Cyrus the Great (590 BC-529 BC)
Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Archaemenian dynasty and the Persian Empire. Cyrus' military victories eventually put him in possession of the largest empire in the world at that time. No doubt he was a remarkably humane ruler for his time. Certainly he has achieved his greatness not by words but by hard and difficult choices, actions, and sacrifice. Without any doubt all the above selected criteria in regard to Cyrus the Great is true. Even the Greeks, who for a long time considered the Persian Empire to be the chief threat to their own independence, never ceased to regard Cyrus as a thoroughly admirable ruler. His policy towards the people of his empire was one of tolerance and understanding, as reflected in his authorization of the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple in 538 BC. Cyrus the Great died in battle in 530 BC. He was succeeded by his son Cambyses. Cyrus the Great achieves highest rank among all world leaders throughout the human history because of the following reasons:
· High moral and ethical values.
· Created Persian Empire based on ethics.
· Expanded the Ethical Empire to include all men who wish to join it.
· In the Bible (e.g., Ezra 1:1-4), Cyrus is famous for freeing the Jewish captives in Babylonia and allowing them to return to their homeland. His name occurs twenty two times in the Bible.
· Establishment of a constitution and Judicial system based on high moral and ethical values.
· Freedoms of religion, job, and place of residency; being advocate of freedom of choice 2500 years ago is very admirable. On the contrary Constantine the Great 800 years later did not have religious toleration (persecuted the Jews) and introduced laws that made certain occupations (e.g., butchers, bakers) hereditary.
· Were it not for Cyrus, therefore, it seems at least possible that the Jewish people would have died out as a separate group in the fifth century BC
· Created Gold and Silver coins for trading.
· Ordered all Governors to treat the people as their own children, and no one could be executed for a first time crime.
· Slavery was not allowed. The Old Persian culture did not accept the concept of slavery. This is a good indication of a great ethical culture; we can admire this especially when we see some 250 years later Aristotle's ideas of slavery as natural law. This idea of Aristotle was used in the Roman Empire and after that in the British Empire as natural law.
· Despite the fact that Cyrus the Great was a genius he would consult with other leaders from different ethnic background to come up with a better solution for their problems.
· Cyrus was clearly a leader of immense military ability, and an outstanding statesman.
· Cyrus the Great had a Major influence on the thinking of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and the Roman Empire form of government.
· He was exceptionally tolerant of local religions and local customs.
· He was moderate and respectful toward his defeated opponents, and if they were popular leaders among their people let them continue with their positions.
Cyrus the Great was the founder of the Persian Empire, the first ethical empire throughout human history. He overthrew three great empires (Medes, Lydians, and Babylonians), and united most of the ancient Middle East into a single state stretching from India to the Mediterranean Sea. Cyrus (Kurush in the original Persian) was born about 590 BC, in the province of Persis (now Fars), in southwest Iran. Cyrus was the grandson of Astyages, king of the Medes. Before Cyrus's birth, Astyages had a dream that his grandson would someday overthrow him. The king ordered that the infant be killed promptly after his birth. However, the official entrusted with the job of killing the infant had no heart for such a bloody deed, and instead handed him over to a shepherd and his wife with instructions that they put the child to death. But they, too, were unwilling to kill the boy, and instead reared him as their own. Ultimately, when the child grew up, he indeed caused the king's downfall.
Cyrus was clearly a leader of immense military ability. But that was only one facet of the man. More distinctive, perhaps, was the benign character of his rule. He was exceptionally tolerant of local religions and local customs, and he was disinclined to the extreme brutality and cruelty, which characterized so many other conquerors. The Babylonians, for instance, and even more notably the Assyrians, had massacred many thousands and had exiled whole peoples whose rebellion they feared. For example, when the Babylonians had conquered Judea in 586 BC, they had deported much of the population to Babylon. But fifty years later, after Cyrus had conquered Babylonia, he gave the Jews permission to return to their homeland. Were it not for Cyrus, therefore, it seems at least possible that the Jewish people would have died out as a separate group in the fifth century BC On the contrary, Constantine the Great emperor of Rome (c. 280-337) did not have religious toleration and can be said to mark the beginning of the official persecution of the Jews that was to persist in Europe for so many centuries.
To understand the greatness of Cyrus relative to his time (2500 years ago) we should compare him with Alexander The Great whom he came to power 250 years after Cyrus. Alexander had been brought up to believe that Greek culture represented the only true civilization, and that all of the non-Greek peoples were barbarians. Such, of course, was the prevailing view throughout the Greek world, and even Aristotle had shared it. When Alexander conquered the Persian capital Persepolis; he destroyed Persepolis (the ruin exists today). You can see the difference of these two leaders -- one conquers and allows freedom, the other conquers and destroys.
Another important point is that while Aristotle (250 years after Cyrus the Great) who was perhaps the greatest philosopher and scientist of the ancient world, he supported slavery. Aristotle originated the study of formal logic, enriched almost every branch of philosophy, and made numerous contributions to science, he supported slavery as being in accord with natural law, and he believed in the natural inferiority of women. Despite these last two extremely reactionary ideas, some of Aristotle's views were progressive e.g., "Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime," "All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind are convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth." the belief that it is worthwhile for human beings to conduct a systematic inquiry into every aspect of the natural world; and the conviction that we should utilize both empirical observations and logical reasoning in forming our conclusions.
Despite Aristotle's ideas of slavery as natural law, Cyrus the Great did not believe in slavery never took any slaves and hated brutality and injustice. This is another indication of an old rich Persian culture, which was based on ethics. Even today many forms of slavery exist in this globe, which is a disgrace to all humanity. For example in Time Magazine, June 21, 93 page 46 we read the following:
" A 1991 conference of Southeast Asian women's organizations estimated that 30 million women had been sold worldwide since the mid-1970s. Such figures are at best guesses and at worst only the tip of the iceberg."
Even if we compare Cyrus the Great with political leaders of our time he still achieves highest rank. One of the key attributes of Cyrus the Great was his fight against cruel rulers while not becoming a blind expansionist.
We would admire Cyrus the Great more when we see domination of Machiaavelli philosophy in our time around this globe. The Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is notorious for his blunt advice that a ruler interested in maintaining and increasing his power should make use of deceitfulness, cunning, and lies, combined with a ruthless use of force. Machiavelli principal fame rests upon his book "The Prince"(a handbook for dictators). The Prince may be considered a primer of practical advice for a head of state. The basic point of view of the book is that in order to succeed; a prince should ignore moral considerations entirely and depend upon strength and cunning. Machiavelli discussed history and politics in purely human terms, and simply ignored moral consideration. Unfortunately Machiavelli is considered to be one of the principal founders of modern political thought. In chapter 17 of The Prince, Machiavelli discusses whether it is better for a prince to be loved or feared: "The reply is that one ought to be both feared and loved, but...it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting ...for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purposes, but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails." Often, the most denunciation came from those who practiced what Machiavelli preached- a hypocrisy of which Machiavelli might approve, in principle! Therefore we should not judge politicians by their words but by their hard and difficult choices, actions, and great sacrifices.
Because of all the above reasons and high moral and ethical values Cyrus the Great scored the highest rank among all the greatest world's leaders both in ancient and modern times. Therefore Cyrus the Great may be said to be among the greatest political leaders of all time throughout human history.
The study of Cyrus the Great and establishment of his ethical Persian empire some 2500 years ago is a good indication that in our time the concept of world order based on ethics, ethical state, peace and harmony among nations are not an impossible goal and illusion. In this century the most fundamental and essential ingredients of an evolution towards these goals are democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of choice, freedom of religion, cultural toleration, human rights, political feedback mechanism, open trade policy, and open communications among people in this globe. The ethics of life are the pursuit of awareness for ourselves and others. The ultimate goal is total awareness. Ethical Government is a means of achieving that goal by raising man to a higher state of total awareness. Ethical leaders can lead men toward Ethical Government and Society, which can lead man to total awareness. To increase man's power is always ethical. However, only men who use power to expand awareness are ethical. Men who use power to diminish awareness are unethical.
Masoud Marvasti 1993