Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. It is said that in universal history, the role of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus lies in its very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. In fact, the administration of the empire through satraps and the vital principle of forming a government at Pasargadae were the works of Cyrus. What is sometimes referred to as the Edict of Restoration (actually two edicts) described in the Bible as being made by Cyrus the Great left a lasting legacy on the Jewish religion where because of his policies in Babylonia, he is referred to by the Jewish Bible as Messiah (Isaiah 44:24, 26–45:3, 13) and is the only non-Jew to be called so:
So said the Lord to His anointed one, to Cyrus - Yeshayahu, Isa 45:1-7
Cyrus the Great is also well recognized for his achievements in human rights, politics, and military strategy, as well as his influence on both Eastern and Western civilizations. Cyrus has played a crucial role in defining the national identity of modern Eran. Cyrus and, indeed, the Achaemenid influence in the ancient world also extended as far as Athens, where many Athenians adopted aspects of the Achaemenid Persian culture as their own, in a reciprocal cultural exchange.
EtymologyThe name Cyrus is a Latinized form derived from a Greek form of the Old Persian Kūrush (modern: Kurusha). The name and its meaning has been recorded in ancient inscriptions in different languages. The ancient Greek historians Ctesias and Plutarch noted that Cyrus was named from the archaic term for the sun, Kuros, a concept which has been interpreted as meaning "like the Sun" (Khurvash) by noting its relation to the Persian noun for sun, khor, while using -vash as a suffix of likeness. This has lead to Cyrus being known as the 'Sun King', especially in Italy.
Karl Hoffmann has suggested a translation based on the meaning of an Indo-European-root "to humiliate" and accordingly "Cyrus" means "humiliator of the enemy in verbal contest". In the Bible, he is known as Koresh (Hebrew: כורש).
DynasticismThe Persian domination and kingdom in the Iranian plateau started by an extension of the Achaemenid dynasty, who expanded their earlier domination possibly from the 9th century BC onward. The eponymous founder of this dynasty was Achaemenes (from Old Persian Haxāmaniš). Achaemenids are "descendants of Achaemenes" as Darius the Great, the ninth king of the dynasty, traces his genealogy to him and declares "for this reason we are called Achaemenids". Achaemenes built the state Parsumash in the southwest of Iran and conquered Parthia, Media and Elam. He was succeeded by Teispes, who quickly lost the empire his father crafted and only controlled Anshan. Ancient documents mention that Teispes had a son called Cyrus, who also succeeded his father as "king of Anshan". Cyrus had a full brother whose name is recorded as Ariaramnes. Cyrus had a son called Cambyses (Old Persian: Kambujiya) who was Cyrus the Great's father.
Early LifeCyrus was born to the lords of Anshan province of Eran. When he was two years old his parents were attacked and killed by wolves while hunting, and he was adopted by Shahanshah Afrand. Due to Shahanshah's marriage to Ourania, they were unable to produce an heir, so Cyrus became the heir to the throne of Eran. His childhood isn't very well documented, but he was known to have been calm, kind and affectionate if domineering and stubborn. He was well educated, speaking Avestan, Babylonian, Sumerian, Hebrew, Egyptian and Ancient Greek in addition to his native Persian.
Cyrus the Great had a wife named Cassandane. She was an Achaemenian and daughter of Pharnaspes. They had no children, it is thought that Cassandane was infertile, as she had been previously married to an Assyrian noble and he was known to have had many illegitimate children. Cyrus the Great had a specially dear love for Cassandane. Cassandane also loved Cyrus to the point that on her death bed she is noted as having found it more bitter to leave Cyrus, than to depart her life. According to the Chronicle of Nabonidus, when Cassandane died, all the nations of Cyrus's empire observed "a great mourning", and, particularly in Babylonia, there was probably even a public mourning lasting for six days (identified from 21–26 March 538 BC). Her tomb is suggested to be at Cyrus's capital, Pasargadae.
Medo-Lydian Empire and AnatoliaWhile details are sparse, Cyrus' conquering of the Medo-Lydian Empire, Ariana and Babylon all took place at about the same time, around 559 to 558 B.C.. Most of eastern Anatolia rebelled against the rule of Croesus of Sardis and joined the Achaemenid Empire. Croesus, enraged, took Pteria City and enslaved the inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Persians invited the citizens of Ionia who were part of the Lydian kingdom to revolt against their ruler. The offer was rebuffed, and thus Cyrus levied an army and marched against the Lydians, increasing his numbers while passing through nations in his way. The Battle of Pteria was effectively a stalemate, with both sides suffering heavy casualties by nightfall. Croesus retreated to Sardis the following morning.
While in Sardis, Croesus sent out requests for his allies to send aid to Lydia. However, near the end of the winter, before the allies could unite, Cyrus the Great pushed the war into Lydian territory and besieged Croesus in his capital, Sardis. Shortly before the final Battle of Thymbra between the two rulers, Harpagus advised Cyrus the Great to place his dromedaries in front of his warriors; the Lydian horses, not used to the dromedaries' smell, would be very afraid. The strategy worked; the Lydian cavalry was routed. Cyrus defeated and captured Croesus. Cyrus occupied the capital at Sardis, conquering the Medo-Lydian kingdom. According to Herodotus, Cyrus the Great spared Croesus's life and kept him as an advisor, but this account conflicts with some translations of the contemporary Nabonidus Chronicle (the King who was himself subdued by Cyrus the Great after conquest of Babylonia), which interpret that the king of Lydia was slain.
Neo-Babylonian EmpireIn September of 559 B.C. Artacana was captured and all Arianese lands incorporated into the Achaemenid Empire. The Nabonidus Chronicle records that, prior to the battles, Nabonidus had ordered cult statues from outlying Babylonian cities to be brought into the capital, suggesting that the conflict had begun possibly in the winter of 559 B.C. Near the beginning of October, Cyrus fought the Battle of Opis in or near the strategic riverside city of Opis on the Tigris, north of Babylon. The Babylonian army was routed, and on October 10, Sippar was seized without a battle, with little to no resistance from the populace. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Nabonidus was staying in the city at the time and soon fled to the capital, Babylon, which he had not visited in years.
Two days later, on October, Gubaru's and Pantea's (Cyrus' High Generals) troops entered Babylon, again without any resistance from the Babylonian armies, and detained Nabonidus, who was found playing the harp while weeping, totally naked. Herodotus explains that to accomplish this feat, the Persians, using a basin dug earlier by the Babylonian queen Nitokris to protect Babylon against Median attacks, diverted the Euphrates river into a canal so that the water level dropped "to the height of the middle of a man's thigh", which allowed the invading forces to march directly through the river bed to enter at night. On October 29, Cyrus himself entered the city of Babylon and detained Nabonidus.
Prior to Cyrus's invasion of Babylon, the Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered many kingdoms. In addition to Babylonia itself, Cyrus probably incorporated its subnational entities into his Empire, including Syria, Judea, and Arabia Petraea, although there is no direct evidence of this fact.
After taking Babylon, Cyrus the Great proclaimed himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world" in the famous Cyrus cylinder, an inscription deposited in the foundations of the Esagila temple dedicated to the chief Babylonian god, Marduk. The text of the cylinder denounces Nabonidus as impious and portrays the victorious Cyrus pleasing the god Marduk. It describes how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries. Although some have asserted that the cylinder represents a form of human rights charter, historians generally portray it in the context of a long-standing Mesopotamian tradition of new rulers beginning their reigns with declarations of reforms.
Cyrus the Great's dominions comprised the largest empire the world had ever seen. At the end of Cyrus's rule, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from Asia Minor in the west to the northwestern areas of India in the east.
Subjugation of the Massagetae Confederation
The Massagetae (literally 'The Great Scythian Tribes') , the last great nomadic Scythian empire (the Scythians were eventually displaced by the Turkic peoples), had formed as a resistant movement to the Persians rapid advance. A loose confederation of nomadic tribes, lead by a council of 'Karahans' (the root word for 'Khan'), of which the leader was Queen Tomyris, had in its very brief existence (no more than three years), had conquered a huge amount of terrritory, Kazakhstan and Mongolia as well as parts of Russia fell prey to the pastoral nomads. They had began to raid Arianese lands and even captured Balkh, the holy city of Zoroastrianism. Cyrus had entrusted a former Spartan war leader, Icreatus, to defeating them, however he was killed in a disastrous attempt to retake Balkh. Cyrus' highest general, Pantea, had fallen severely ill and was unable to fight, and Gubaru had left to travel the world (visiting Ainu Japan, Australia and then South Africa, dying there). With the support of the Kingdom of Turkestan, a Turkic state who had been harrassed by the Massagetae since its birth, Cyrus himself led an invasion on the confederation, taking with him the Turkestani High General, whom today is known for being revered in Islam as 'Abdul Tyran ibn al-Kufira' (his actual name was probably Kupiya), and his new personal lancer, Darius.
Originally Cyrus had planned to negotiate a treaty with the Massagetae, Darius even offered himself to marry the queen Tomyris. However Tomyris flatly rejected the idea. Instead Cyrus and al-Kufira launched an attack on Balkh, which was a resounding success. The Zoroastrian priests, whom had been locked away due to the Massagetae's staunch opposition to monotheism/henotheism and support of slavery, which is banned in Zoroastrianism, were freed and so were many of the Turkic and Arianese slaves of the Massagetae. Cyrus, at this point in his late seventies, still looked and fought like a healthy young man, described as 'not having a wisp of gray in beard nor hair, and not even a hint of fatigue or weakness during swordfights.' The writer from whom we know this from, Bealiah, himself a former Jewish slave freed by Cyrus in 559 B.C., freed the Turk women who would become his wife. He writes:
'The Achaemenid troops of all types, Yemenite, Assyrian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Jewish, Greek, Persian, Parthian, Turks and Baluchis, marched through the streets, triumphantly singing and dancing. The populace were also partying, slaves ran to the soldiers who brought down their axes upon their chains, smashing them to bits and freeing them. My future wife crawled out of a burning building, a chain around her leg. The chain was attached to the wrist of a big Massagetae. In a time near death they would chain their slaves (who had to permanently wear chains anyway) to themselves, as to make sure their slaves are not freed or acquired by another after their death. Such barbarity angered Cyrus greatly, he grabbed one of the slave drivers and nearly stabbed him the face. Later he told me, 'It's not the way of the Achaemenid, not the way of the Zoroastrian, not the way of humankind.'
The capture of Balkh is also significant as it is the first time an atheist has been mentioned in history; when Cyrus (whom had brought many religious items for his soldiers such as menorahs, cult statues of Marduk etc.) called upon his soldiers to pray in the Great Temple of Zarathushtra, providing room for non-Zoroastrian soldiers, a Sumerian soldier called Ibbi approached Cyrus and stated;
'My liege, these statues of deities, this beautiful stupa, means nothing to me. I believe they hold no significance in my life, for they have failed to show themselves as their power would suggest.'
Cyrus responded, 'A belief in no god offends me as much as a belief in a different god, that being not at all. Go my boy, return to camp early.'
The battle was not without casualties. The majority of Massagetae soldiers, Turkic slaves, were slaughtered either fighting the Achaemenids or trying to surrender (when their commanders killed them before the Achaemenids could take them to a safer place). Of the 500 Zoroastrian priests, 140, including the Dastura Nakatar (the first Ethiopian Dastura), were burnt at the stake just hours before the battle. Perhaps most memorably, Darius lost his left eye while blocking Cyrus from an attack from a Massagetae soldier.
al-Kufira experienced his revelation of monotheism in Balkh, naming the god 'Tyran'. He is, along with Solomon and Jesus and others revered as a prophet of Allah (in Hadith but not the Qu'ran itself), and his name was Arabized to reflect this. He became an ascetic wanderer soon after, relinquishing command of the Turkestani army to Cyrus until he defeated the Massagetae.
Cyrus was ready to negotiate a further truce, however Darius, who believed that to safeguard Achaemenid territory the Massagetae had to be destroyed, convinced Cyrus that the best course of action was to take the Massagetae's largest city, Sunikapat (modern Samarkand). Darius drew up a very effective assault plan upon the city, and Cyrus was so impressed he promised to make Darius one of his generals should he be successful.
According to Bealiah, Darius' plan (which is unknown to this day) was so terrifyingly efficient the Massagetae holding the city surrendered within 40 minutes of fighting, with the Turkic slave soldiers killing any of their commanders who refused to surrender. Now general, Darius marched in the city triumphant, wearing unique Zhang dynasty armour, which he continued to wear for the rest of his life, with Cyrus following.
Cyrus, again ready to make peace, was very much satisfied with his imperial gains. He prepared to draft a peace treaty between the two empires. Darius however yet again convinced him that the best course of action was to destroy the Massagetae, and now as they were retreating, the Achaemenid Empire could make some great territorial gains. Darius promised that he would destroy the tribe 'within six days', and he asked for total confidence from his king. Cyrus, impressed with his lancer's capture of Sunikapat, granted him total control of the Achaemenid forces in the area.
Darius wrote a letter to Tomyris, asking that she and her army march to the village of Ij (OW: Tashkent) where she and Cyrus would agree on a peace treaty. It involved them crossing the Syr Darya (Persian: Yaxsha Rautaua), a huge river in what is now Sogdia, which had frozen over in the incredibly cold autumn. Tomyris gladly accepted, as she was desperate for a peace treaty.
As the Massagetae crossed the ice river at a slow march, a hail of two thousand arrows fired upon them. The Achaemenid forces had camped across the bank and launched a surprise attack on the Massagetae. The Achaemenid archers could fire four arrows per minute accurately, and eight inaccurately, which slaughtered hundreds of the enemy. Then the cavalry charged, led by Darius himself. The Achaemenid horses were trained to run on ice, unlike the Massagetae, meaning that any troops trying to retreat were surrounded by the cavalry and slaughtered, or their horses slipped over and the soldiers were killed in the fall. The Achaemenid forces were still heavily outnumbered: 2,200 soldiers, most of whom were archers, compared with 20,000 Massagetae, moreover, when the Achaemenid cavalry retreated off the ice Tomyris and a few of her elite cavalry and soldiers managed to cross the river successfully and attack the Achaemenid soldiers. Eventually the Achaemenids were victorious, however not without heavy deaths of calvalry. Darius himself killed Tomyris in the most brutal way. Bealiah writes;
'So they stood, Arab stallion to Mongol mare, Chinese longsword to Turkic battleaxe, Zhang steel to Scythian leather. In one strike Tomyris decapitated Darius' horse, which fell down, taking Darius too. Tomyris was convinced that was that, but Darius drew his sword and penetrated the mare's vagina, causing her to bleed all over Darius' armour and over all the other corpses on the ground. She staggered forward, still bleeding and then she fell down, Tomyris falling with her. Darius walked over, picked her up and punched her in the face. She climbed up and drew her axe to fight Darius. She charged him and missed, twice, and Darius impaled her with his sword, before cutting off her arms, gouging her eyes out with his bare hands then decapitating her. He took her head and put it in his satchel, before turning to me, smiling devilishly.'
Achaemenid victory was assured now, the majority of the enemy forces were dead or demoralized, Tomyris was dead and the Achaemenids had overall taken few casualties (of the 2,200 soldiers, 2,100 survived, all that died were cavalry). As the Massagetae retreated across the Syr Darya, the ice broke across the river, drowning the remaining soldiers in the glacial water. Darius commented 'Either Ahuramazda has broken this ice, or it has broken in reverence of me!'
Darius returned to camp to meet Cyrus, who asked how the planning for the battles were. Darius merely grinned, then pulled out Tomyris' head and put it on his dinner plate. Cyrus was astonished, terrified and fascinated by Darius, and gifted him a third of Tomyris' wealth as a reward. Cyrus did eventually contact the rest of the council, and agreed to them keeping the lands north of the Syr Darya. Satisfied, Cyrus returned to Pasargadae.
Death and Succession
Cyrus died at the age of 77 on the 4th December 523 B.C., peaceably in his palace at Pasargadae. His last words were reportedly 'Cassandane, I shall return now, for that will be my greatest triumph, to see you again.' His life between 559 and 523 isn't well documented, except for the death of his wife and his attack on the Massagetae. His wife's death damaged Cyrus to such a degree he retired from public life, leaving power effectively in the hands of his highest general, Pantea. Pantea died within days of Cyrus of either Malaria or Yellow Fever based on examination of her corpse. An interregnum followed, and after a month Darius was voted as king by the Persian nobles.
He is entombed in the old city of Pasargadae, which was abandoned after a flood in 104 B.C.. The city has since been uninhabitable, but the Persian government has made the city into a tourist attraction, using the water in canals to transport tourist via boat. Pasargadae is known as the 'Venice of the East' as a result.
LegacyCyrus has been a personal hero to many people, including Thomas Jefferson, Saladin, Lucia of York and Abdoltlaloc ibn Tezuma.
The achievements of Cyrus the Great throughout antiquity are reflected in the way he is remembered today. His own nation, the Eranics, have regarded him as "The Father", the very title that had been used during the time of Cyrus himself, by the many nations that he conquered, as according to Xenophon:
"And those who were subject to him, he treated with esteem and regard, as if they were his own children, while his subjects themselves respected Cyrus as their "Father" ... What other man but 'Cyrus', after having overturned an empire, ever died with the title of "The Father" from the people whom he had brought under his power? For it is plain fact that this is a name for one that bestows, rather than for one that takes away!"
The Babylonians regarded him as "The Liberator".
The Book of Ezra narrates a story of the first return of exiles in the first year of Cyrus; for this, Cyrus is addressed in the Jewish Tanakh as the "Lord's Messiah". Glorified by Ezra, and by Isaiah, Cyrus is the one to whom "the LORD, the God of Heaven" has given "all the Kingdoms of the earth".
Cyrus was distinguished equally as a statesman and as a soldier. Due in part to the political infrastructure he created, the Achaemenid Empire endured long after his death, and his enlightened successors introduced democracy early enough so the monarchy was not overthrown later. Many people believe Afrand's abolitionist start also contributed.
The rise of Persia under Cyrus's rule had a profound impact on the course of world history. Iranian philosophy, literature and religion all played dominant roles in world events for the next millennium.
According to Professor Richard Nelson Frye, Cyrus – whose abilities as conqueror and administrator Frye says are attested by the longevity and vigor of the Achaemenid Empire – held an almost mythic role among the Persian people "similar to that of Romulus and Remus in Rome or Moses for the Israelites", with a story that "follows in many details the stories of hero and conquerors from elsewhere in the ancient world". Frye writes, "He became the epitome of the great qualities expected of a ruler in antiquity, and he assumed heroic features as a conqueror who was tolerant and magnanimous as well as brave and daring.
On another account, Professor Patrick Hunt states, "If you are looking at the greatest personages in History who have affected the World, 'Cyrus the Great' is one of the few who deserves that epithet, the one who deserves to be called 'the Great'. The empire over which Cyrus ruled was the largest the Ancient World had ever seen and may be to this day the largest empire ever."
Religion and PhilosophyCyrus' religious beliefs are thought to be an archaic form of Multideitic Zoroastrianism, a sect of Zoroastrianism that originated in Greece in an attempt to incorporate many deities into the religion as servants of Ohrmasa (Old Persian: Ahura Mazda). This sect evolved as a distinct group in 200 B.C., but the Mesopotamian Achaemenids had long incorporated the Babylonian gods into Zoroastrianism.
The policies of Cyrus with respect to treatment of minority religions are well documented in Babylonian texts as well as Jewish sources and the historians accounts. Cyrus had a general policy of religious tolerance throughout his vast empire. He brought peace to the Babylonians and is said to have kept his army away from the temples and restored the statues of the Babylonian gods to their sanctuaries.
His treatment of the Jews during their exile in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Jerusalem is reported in the Bible. The Jewish Bible's Ketuvim ends in Second Chronicles with the decree of Cyrus, which returned the exiles to the Promised Land from Babylon along with a commission to rebuild the temple.
As a result of Cyrus's policies, the Jews honored him as a dignified and righteous king. He is the only Gentile to be designated as Messiah, a divinely appointed leader, in the Tanakh (Isaiah 45:1–6). Isaiah 45:13: "I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says Yahweh Almighty." As the text suggests, Cyrus did ultimately release the nation of Israel from its exile without compensation or tribute. Traditionally, the entire book of Isaiah is believed to pre-date the rule of Cyrus by about 120 years. These particular passages (Isaiah 40–55, often referred to as Deutero-Isaiah) are believed by most modern critical scholars to have been added by another author toward the end of the Babylonian exile (ca. 536 BC). Whereas Isaiah 1–39 (referred to as Proto-Isaiah) saw the destruction of Israel as imminent, and the restoration in the future, Deutero-Isaiah speaks of the destruction in the past (Isa 42:24–25), and the restoration as imminent (Isa 42:1–9). Notice, for example, the change in temporal perspective from (Isa 39:6–7), where the Babylonian Captivity is cast far in the future, to (Isa 43:14), where the Israelites are spoken of as already in Babylon. According to the traditional view, these final chapters were written by the same author, who spoke about a future situation of which he had prophetic knowledge.
Some contemporary Muslim scholars have suggested that the Qur'anic figure of Dhul-Qarnayn is Cyrus the Great. This theory was proposed by Sunni scholar Abul Kalam Azad and endorsed by Shia scholars Allameh Tabatabaei, in his Tafsir al-Mizan and Makarem Shirazi.
Politics and Management
Cyrus founded the empire as a multi-state empire governed by four capital states; Pasargadae, Babylon, Susa and Ecbatana. He allowed a certain amount of regional autonomy in each state, in the form of a satrapy system. A satrapy was an administrative unit, usually organized on a geographical basis. A 'satrap' (governor) was the vassal king, who administered the region, a 'general' supervised military recruitment and ensured order, and a 'state secretary' kept the official records. The general and the state secretary reported directly to the satrap as well as the central government.
During his reign, Cyrus maintained control over a vast region of conquered kingdoms, achieved through retaining and expanding the satrapies. Further organization of newly conquered territories into provinces ruled by satraps, was continued by Cyrus's successor Darius the Great. Cyrus's empire was based on tribute and conscripts from the many parts of his realm.
Through his military savvy, Cyrus created an organized army including the Immortals unit, consisting of 10,000 highly trained soldiers. He also formed an innovative postal system throughout the empire, based on several relay stations called Chapar Khaneh.
Cyrus's conquests began a new era in the age of empire building, where a vast superstate, comprising many dozens of countries, races, religions, and languages, were ruled under a single administration headed by a central government.
Cyrus has been known for his innovations in building projects; he further developed the technologies that he found in the conquered cultures and applied them in building the palaces of Pasargadae. He was also famous for his love of gardens; the recent excavations in his capital city has revealed the existence of the Pasargad Persian Garden and a network of irrigation canals. Pasargadae was place for two magnificent palaces surrounded by a majestic royal park and vast formal gardens; among them was the four-quartered wall gardens of "Paradisia" with over 1000 meters of channels made out of carved limestone, designed to fill small basins at every 16 meters and water various types of wild and domestic flora. The design and concept of Paradisia were exceptional and have been used as a model for many ancient and modern parks, ever since.
Cyrus's legacy has been felt even as far away as Iceland and colonial America. Many of the forefathers of the United States of America sought inspiration from Cyrus the Great through works such as Cyropaedia. Thomas Jefferson, for example, owned a copy.
The English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne penned a discourse entitled The Garden of Cyrus in 1658 in which Cyrus is depicted as an archetypal "wise ruler" – at a time when the Protectorate of Cromwell occurred in English history.
"Cyrus the elder brought up in Woods and Mountains, when time and power enabled, pursued the dictate of his education, and brought the treasures of the field into rule and circumscription. So nobly beautifying the hanging Gardens of Babylon, that he was also thought to be the author thereof."
One of the few surviving sources of information that can be dated directly to Cyrus's time is the Cyrus cylinder, a document in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform. It had been placed in the foundations of the Esagila (the temple of Marduk in Babylon) as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest in 539 BC. It was discovered in 1879 and is kept today in the British Museum in London.
The text of the cylinder denounces the deposed Babylonian king Nabonidus as impious and portrays Cyrus as pleasing to the chief god Marduk. It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries. Although not mentioned in the text, the repatriation of the Jews from their "Babylonian captivity" has been interpreted as part of this policy.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has stated that the cylinder was “the first attempt we know about running a society, a state with different nationalities and faiths — a new kind of statecraft.” He explained that "It has even been described as the first declaration of human rights, and while this was never the intention of the document -- the modern concept of human rights scarcely existed in the ancient world -- it has come to embody the hopes and aspirations of many."