By A.J. Cave
Cyrus Rising: King(s) of the Four Quarters
Cyrus the Great (Kurush) entered the holy city of Babylon on 29 October 539 BCE and the world was never, ever the same.
All the great ancient kingdoms of the Near East-other than Egypt-were now ruled by one king: Cyrus. A first.
Cambyses (Kambujiya), royal son and successor of Cyrus, added Egypt to the Persian royal provinces, now spanning all three continents.
But the story of the rise of Cyrus (and the Persian Achaemenids) is more than idle curiosity of antiquarians about an ancient civilization. It is about revisiting the unique place of the Persians in world history, and in a sense, witnessing history in the making.
In 1884, the Englishman George Rawlinson, brother of Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, wrote in the preface to his book The Seven Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World:
The history of Antiquity requires from time to time to be rewritten. Historical knowledge continually extends, in part from the advance of critical science, which teaches us little by little the true value of ancient authors, but also, and more especially, from the new discoveries which the enterprise of travelers and the patient toil of students are continually bringing to light, whereby the stock of our information as to the condition of the ancient world receives constant augmentation.
And one of those times is now and one of those histories is the obscure (hi)story of the greater ancient Near East and the Persians.
Where else do we find such a tangled web of historical peoples and places coming together?
After the fall of the Persian Achaemenids, the historical spotlight shifted westward to the edges of the Mediterranean Sea-the “Sea at the Center of the Earth”.
The old stories of those imperial Persians passed into legends and their great warrior-kings and world conquerors lingered in corners of yellowing biblical and classical manuscripts.
Before Persia became the fabled land of legends and lost cities, it was not just the center of the world, it was (almost) all of the known world.
But Persians were not really forgotten. Their memory slept, slumbering like one of those lovely princesses in the fairy-tales, waiting to be awakened by a kiss.
That kiss came through the bliss of (recovering long lost) languages.
In the 19th century the civilized world was about 2,500 years old.
Cracking the codes of the forgotten cuneiform and hieroglyph scripts (using ancient trilingual royal inscriptions) added another 3,500 years or so.
The Persian Achaemenids, who were considered to be a scandal of ancient history, rising from obscure horse-borne nomads to become the absolute masters of the known Asia in the remarkable span of just one generation through a series of breathtaking military campaigns and conquests, were now just a part of a much older ancient Near Eastern world, and by some measure, the very tail-end of it.
History is more than a string of wars followed by more wars.
It is about what has made us who we are and why we do what we do.
Persians forever changed our knowledge of the ancient world and in the process they sprinkled the Water of Life on the very roots of the Cradle of Civilization.
About the author: A. J. Cave is an Iranian-American writer. A free digital copy of her latest piece titled: Cyrus Rising: King(s) of the Four Quarters Can be downloaded from here.
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