Cyrus the Great: Facts & Accomplishments

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  • 0:01 Cyrus the Great
  • 0:38 Accomplishments
  • 4:15 Cyrus' Legacy
  • 5:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn about Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Persian Empire. Explore the world and accomplishments of Cyrus, one of the most benevolent conquerors in the Ancient world. After the lesson, test yourself with a quiz.

Cyrus the Great

The Persians were part of a larger migratory group called the Iranians, who moved into modern Iran from southern Russia and central Europe around 1000 B.C.E. The Persians and other Iranian groups eventually formed tribal societies that began expanding their rule over local nomadic tribes. In 550 B.C.E. Cyrus the Great, the leader of the Persians, conquered the Medes and united the Iranian people under one ruler for the first time. Cyrus became the first king of the Persian Empire and went on to establish one of the largest empires in world.

Accomplishments of Cyrus the Great

After unifying the Persians under one ruler, Cyrus and his army set out to win control of the western portion of Iran. This section of Iran included several trade routes that crossed Iran and continued through Anatolia (modern western Turkey). In addition, Cyrus conquered the nomadic tribes who lived in the eastern section of Iran. With the perimeters of his territory secure and the income from the trade routes that he now controlled in western Iran, Cyrus and his generals expanded farther and farther into the lands that neighbored Persia.

Cyrus and his generals quickly conquered the kingdom of Lydia and Greek cities along the coast of Anatolia, thus gaining access to seaports on the Mediterranean. Unlike many conquerors, Cyrus was a gentle invader. When he conquered the kingdom of Lydia, Cyrus spared the life of the king, Croesus, and Croesus became one of Cyrus' most valued friends and advisers. Cyrus developed a reputation as a kind and merciful ruler to those that he conquered.

Map of Persian Empire, 490 B.C.E.
Map of Persian Empire, 490 B.C.E.

One of the major territories conquered by Cyrus was the Babylonian Kingdom. The Babylonians captured the city of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E. and forced all the Jewish inhabitants into exile in Babylon. This period of time is called the Babylonian Captivity. When the Jews learned that Cyrus and his army were sweeping towards the kingdom of Babylon, they welcomed them as liberators and assisted Cyrus' army in overthrowing the Babylonians.

In 538 B.C.E. Cyrus permitted approximately 40,000 Jewish exiles to return to their homes in Jerusalem and ended the Babylonian Captivity. Once they had returned to their homeland, Cyrus used the funds he had acquired in conquering Babylon to rebuild the sacred temple of the Jewish people.

After conquering the Babylonians, Cyrus issued one of the world's first human rights charters. A cylinder containing this charter was discovered in 1878 during an excavation of ancient Babylon. In this charter, Cyrus promised to treat all the inhabitants of Babylon and the other kingdoms he conquered with respect. He swore that he would allow all inhabitants of his empire to practice their own religious and social customs without persecution. Cyrus also promised to punish anyone who acted cruelly to the religious and social minorities of his kingdom. Cyrus forbade the seizure of farmer's lands and properties and made slavery of any kind illegal. Cyrus' commitment to fair and equitable treatment of his people is exemplary by modern standards and was unique during his time period.

Cyrus Cylinder, British Museum Collection, Photograph by Mike Peel
Cyrus Cylinder, British Museum Collection, Photograph by Mike Peel

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