Cyrus the Great Became Top Leader Of His Era By Championing Just Rule
Thursday, July 16, 1998
King Cyrus a Just Ruler
Investor's Business Daily
Leaders & Success Column
By Matthew Benjamin
When the conqueror Cyrus the Great rode into Babylon, the city's vanquished
erupted in cheers.
Yes, they'd have to bend to his rule. But Cyrus (580-530? B.C.)
made sure that wouldn't be difficult. In contrast to other rulers of his
day, he was just. In fact, his style of government was a critical factor
in his becoming the greatest ruler of his time.
Cyrus' Persian Empire, which extended from India to the Mediterranean
Sea, was the most powerful state in the world until its conquest two centuries
later by Alexander the Great.
Cyrus was born to nobility in a small highland tribe, the Achaemenians,
in central Persia. The tribe paid tribute to several regional kingdoms,
including Media to the west and Babylonia to the south.
Cyrus' father was a minor king who was venerated in his own lands
but became utterly humble when he visited his more powerful neighbors to
take tributes of wild horses.
Once when young Cyrus went on such a trip to Media, he was bewildered
by his father's reduction in stature. More disturbing to him, however,
was the great cruelty of the Median king, Astyages. According to one account,
Astyages slay his own general's son as punishment for the general's
That same general later betrayed Astyages, causing the king to
lose his authority and possessions.
Such instances taught Cyrus that cruelty and humiliation were
not effective. He decided he would govern through conciliation instead.
Cyrus' first military conquest was of Media in 550 B.C. One of
his first acts was to do away with the draconian tradition that would have
had him raze the city and murder its citizens enmasse.
Cyrus appointed a Mede as chief adviser and then ruled the kingdom
in a kind of dual monarchy, with both Medes and Persians holding high offices.
The satrapy, as this system of government became known, put a native Mede
in power as a semiautonomous ruler, or satrap.
Cyrus instituted certain checks, though. Foe example, several
of the satrap's underlings reported directly to Cyrus.
"Nevertheless, the close relationship between Persians and Medes
was never forgotten. Medes were honored equally with Persians; they were
employed in high office and were chosen to lead Persian armies," wrote
A.T. Olmstead in his "History of the Persian Empire."
From Media, Cyrus went on to conquer the western land of Lydia
and several Greek states on the Aegean Sea. He then turned east, taking
the ancient kingdom of Drangiana, Arachosia, Margiana and Bactria. He converted
most into satrapies
and put natives in command.
He also showed great respect for conquered peoples' religious
and cultural beliefs. At that time, every tribe or kingdom had its own
gods and rites.
While it was customary for conquerors to deface the idols and
religious statues of those they defeated, Cyrus forbade that practice.
When it did occur, he quickly remedied it.
"Large numbers of foreign captive divinities gave further opportunity
for royal benevolence," Olmstead wrote. That earned him the respect and
homage of the races over whom he ruled.
Cyrus' biggest conquest was Babylonia, a wildly rich and powerful
kingdom in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
It was, however, in decline. Babylonian king Nabu-naid was unpopular with
many segments of his population. He had alienated the high priests and
captured and enslaved ten of thousands of Jews.
Cyrus took Babylon, the greatest city of the ancient world, in
539 B.C. He did so to the cheers of its citizens, who welcomed him as ruler
because of word of his just treatment.
He lived up to that reputation, freeing more than 40,000 enslaved
Jews and allowing them to return to Palestine. He is mentioned 22 times
in the Bible for these and similar deeds.
Cyrus always took pains to convey that he was not a foreign
king and conqueror, but a liberator and, therefore, a legitimate holder
of the crown.
For example, after conquering Babylon, he immediately addressed
its citizens in their own language and added "King of Babylon" to the top
of his long list of titles. It was an unheard of gesture of respect.
"In the eyes of his Babylonian subjects, Cyrus was never an alien
king," Olmstead wrote. "The proclamation of Cyrus to the Babylonians, issued
in their own language, was a model of persuasive propaganda."
He also left in place most of the existing government and allowed
most midlevel officials to retain their positions.
Cyrus was a great learner. He observed the customs and traditions
of the cultures he conquered and made sure the best elements were put to
use for all of Persia's benefit.
Cyrus invented, or appropriated and improved upon, the idea of
the postal system, according to the Greek historian Xenophon. Figuring
out how far a horse could travel in one day, Cyrus built a series of posting
each one day's ride apart, across his empire. The system ensured the
efficient flow of information between him and his satraps.
"I am Cyrus, who founded the
empire of the Persians.
Grudge me not therefore, this little earth that covers my
O, man, whoever thou art and whensesoever thou comest, for I know that thou wilt come, I am Cryus, and I won f
or the Persians their empire. Do not, therefore, begrudge me this little earth which covers my body.
Tomb of The Cyrus The Great (Kourosh) in Pasargad