The Rise of Greatness: A Comparative Look at Cyrus II and Alexander III
18 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011 Last revised: 30 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 15, 2011
The study of Cyrus II or “Cyrus the Great” as he is depicted in historical literature has been shrouded by uncertainty since his death some 2500 years ago. The intellectual community appears to be content with the paucity of information that has trickled into pages of books, journals, and magazines leaving ancient scholars with very little from which to base his life on. After further inquiry, the nature of this lack of content appears to be linked to the absence of reliable historical scholarship contemporary with the period of Cyrus’s reign. John Manual Cook, author of the book titled, The Persian Empire, writes a chapter on the reliability of the sources that have survived antiquity. He contends that among the historical texts that have endured, Herodotus is perhaps the most reliable. Cook supports his claim by pointing out Herodotus’ link with “Hecataeus of Miletus, who was active around the end of the sixth century. He [Hecataeus] was not a historian. But he constructed a map of the known world; show[ing] a circular land-mass divided between Europe on the north and Asia on the south”. This map essentially gave Herodotus invaluable knowledge of the peoples of central Asia. Cook also suggests that Herodotus was exposed to the Persika (the Persian war with Greece) written by Hellanicus of Lesbos and thus “may occasionally have been indebted to an Eastern Greek predecessor for specific information”. Furthermore, Cook asserts: “It would not necessarily be any…less reliable if [it] were so. What we can say [to this] is that in the few instances where citations from…other fifth-century authors occur in later Greek writers and allow a comparison with Herodotus they appear unimpressive.” Apparently, collaborative authentication is the bedrock behind Cook’s argument favoring the work of Herodotus. The only other ancient sources for Cyrus worth mentioning in the context of this study are Xenophon’s, Cyropaedia, Ctesias’ 23 books on Persia and India; made known through the Byzantine scholar Photius, the “Nabonidus Chronicle”, the Jewish Tanak, and the Cyrus cylinder. Among these, only the “Nabonidus Chronicle”, Cyrus cylinder and the Jewish Tanach represent contemporary sources. Though these documents appear sufficient enough to generate an historical model, it must be added that conventional scholarship has branded much of it spurious. Such conclusions are perhaps largely responsible for the inattention Cyrus has received. This inquiry does not argue the concerted opinions scholars have rendered regarding the tenuous history found in these sources. It is nevertheless hopeful, that a comparative study focusing on the most reliable sources will be fruitful and thus, worth the journey.
Keywords: Alexander the Great, the 99 percent, occupy wall street, Antichrist, Augustus, history, ancient history, greco-roman history, greece, the greeks
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