The rise of the Persians in Iran under Cyrus II

Cyrus II undoubtedly warranted his later title, Cyrus the Great. He must have been an extraordinary personality, and certainly he was an outstanding king. He united under his authority many Persian and Iranian groups who seemingly had not been under his father Cambyses I’s control. He then started diplomatic exchanges with Nabonidus of Babylon (556–539 BC), which understandably worried Astyages. Eventually he rebelled against the Medes openly, who were beaten in battle. Thus in 550 BC the Median empire became the first Persian empire. The appearance of Achaemenian kings on the international scene was so sudden that sheer suddenness must have alarmed many.

Cyrus straightaway set out to expand his conquests. After seemingly convincing the Babylonians that they had absolutely nothing to fear from Persia, he turned against the Lydians ruled by fabulously wealthy Croesus. Lydian appeals to Babylon fell on deaf ears. He then captured Cilicia, thus blocking the routes over which any assistance might have reached the Lydians. Croesus attacked, and a battle was fought in 547 BC on the Halys River. This battle remained indecisive. The Lydians thought the war was over for that year, came back to their capital at Sardis, and dispersed the national levy. Cyrus, nevertheless, kept coming. He besieged the Lydians in the citadel at Sardis and arrested Croesus in 546. Of all the Greek city-states along the western coast of Asia Minor, under Lydian control, only Miletus submitted without a fight.

Political and military genius of Cyrus was on full display in the conquest of Babylon. The campaign in fact began when he lulled the Babylonians into inactivity during his battle with Lydia, which, since it was carried to a successful end, deprived the Babylonians of a possible ally when their turn came. Cyrus took full advantage of internal discontent and disaffection within Babylon. Nabonidus was not at all a popular king: he had paid very little attention to home affairs and had dissatisfied the native Babylonian priesthood. Many of Nabonidus’s subjects regarded Cyrus as a potential deliverer. With the stage thus set, the military campaign against Babylon came virtually as an anti-climax. The fall of the greatest city in the Middle East was instant; Cyrus marched effortlessly into the town in the late summer of 539 BC, seized the hands of the statue of Marduk (the city god) as a sign of his willingness to rule as a Babylonian and not as a foreign victor, and was hailed by many as the legitimate successor to the throne. In this one stride Cyrus carried Persian power to the borders of Egypt, for with Babylon came all that it had snatched from the Assyrians and gained in the sequel.

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