę-et-ti


King of the four quarters of the world



And it was so written on the foundation tablet, 'Cyrus Cylinder' and was perhaps deposited in the foundation of the Great Wall of Babylon. 


But these titles were not empty claims, or just the typical titles of a new Babylonian King.  


Great Kuruš did not merely rule from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, from Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf, the age-old 'World' as the Assyrian and Babylonian Kings used to claim to their names, but over most of the known world less Egypt... the four quarters of the world.


Great Kuruš was truly 'The King of the World'.  


His proclamation was not propaganda but a factual declaration about the absoluteness of his sheer imperial power.


An empire so vast and a Great King so powerful had not existed in the known history before.


Contemporary Greeks referred to the Persian Achaemenid Great Kings simply as 'The King'.  And everyone knew who was meant by them.


It was during the formation of the vast Persian Achaemenid Empire that people began to realize the vastness of the world they lived in:  the very first global empire connected by royal roads, royal messengers carrying mail, complex imperial administration, uniform taxes, fixed weights and measures, private banking, a gold royal currency preferred even by the Greeks for its worth, purity and stability, trade and diplomacy using official languages of the Empire.  And a safe haven for Greek exiles, accepted with open arms and generously provided for by imperial decree.


Benevolence of Great Kuruš and his desire for peace were perhaps signs of imperial Persian confidence rooted in fundamental Mazdean belief that the perfect order of the world was:


"Truth not Lie.  Peace not War."


The Achaemenid Empire was not an ideal political government and Great Kuruš and the Achaemenid Great Kings were above all, human.  


What set the imperial Persian Achaemenids apart from all other contemporary rulers, was their ability to grasp the global nature and the vast dimensions of their empire and their profound insight that by the virtue of Mazdean freedom of choice, people left to their own gods, customs and habits, were better subjects of the immense Persian Empire.


Imperial Persian Achaemenids knew a lasting powerful empire could not be forged by force alone.  


Unlike the Assyrians, Babylonians and Egyptians before them and Macedonian, Romans, Arabs and all the rest who came after them, the imperial Achaemenid Persians never attempted to force their subjects to forsake the gods of their fathers and live the 'Persian way of life'.


The world is indeed greatly indebted to Great Kuruš and the Persian Achaemenids...


To the splendid Great Kings of the four quarters of the world...




Love of Iran is written on the clay tablet of my heart. 


For some reason that I just cannot explain, I can hear Great Kuruš calling my name... to tell the stories of when the Persians ruled the world... with a golden pen dipped in an unspeakable pride in the Persians who sacrificed their own blood and submitted the sacred Pârsâ to the will of their Wise God and the fire of remembrance, without ever admitting defeat in the hands of hordes and waves of invading barbarians.


While clay will turn into dust and dust will scatter in the wind, love will remain...


Kuruš was the first Great King of my fathers.





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 Nâmeh.  Information about her first historical novel Roxana Romance: Rošanak Nâmeh is available at



"The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Used by permission.  All rights reserved."



Selected Sources


Achaemenid History VIII: Continuity and Change, edited by Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg, Amélie Kuhrt and Margaret Cool Root (Leiden: Nederlands Instituut Voor Het Nabije Oosten, 1994)


Asheri, David, Lloyd, Alan and Corcella, Aldo: A Commentary on Herodotus: Books I-IV, edited by Oswyn Murray and Alfonso Moreno with a contribution from Maria Brosius, translated by Barbara Graziosi, Matteo Rossetti, Carlotta Dus, and Vanessa Cazzato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)


Beaulieu, Paul-Alain: The Reign of Nabonidus: King of Babylon 556-539 B.C. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989)


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)


Brosius, Maria: Ancient Archives and Archival Traditions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)


Burns, A. B.: Persia and the Greeks: The Defense of the West, C. 546-478 B.C., second edition with a postscript by D. M. Lewis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984)


Burstein, Stanley Mayer: The Babyloniaca of Berossus (Malibu: Undena Publications, 1978)


Carter, Elizabeth & Stolper, Matthew: Elam: Surveys of Political History & Archaeology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984)


Ctesias: Persica by Ctesias of Cnidus, summarized by Photios, translated by J. H. Freese,


Curzon, George N.: Persia and the Persian Question, Vol. 2 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892)


Ferdowsi Toosi, Hakim Abol-Ghasem: Shâhnâmeh: The Persian Book of Kings, translated by Dick Davis (New York: Viking, 2006)


Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia, edited by John E. Curtis and Nigel Tallis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)


Frye, Richard N.: The Heritage of Persia (Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1963)


Grayson, Albert Kirk: Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2000) reprinted from 1975 J. J. Augustin edition


Holy Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (New York: Harper Bibles, 2007)


Judah and the Judeans in the Persian Period, edited by Oded Lipschits and Manfred Oeming (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006)



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


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


Parkinson, Richard: Cracking Codes: The Rosetta Stone and Decipherment, with contribution by W. Diffie, M. Fischer and R. S. Simpson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999)


Plutarch: Plutarch Lives, translated by John Dryden, edited with preface by Arthur Hugh Clough (New York: The Modern Library, 2001)


Schaudig, Hanspeter: Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros' des Großen samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstanddenen Tendenzschriften. Textausgabe und Grammatik (Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2001)


The Ancient Near East: Historical Sources in Translation, edited by Mark W. Chavalas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2006)


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


Van De Mieroop, Marc: Cuneiform Texts and the Writing of History (London: Routledge, 1999)


Xenophon: The Education of Cyrus, translated and annotated by Wayne Ambler (Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 2001)

... Payvand News - 03/19/09 ... --

comments powered by Disqus

Home | ArchiveContact | About |  Web Sites | Bookstore | Persian Calendar | twitter | facebook | RSS Feed

© Copyright 2009 NetNative (All Rights Reserved)