Cyrus the Great (580 - 529 B.C.)

King Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, was said to be born the illegitimate son of the elder Cambyses, a Persian, and the daughter of King Astyages. This may be an exaggeration to illustrate his multicultural upbringing and his subsequent uniting of the divided Persian people: The ruling Medes, and the subservient Persians, when he seized the kinghood from the Median King, Astyages (c. 555 B.C.), and immediately marched his army on Ecbatana, the Median kingdom.

He was the founder of the Achaemenian Dynasty, and a renown conqueror, but is most remembered for his tolerant and benevolent treatment of the peoples he conquered. Following his conquest of Babylon in 538 B.C., he freed 40,000 Jewish slaves and allowed them to return to Palestine. He also respected the beliefs and customs of each of the nations he conquered.

Despite his reputation as a kind ruler, Cyrus was not a man to be taken lightly. Croesus, King of Lydia, raised an alliance of nations against the Persian army in 546 B.C., thanks to the advice of the Delphic Oracle. Even with allies such as Egypt, Babylon, and Sparta, things didn't work out as the Lydians had planned, since Lydia was subsequently crushed and Croesus captured. According to Herodotus, Croesus was saved from a flaming death on a pyre by an omen of rain, and then became one of Cyrus' most trusted advisors.

Cyrus died in Pasargadae, and was buried in a palatial tomb with the simple inscription: "I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians. Grudge me not therefore, this little earth that covers my body." He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses.