His ancestors of the Achaemenid Dynasty for several generations had ruled the kingdom of Anshan, in what is now southwestern Iran. In a cylinder inscription, Cyrus himself designates his predecessors in the throne of this small kingdom. The founder of this dynasty was King Achaemenes of Anshan (c. 700 BC) who was succeeded by his son Teispes of Anshan. Inscriptions indicate that when the later died, two of his sons shared the throne as Cyrus I of Anshan and Ariaramnes of Persia. They were succeeded by their respective sons Cambyses I of Anshan and Arsames of Persia. Cambyses is considered by Herodotus and Ctesias to be of humble origin. But they also consider him being married to Princess Mandane of Media, a daughter of Astyages, King of Media and Princess Aryenis of Lydia. Cyrus is the reported result of this supposed wedding.
In 559 BC, Cyrus succeeded his father Cambyses the Elder as King of Anshan. He apparently also soon managed to succeed Arsames in the throne of Persia though the later was still living. Arsames was father to Hystaspes and would live to see his grandson become King Darius I of Persia. But by this point Cyrus II was not yet an independent ruler. Like his predeccesors before him, Cyrus had to recognize Median overlordship. His overlord was his own supposed grandfather Astyages. Cyrus reportedly revolted against the later c. 554 BC/ 553 BC and by 550 BC/ 549 BC his armies had captured Ecbatana and effectively conquered Media. He at first seems to have accepted the crown of Media but by 546 BC had officially assumed the title of "king of Persia,". Thus the Persians gained dominion over the Iranian plateau.
But Cyrus' wars had just begun. Astyages had been in alliance with his brother-in-law Croesus of Lydia, Nabonidus of Babylon and Amasis II of Egypt. They reportedly indended to unite their armies against the Cyrus II and his Persians. But before the allies could unite Cyrus had occupied Sardis, overthrown the Lydian kingdom, and taken Croesus prisoner (546 BC). In 538 Cyrus occupied Babylon. According to the Babylonian inscription this was in all probability a bloodless victory. From the list of countries subject to Persian rule given on the first tablet of the great Behistun Inscription of Darius, written before any new conquests could have been made except that of Egypt, the dominion of Cyrus must have comprised the largest empire the world had yet seen, stretching from Asia Minor and Palestine in the west to the Indus valley in the east.
Cyrus organized the empire into provincial administrations called satrapies. The satraps had considerable independence from the emperor, and from many parts of the realm Cyrus demanded no more than tribute and conscripts.
Cyrus issued a declaration, inscribed on a clay barrel known as Cyrus Charter of Human Rights. It was discovered in 1879 in Babylon and today is kept in the British Museum. Many historians have reviewed it as the first declaration of human rights.
According to Herodotus and Ctesias, Cyrus met his death in the year 529, while warring against tribes northeast of the headwaters of the Tigris. He was buried in the town of Pasargadae. Both Strabo and Arrian give descriptions of his tomb, based upon reports of men who saw it at the time of Alexander's invasion. The tomb northeast of Persepolis, which has been claimed as that of Cyrus, is evidently not his, as its location does not fit the reports.
Cyrus was distinguished no less as statesman than as a soldier. His statesmanship came out particularly in his treatments of newly conquered peoples. By pursuing a policy of generosity, instead of repression, and by favoring the local religion, he was able to make his new subjects his enthusiastic supporters. A good example of this policy is found in his treatment of the Jews in Babylon.
Cambyses the Elder
In the seventeenth century the English philosopher Sir Thomas Browne named his 1658 Discourse after the benevolent ruler. His title The Garden of Cyrus may well be a Royalist criticism upon the autocratic rule of Cromwell.