Cyrus the Great was born around 580 BC in the land of Persia which is today the country of Iran. His father was King Cambyses I of Anshan. There isn't a lot of recorded history on the early life of Cyrus, but there is a legend told by the Greek historian Herodotus.
Legend of Cyrus' Youth
According to the legend, Cyrus was the grandson of the Median King Astyages. When Cyrus was born, Astyages had a dream that Cyrus would one day overthrow him. He ordered that the baby Cyrus should be left in the mountains to die. The baby, however, was rescued by some herding folk who raised him as their own.
When Cyrus turned ten, it became apparent that he was noble born. King Astyages heard of the child and realized that the boy had not died. He then allowed Cyrus to return home to his birth parents.
Founding an Empire
Around the age of twenty-one Cyrus took over the throne as king of Anshan. At this time Anshan was still a vassal state to the Median Empire. Cyrus led a revolt against the Median Empire and by 549 BC he had completely conquered Media. He now called himself the "King of Persia."
Cyrus continued to expand his empire. He conquered the Lydians to the west and then turned his eyes south to Mesopotamia and the Babylonian Empire. In 540 BC, after routing the Babylonian army, Cyrus marched into the city of Babylon and took control. He now ruled all of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Judea. His combined empire was the largest in the history of the world to that point.
Lands that were eventually united under Persian rule Median Empire by William Robert Shepherd
(Click map to see larger picture)
A Good King
Cyrus the Great saw himself as a liberator of people and not a conqueror. As long as his subjects didn't revolt and paid their taxes, he treated them equally regardless of religion or ethnic background. He agreed to let the people he conquered maintain their religion and local customs. This was a different way of ruling from previous empires such as the Babylonians and the Assyrians.
As part of his role as liberator, Cyrus let the Jews return home to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon. There were more than 40,000 Jewish people held in captivity in Babylon at the time. Because of this, he earned the name "the anointed of the Lord" from the Jewish people.
Cyrus died in 530 BC. He had ruled for 30 years. He was succeeded by his son Cambyses I. There are different accounts as to how Cyrus died. Some said he died in battle, while others said he died quietly in his capital city.
Interesting Facts about Cyrus the Great
The Persian Empire is often called the Achaemenid Empire.
The capital city of his empire was the city of Pasargadae in modern day Iran. His tomb and monument can be seen there today.
The Cyrus cylinder describes how Cyrus improved the lives of the Babylonians. The United Nations declared it a "declaration of human rights."
Cyrus developed an elite group of 10,000 army troops that were later called the Immortals.
To send messages quickly around his large empire Cyrus formed a postal system.