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Map of the Persian Empire (550-486 B.C.)
Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC)
Cyrus II, also known as Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire. He was of the Achaemenid family and the vast Achaemenid Empire of the Persians reached from the Aegean Sea in the West all the way to Sagdiana in the East. It encompassed the former kingdom whom it had conquered, the Babylonian Empire.
Cyrus came to the throne about 559 BC when Persia was under the rule of the Medes, a kingdom to the north of Persia. The Median Empire extended from the middle of Turkey (Anatolia) in the West, to the area of Afghanistan in the East. In 550 BC Cyrus the Persian refused to submit to the Medes, and the King of Media immediately attacked Persia. Cyrus was victorious in battle at Pasargadae and moved on to capture the Median capital at Ecbatana. Cyrus brought into submission the whole former Median and Babylonian empires by 539 BC, and was finally killed in a battle against the pointed hats Scythian nomadic warriors in Central Asia.
Cyrus the Diplomat
Cyrus was a diplomatic ruler and this contributed greatly to his success. In contrast to the Babylonians and Assyrians Cyrus was merciful to his defeated enemies, and respected their customs and religions. He even allowed the conquered Jews in Babylon to return to their homeland and to rebuild the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
The Decree of Cyrus
The Bible mentions in the book of Ezra that King Cyrus issued a decree from the Persian Palace at Achmetha (Ecbatana) to free the Jews, and allow them to return to Israel to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem:
Ezra 6:2-3 "And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that [is] in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein [was] a record thus written: In the first year of Cyrus the king [the same] Cyrus the king made a decree [concerning] the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid."
The tomb of Cyrus epitaph reads "Oh man whoever you are, I am Cyrus who founded the empire of the Persians and was the king of Asia. Do not grudge me this monument."
Cambyses II (530-522 BC)
Later in 525 BC the son of Cyrus whose name was Cambyses came southward with the mighty Persian army and conquered Egypt in 529 BC, and he laid siege to several Egyptian cities including Memphis. His army marched all the way to the Mediterranean Sea and Libya surrendered to him. Though Egypt was conquered it relatively easily, maintaining Persian rule was not so easy. In fact the historian Herodotus records great disasters in the Persians attempts to subdue Nubia.
Note: It is interesting that the Elephantine Papyri documents written in Aramaic were discovered at Yeb (Elephantine) reveal that Cambyses found an armed Jewish colony at that location.
Cambyses suppressed any revolts in Egypt with brutality, but in 522 BC he learned about a revolt at Gaumata in his homeland and on his return he had an accident. According to Herodotus he cut himself with his own sword, got blood poisoning and died near Hamath in Syria. He had no sons to inherit the throne.
Darius I (521-486)
In 521 BC Darius I expanded the Persian Empire even further and conquered territories all the way to the Indus Valley, then he turned west all the way to Macedonia. Darius reorganized the empire into 20 provinces (satrapies) with heavy taxes. He also upgraded the 1600 mile Royal Road which ran from Susa, the capital of the Persian Empire, all the way to Sardis at the Aegean Sea. He had a massive relief carved on a cliff at Bisitun, along with a huge inscription commemorating his victories over his enemies. The inscription was written in the Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian languages. Part of this inscription was discovered at Elephantine. Darius I made Persepolis his capital city. When he conquered India he made it a satrapy of Hindush. In 513 BC he moved his armies across Thrace and Macedonia who immediately surrendered to him. The Ionian king Miletus revolted against him and Darius powerfully defeated him because of the burning of the provincial center at Sardis. Later in 490 BC the Persians were severely defeated by the Athenians at the battle of Marathon.
The History of Persia in Smith's Bible Dictionary
--The history of Persia begins with
the revolt from the Medes and the accession of Cyrus the Great, B.C.
558. Cyrus defeated Croesus, and added the Lydian empire to his
dominions. This conquest was followed closely by the submission of
the Greek settlements on the Asiatic coast, and by the reduction of
Caria and Lycia The empire was soon afterward extended greatly
toward the northeast and east. In B.C. 539 or 538, Babylon was
attacked, and after a stout defence fell into the hands of Cyrus.
This victory first brought the Persians into contact with the Jews.
The conquerors found in Babylon an oppressed race--like themselves,
abhorrers of idols, and professors of a religion in which to a great
extent they could sympathize. This race Cyrus determined to restore
to their own country: which he did by the remarkable edict recorded
in the first chapter of Ezra. Ezr 1:2-4 He was slain in an
expedition against the Massagetae or the Derbices, after a reign of
twenty-nine years. Under his son and successor, Cambyses, the
conquest of Egypt took place, B.C. 525. This prince appears to be
the Ahasuerus of Ezr 4:6 Gomates, Cambyses' successor, reversed the
policy of Cyrus with respect to the Jews, and forbade by an edict
the further building of the temple. Ezr 4:17-22 He reigned but seven
months, and was succeeded by Darius. Appealed to, in his second
year, by the Jews, who wished to resume the construction of their
temple, Darius not only granted them this privilege, but assisted
the work by grants from his own revenues, whereby the Jews were able
to complete the temple as early as his sixth year. Ezr 6:1-15 Darius
was succeeded by Xerxes, probably the Ahasuerus of Esther.
Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, reigned for forty years after his
death and is beyond doubt the king of that name who stood in such a
friendly relation toward Ezra, Ezr 7:11-28 and Nehemiah. Ne 2:1-9
etc. He is the last of the Persian kings who had any special
connection with the Jews, and the last but one mentioned in
Scripture. His successors were Xerxes II., Sogdianus Darius Nothus,
Artaxerxes Mnemon, Artaxerxes Ochus, and Darius Codomannus, who is
probably the "Darius the Persian" of Nehemiah Ne 12:22 These
monarchs reigned from B.C. 424 to B.C. 330. The collapse of the
empire under the attack of Alexander the Great took place B.C. 330.
The Bible Mentions a lot Concerning "Persia"
- And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel,
and the rest of their companions, unto Artaxerxes king of
Persia; and the writing of the letter [was] written in the
Syrian tongue, and interpreted in the Syrian tongue.