Cyrus (II) “the Great” founded the Persian (Achemenid) empire in 559 BCE and controlled the ancient Near East by the time of his death in 530. “Cyrus” may have been a dynastic rather than a personal name, for his grandfather Cyrus (I) was king of Anshan and a contemporary of Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria (669–627 BCE). Cyrus took over the territories of the Medes around 550 BCE and united them into a strong alliance, which clashed with Croesus of Lydia and captured Sardis, thus inaugurating a prolonged war with the Greek states. Cyrus's empire, which extended far to the east as well, was administered by local district governors (satraps).

In October 539, Cyrus defeated the Babylonians at Opis, and his troops took control of the capital into which the gods from surrounding cult centers had been withdrawn for safety. When Cyrus entered the city he was warmly welcomed as a man of peace, and he demonstrated his religious tolerance with decrees returning the exiled deities to their shrines. In an edict he allowed the exiled Judeans to return home (Ezra 1.1; 2 Chron. 36.23) and later supported the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem. The references to Cyrus in Isaiah (44.28; 45.1, 13) are significant, both for the usual dating of Isaiah 40–55 (“Second Isaiah”) to the mid‐sixth century BCE and for their description of him as the divinely designated shepherd and as the Lord's anointed (“messiah”), the agent of the divine plan for Israel. Parts of the narrative of the book of Daniel are also set in the reign of Cyrus, but this has been interpreted as the use of Cyrus as a dynastic name, as is the case with Darius in the same context (Dan. 6.28).

Cyrus is depicted on sculptures in his palace at Susa. He was buried in Pasargadae in 530 BCE and succeeded by his son and co‐regent, Cambyses II.

See Persia

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Donald J. Wiseman