Cyrus: the King of Persia or the King of Ansan?

  July 24, 2021   Read time 3 min
Cyrus: the King of Persia or the King of Ansan?
Cyrus proves to have been originally king, not of Persia, but of Ansan or Anzan. Ansan was a district of Elam, considerably to the north of Persia, and it had formed an important part of the territory over which the ancient kings of Elam had claimed rule.

Indeed, in one Assyrian text Ansan is stated to be synonymous with Elam. Teispe?, the ancestor of Cyrus, is said by Darius to have been the son of the Persian Akhsemenes, and since Cyrus does not trace the kings of Ansan further back than Teispes, it seems probable that it was Teispes who conquered Ansan and established his authority there. Darius Hystaspis also traced his descent to Teispes through a brother of Cyrus I, and as he declares at Behistan that eight of his forefathers had been kings before him "in two lines," it has been supposed that while one of the sons of Teispes received Ansan as his share after his father's death, another son, the great-grandfather of Darius, received Persia. At all events we learn from the Annalistic Tablet that Cyrus II did not become king of Persia until between the years B.C. 550 and B.C. 547. In B.C. 550 he is still "king of Ansan," in B.C. 547 he has for the first time become "king of Persia."

Another fact which the newly-discovered inscriptions have brought to light is that Babylon was taken with- out a siege and even "without fighting." The same fact is evidenced by the contract-tablets, which show that there was no cessation of business transactions in Babylon during the period that elapsed between the overthrow of Nabonidos and the entrance of Cyrus into the city, and that the trading community at once transferred its allegiance from the one ruler to the other. As soon as the army of Nabonidos was defeated near Sippara, all resistance to the invader was at an end. He had a strong party in his favour in Babylonia itself, and he was welcomed there as a deliverer from the tyranny of Nabonidos. Nabonidos had been a usurper, unrelated to the family of Nebuchadrezzar, and he had bitterly offended what maybe called "the country-party'' by endeavouring to destroy the local cults, and centralize the religion of Babylonia, and therewith the political life of the country, in the capital. All who had been interested in the worship of the local deities naturally resented the attempt of the king.

Cyrus showed his political wisdom by undoing this centralizing work of his predecessor as soon as Babylonia was in his hands. The images of the gods were restored to their old seats, and the populations who had been transported from one part of the empire to another were allowed to return home. Light is thus cast on the motives which led Cyrus to permit the Jewish exiles to return to Palestine. It was part of a general policy, and the Jews differed from the other peoples who were similarly restored to their nativa lands only in having no divine images to take back with them. Instead of gods, the sacred vessels of the temple were what they carried back to Jerusalem.

It is quite plain from the inscriptions that Cyrus had none of the proselytizing zeal of Zoroastrianism, none of the belief in monotheism, which has so often been ascribed to him. The king of Ansan was a polytheist, and after the conquest of Babylonia adopted the deities of the country who, as he asserts, had bestowed it upon him. Like the kings of Babylon who had gone before him, he and his son Cambyses were worshippers of Bel and Nebo. The first Zoroastrian ruler of Babylon was Darius Hystaspis, not Cyrus the Elamite prince.

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