In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cyrus

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works and Overviews
  • Standard Reference Works and Sources
  • Cyrus and the Beginnings of the Persian Empire
  • Cyrus between Persia and Elam
  • Cyrus and the Teispid and Achaemenid Dynasties
  • Cyrus at Pasargadae and Near Persepolis
  • Cyrus’s Kingship and Ideology
  • Cyrus and Religion
  • Cyrus in Classical Sources
  • The Cyrus Cylinder
  • Cyrus and Nabonidus
  • Cyrus and the Judaeans
  • Cyrus and in Modern Politics and Reception

Biblical Studies Cyrus
Jason Silverman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0302


Cyrus (II) “the Great” (d. 530 BCE) appears abruptly in the historical record. Inheriting the throne of a small principality, his military campaigns would greatly expand the tradition of ancient Near Eastern imperialism to cover the largest territory yet seen in history. Though the empire was threatened by a dynastic break not long after Cyrus’s death, the polity would endure for roughly 200 years. Cyrus and his sons (Cambyses II and Bardiya) are known as the Teispid dynasty and Darius I and his heirs as the Achaemenid dynasty, though the latter is typically used for the empire to distinguish it from later Persian empires. The seemingly unprecedented conquests of Cyrus and his relations with his new subjects deeply impacted classical and biblical authors. These latter two sets of sources would shape both the memory and the historiography of the Persian Empire, and they continue to do so today. A recent uptick in scholarly interest in the Persian Empire as it can be understood from Persian and Akkadian sources has begun to illuminate both the empire at large and its origins. The limited nature of the direct sources for Cyrus himself means his reign must be contextualized both with previous ancient Near Eastern evidence and from the subsequent Persian Empire. This article focuses on Cyrus himself as much as possible rather than the empire he founded.

Introductory Works and Overviews

Most introductory works focus on the Achaemenid Empire rather than on just Cyrus, though standard historical dictionaries often have brief entries for Cyrus, such as Dandamaev 1993 and Zournatzi 2020. A more substantial introduction in the context of an overview of the empire can be found in Waters 2014. Kuhrt 2007a provides an introduction to the difficulties of the sources for Cyrus, and Kuhrt 1987 contextualizes his conquest within a longer imperial history. Daryaee 2013 offers five readable essays introducing Cyrus, his religion, his palatial complex at Pasargadae, and the Cyrus Cylinder. For a preview of Cyrus and in Modern Politics and Reception, see Abdi 2020.

  • Abdi, Kamyar. “The Lucrative Business of the Cyrus Cylinder.” In Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology. Edited by Amy Rebecca Gansell and Ann Shafer, 299–301. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190673161.003.0014

    Brief overview of modern uses and abuses of the Cyrus cylinder.

  • Dandamaev, Muhammad A. “Cyrus: iii: Cyrus II the Great.” Encyclopædia Iranica 6.5 (1993): 516–521.

    Provides a brief overview of sources for Cyrus’s life and conquests, including the main Greek and Akkadian sources.

  • Daryaee, Touraj, ed. Cyrus the Great: An Ancient Iranian King. Santa Monica, CA: Afshar, 2013.

    This slim volume, which was originally designed to accompany an exhibition of the Cyrus cylinder, provides introductory essays on several aspects of Cyrus, evidence for him, and his memory, by notable experts in the field.

  • Kuhrt, Amélie. “Usurpation, Conquest, and Ceremonial: From Babylon to Persia.” In Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies. Edited by David Cannadine and Simon Price, 20–55. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    Places Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon within a longer history of ANE imperial military campaigns.

  • Kuhrt, Amélie. “Ancient Near Eastern History: The Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia.” In Understanding the History of Ancient Israel. Edited by H. G. M. Williamson, 107–127. Proceedings of the British Academy 143. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007a.

    Kuhrt gives an overview of the sources available for Cyrus as well as the difficulties encountered in interpreting them. The article is appended with translations of several historical sources, including the Cyrus Cylinder.

  • Waters, Matt. Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550–330 BCE. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511841880

    Clear and concise overview to the empire and its historiography. For Cyrus, see chapter 3.

  • Zournatzi, Antigoni. “CYRUS (II) (Gk. Κῦρος, ὁ; OP Kuruš; Akkad. Kuraš).” In The Herodotus Encyclopedia. Edited by Christopher Baron, 390–396. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020.

    Provides a brief overview of Herodotus’s views of Cyrus in the general context of classical studies.

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