The Eternal Greatness Of Cyrus The Great

They say, to live in the hearts of those we love, is never to die. This is the true Zoroastrian essence of the Avesta term Ameretat or Amardad, meaning immortality. The endeavour of human life should be Hauratat or Khordad, which means to live a wholesome life on the path of excellence and let our progressive thoughts, our considerate words and our kind deeds become immortal for generations to come. One historical figure who remains immortal in our hearts and minds, even after more than two and a half millennia, is Kurush or ‘Cyrus The Great’.

The thought of Cyrus the Great to build a world empire on the principles of unity and harmony, with freedom and justice for all, remains a visionary and timeless inspirational idea. His words of kindness, as documented in his famous edict (the Cyrus Cylinder), has inspired other charters of human rights to follow. Most important of all are his deeds or his acts of humanity in freeing those who were enslaved and funding them to rebuild their own temple. Such amazing thoughts, words and deeds remain exemplary, across human history.

Based on certain historical records, Cyrus entered Babylon on 29th October and freed enslaved Jews from captivity. Accordingly, on 29th October, 2023, many Iranians across the world celebrated ‘Cyrus the Great Day’ (Persian/Farsi: Ruz-e kuros-e bozorg) which is an unofficial Iranian holiday.

Also, at 12:00 noon on 28th October, 2023, a monumental statue of Cyrus the Great was unveiled at the Millennium Gate in Atlanta (USA) dedicated to liberty, justice and peace. The statue and the surrounding park have now been dedicated as Nimruz Park in honor of Iranians. Nimruz, in Persian, means ‘midday’, the point at which the sun is at its peak, and light shines optimally on the land. Nimruz is also the name of a place in the Shah-nameh (Book of Kings) where champions gather to protect the realm and all they hold dear against the forces of darkness.

Many Firsts…

Among his many achievements, Cyrus laid the foundation of a ‘World Empire’ (the very first in human history), freed 40,000 Jews from captivity; wrote mankind’s first human rights charter; and ruled over the hearts and minds of those he had conquered with respect and benevolence.

According to historian Will Durant, Cyrus the Great’s military enemies knew that he was lenient, and they did not fight him with that desperate courage which men show when their only choice is “to kill or die.” As a result, the Iranians regarded him as ‘The Father’, the Babylonians as ‘The Liberator’, the Greeks as ‘The Law-Giver’ and the Jews as ‘The Anointed of the Lord’.

The Cyropaedia…

The Cyropaedia or ‘The Education of Cyrus’ is a partly fictional biography of Cyrus the Great. It was written around 370 BC by Xenophon, the Athenian-born soldier, historian, and student of Socrates. The Cyropaedia was popular among many great military leaders of antiquity. Both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar praised the work, and Scipio Aemilianus is said to have always carried a copy with himself.

Excerpts by Xenophon: “Cyrus never lost an opportunity to show kindness wherever he could, convinced that just as it is not easy to love those who hate us, so it is scarcely possible to feel enmity for those who love us and wish us well… The modest man will do nothing shameful in the light of day, but the man of self-control will do nothing base, not even in secret… Those who are self-restrained cannot be dragged from the pursuit of virtue by the pleasure of the moment.”

Qualities Of Leadership…

From Xenophon, we learn Cyrus was led his subjects by persuasion rather than pain and punishment. Cyrus also believed that the ruler should be marked out from other men, not by taking life easily, but by his forethought, wisdom and eagerness for work. As per Xenophon’s Cyrus the Great: “It is great work to found an empire, but far greater work to keep it. To seize it may be the fruit of daring and daring only, but to hold it is impossible without self-restraint and self-command and endless care.”

Cyrus the Great knew that logistics was the key to winning battles. His soldiers needed ample meals more than courageous pep-talks to fight well. “Bear this maxim before all others, never put off the collecting of supplies until the day of need. Make the season of your abundance provide against the time of want. Thus, “you will be free from blame from your soldiers, you will be more respected,” “your troops will then follow you with greater readiness, as long as they have all they need,” “and your words will carry greater weight.”

The effective general must be seen as a comrade by his troops, sharing in their successes, sharing in their miseries. Xenophon’s Cyrus says, “In war, if the campaign is in summer, the general must willingly share in the sun and heat, and in winter the cold and the frost, and in all labours for toil and fatigue. This will make him beloved to his followers.”

Respect For Women

Xenophon includes an interesting story. In one of the battles, Cyrus’ forces captured Pantheia, the wife of an ambassador who was out of town, and a stunningly beautiful veiled and shy lady. Cyrus the Great was a compassionate General and he immediately assigned his trusted officer Araspas the Mede to protect her until her husband returned.

When Pantheia’s husband Abradate returns, he was so grateful that he and his forces joined the army of Cyrus. According to Xenophon, Pantheia tells Abradates: “Bear in mind the great gratitude we owe to Cyrus, who, when I was his captive, chosen for his spoil, was too high-minded to treat me as a slave, or dishonour me as a free woman. He took me and saved me for you, as though I had been his brother’s wife.” This magnanimity prompted many mighty warriors to pledge their loyalty to Cyrus.

What made Cyrus truly great was not the size of his empire or the might of his army. What made him truly great was his humanity and humility. He used his power as a leader to do good for his people. He used his position as an army general to free people rather than enslave them. His thoughts, words and deeds will continue to inspire one and all for generations to come!

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