Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cyrus, King of Kings of Persia

Fig.1: Connecting with Cyrus is a must for any young, aspiring career-seeker.
Sometimes it's advantageous to build up our resumes with loaded accomplishments that really weren't any big deal at the time, but look pretty good on paper. This is why, along with being a "Composer of Epic Histories" and "Part-Time Moat Salesman" (if you recall), I also claim to have been a "Non-Profit Project Manager" at Robin Hood's Merry Men for my time spent robbing from the the rich and giving to the poor (or, "Reallocating valuable resources for the increased production of low-performing sectors"). But when it comes to resume-padding, the ancient Persian ruler Cyrus II has us all beat. Listed under positions held, he has in an eye-catching, yet pleasing font: King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, King of Āryāvarta, and King of the Four Corners of the World (previous drafts where he only held three corners weren't as impressive). On top of all that, not only did he claim to be King of Persia (shah), but King of Kings of Persia (shahanshah), letting any other possible Kings of Persia coming in for an interview know that he had them all beat!

Fig.2: Territory of the Median Empire, with the Persis
region labeled. Cyrus would take care of all the 
different colors, however.
When Cyrus was born around 600 Before Crullers (or BC, for you lazy people), present-day Iran was under the control of the Median Empire (fig.2). They ruled directly over the majority of the peoples that inhabited the land, with the notable exception of the Persians. Those folks, who resided in the Persis region, happily tagged along with the Medes on their previous conquests, and were in turn treated like little brothers who were allowed to govern their own land and do their own thing (as long as they didn't touch any of the Medians' action figures). This was solidified when the Median king, Astyages, gave his daughter to the the Persian king, Cambyses, bringing the two siblings together in one big incestuous family.

But according to the Greek historian Herodotus, who admittedly liked making up good stories about history rather than strive for accuracy (at least I do that with jokes), Christmas dinner got awkward after Astyages dreamed that his own grandson would one day overthrow him. He ordered for Cambyses' newborn baby, Cyrus, to be killed by taking him up to the mountains and leaving him to rot (the original definition of "spoiling your grandkids"). Luckily, Cyrus was rescued by a herdsman and his wife, who raised him as their own. (This oft-repeated theme of children of noble birth growing up within a humble family was beaten to death in ancient times, with the same occurring with the Greek hero Heracles, the Roman founders Romulus and Remus, and successful newspaper reporter Clark Kent.) It soon became apparent by the time Cyrus turned ten that he was a king at heart, herding his goats through taxation and demanding that they bow upon his arrival. Astyages soon became suspicious and interviewed the boy (the first of many for Cyrus), with the Median king deciding that this was indeed his grandson in the flesh (unfortunately, sans-rot). He was soon sent back to his parents as a prince of Persia with nothing more than a "My bad."

Fig.3: Cyrus preferred to show off his 
good side during interviews.
By the time Cyrus succeeded his father as King of Persia in the 550s BC, the whole being-left-to-die-by-his-own-grandfather thing really started getting to him (I know I needed therapy when that happened to me). Eventually, he led his people into a revolt against Astyages and Median rule, starting off with a successful attack of the Median city of Hyrba. Astyages immediately lead his forces into Persis to suppress the revolt, but they left the home completely unprepared without any equipment or sunblock, and the Median army mutinied against their king. Cyrus then used his highly-endorsed "micromanagement" skill to defeat Astyages easily. All of Media's enemies wanted to kick them while they were down, but Cyrus showed off another key skill: leniency; he inflicted no punishment on the Medes as long as they accepted his rule, and even allowed Astyages to remain alive as his administrative assistant. By 550 BC, Cyrus ruled a vast kingdom as the king of the Achaemenid Empire (or "Persian Empire," for short), and wasn't done climbing the corporate ladder just yet!

The Lydian Kingdom in present-day Turkey saw this as the perfect time to invade territory previously under Median control. Cyrus showed the Lydians that their investments were a little to hasty, crushing them at the Battle of Thymbra and capturing their capital of Sardis around 547 BC. Asia Minor was then added to Cyrus's domain, but resting on your laurels was not the way to get ahead in the shark tank of the ancient world. Eventually Cyrus attacked the Babylonian Empire, rulers of Mesopotamia and all its irrigation. Unfortunately this wasn't the same Babylonian Empire of Hammurabi days; it had the look and feel of the one that fell centuries before (even reviving the use of the long-dead Sumerian dialect for official business, much to the glee of language acquisition companies like Rosetta Stone), but this "Neo-Babylonian" Empire certainly was not "the one." Cyrus routed the Babylonians at the Battle of Mr. Holland's Opis in 539 BC, and quickly followed it up with the capture of Babylon. Luckily for the Persians, the Babylonians also controlled Syria, the increasingly Holy Land of Judea, and parts of Arabia! The addition of these lands created the largest empire mankind had seen to that date, and forced Cyrus to tighten the margin-size of his resume in order to keep it to a single page.

The task of administering such a wealth of territory would have brought down a lesser man (I'm looking at you, Napoleon), but Cyrus was up to the challenge. While his central capital was in Pasargadae, which he transformed from a Double-A village into a Major League city, he also established regional capitals around the empire which was ruled by a satrap (or royal crony). To bring the Persian Empire closer together, one of the earliest postal systems was created in the Chapar Khaneh, which allowed vital low-interest credit card offers and coupons for Kohl's to cross 2,500 kilometers in just over a week. At the same time, Cyrus allowed the various nationalities within his realm to continue living their lives like nothing had changed, refusing to meddle in their culture, religion, or barbequing techniques. This is apparent in the Cyrus Cylinder (fig.4), which was created shortly after the conquest of Babylon. In it, Cyrus tugs at the Babylonian heart strings by claiming he was sent by their chief god, Marduk, to liberate them from oppression and improve their lives. He boldly states, "I have enabled all the lands to live in peace," even though a little war was needed to bring about that peace. A classic piece of Mesopotamian propaganda, many people have come to see the Cyrus Cylinder as the first doctrine of human rights ever made, even though that term really had not been conceived yet (the only thing humans had a right to back then was to be enslaved when they lost at anything).

Fig.4: Cyrus obviously got a little hungry while composing his Cylinder...
Another group other than those peace-loving hippies that were in Cyrus's fan club were the Jews! According to the Old Testament (which the Jews believe has a better, more classic feel than the New Testament), Cyrus allowed the children of Israel who had been captured during the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem earlier that century to return to their Holy Homeland. In addition, he also commanded the rebuilding of the city's holy Temple:
In the first year of King Cyrus, the king issued a decree concerning the temple of God in Jerusalem: Let the temple be rebuilt as a place to present sacrifices, and let its foundations be laid. It is to be sixty cubits high and sixty cubits wide, with three courses of large stones and one of timbers. The costs are to be paid by the royal treasury. (Ezra 6:3-4, NIV).
Another translation has Cyrus pointing to folks in the Jewish audience and saying, "You get a temple! You get a temple! Everybody gets a temple!" Nevertheless, the building of the Second Temple ushered in a brand new period of Jewish history where the group flourished under Persian then Greek rule, until the Romans came along and messed it all up in the first century After Doughnuts (for the lazy: AD). Because of which, Cyrus is the only non-Jewish person (or goyim, if you will) to be called a Messiah, a leader sent by God to liberate His chosen people and promote peace around the world. It would be silly to believe that Cyrus played nice with the Jews just to get on their good side and eventually allow his descendants to invade and take over Judea's wealthy neighbor of Egypt. Oh ye of little faith!

Fig.5: As the CIA will admit, water-
boarding is not nearly as effective when
the guy is already dead.
Like many other high-ranking businessmen, Cyrus worked himself to the grave...literally. According to that completely reliable Herodotus, Cyrus coveted the territory of the Massagetae, located northeast of Persia in present-day Uzbekistan. The queen of the Massagetae, Tomyris, rejected Cyrus's proposal of marriage (obviously not seeing how much of a catch he was), leading to his invasion of her realm in 530 BC. Tomyris challenged Cyrus to an open battle, but he had other, more sneaky plans in mind: the Massagetae were notorious lightweights, and Cyrus purposefully left behind a poorly-defended camp fully stocked with wine. The Massagetae drank to their hearts' content (cause wine is good for your heart, right?), and were completely unprepared when the Persians returned to act as their designated decapitators. Tomyris, full of rage, led an army into battle herself, which ultimately routed the Persians. Cyrus was killed in the midst of it, with Tomyris taking his lifeless head and gave it a swirly in a vessel of blood (fig.5), symbolizing his bloodlust. If this story is true (which even Herodotus admits he heard this story through the grapevine), it's yet another example of a blindly ambitious man brought down by the cunning of a woman. And that glass ceiling has been slowly cracking since...

What really separates Cyrus from many other "the Great"s in history is the fact that his death did not unravel his whole empire. The administrative policies he put into place ensured the Achaemenid Empire continued to govern and expand, with his son, Cambyses II, even adding the wealth, soil, and rock-climbing walls of Egypt to their domain. The influence of the Persians would grow and grow over the decades, nearly conquering those smarty-pantses in Greece in the early 5th century BC, before getting a taste of their own medicine with Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Nonetheless, Cyrus's contributions established what many historians believe to be the world's first multinational empire, enabling him to network and grease elbows all over Western Asia. Any man lucky enough to have a Cylinder of Recommendation from Cyrus is almost guaranteed a job in their field, while those trapped in his spam folder are doomed to obscurity. I suppose I'll merely be a Canned Historian forever...

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