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Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great

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Persian Emperor (558-528 BC). Made the Persian Empire one of the largest and most important in the world.

The great empires that have existed throughout history are important not only for their political influence but also for their cultural legacy, or heritage. Over time, political control over an empire is over, but important aspects such as language, literature, and customs remain alive for centuries.

One of the oldest of the great empires, and certainly one of the most important in southwest Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, was the Persian Empire, created by Cyrus the Great, son of Cambyses, a Persian nobleman, and Mandane, daughter of Astyages, king of the Media. According to legend, which closely resembles the Greek legend of King Oedipus, Astyages had dreamed that his grandson would become the ruler of all Asia. So she tried, and failed, to kill him when he was still a baby. Upon maturity, Cyrus defeated his grandfather and continued to fulfill what the old man had prophesied. Cyrus also subdued the Lydian Empire, conquered Babylon, and captured all the Greek cities of Asia Minor. At the same time, it freed the Hebrew people, who were held captive in Persia, as described in the Bible. By the time of his death, Cyrus had created a gigantic empire, the largest in the world to date, stretching from the Hindu Kush mountains, where Afghanistan is today, to the Indus River on the shores of the Mediterranean, where his successors would face the Greeks in a conflict that would define the future of world history.

Thanks to Cyrus's achievements, the richness of Persian culture spread to much of what was until then the developed world. In their last military campaign against the Massagetas, a tribe of nomads living in Central Asia, their troops were defeated and Cyrus was killed. The famous baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) immortalized his final defeat on canvas The Cyrus Head Brought to Queen Tiramis.


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