Today on October 29, 539 BCE, Cyrus the Great captures the ancient city of Babylon, signaling the start of the First Persian Empire.
Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great, founded the Achaemenid Empire or the First Persian Empire. Through extensive military conquest, he built a vast empire that stretched from the Aegean Sea to southwestern Asia. Contemporaries describe Cyrus as an ideal, tolerant and brave monarch. His people are even said to have called him ‘father’. Most of our knowledge of Cyrus comes from Greek historians who epitomized him as the perfect ruler. In the Bible, he’s recognized for liberating the Jews living under suppression in Babylonia; allowing them to return home to return to their homeland.
Prior to capturing the city, Cyrus achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Opis against Nabonidus, King of Babylon. It was widely known that the Babylonians were dissatisfied with their rule, which Cyrus used as a pretext for his invasion. He marched his army towards the ancient capital city to complete his conquest. The walls of Babylon were believed to be impregnable by most, as the city was surrounded by water from the Euphrates River. The Persian army came up with a clever plan to divert the river further upstream, dropping the water level down to a more manageable depth. According to legend, the city’s inhabitants were so distracted by a religious feast that the Persian soldiers were able to wade the river completely unnoticed. They apparently tunneled underneath the walls and took the city without a fight.
Ancient documents have since been found that indicate repairs were indeed made to the walls and certain parts of the city afterward. It’s likely Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon wasn’t as effortless as the legend suggests. He eventually turned Babylon into the administrative capital of the Persian Empire and the city went on to flourish for hundreds of years. The conquest of Mesopotamia also brought the regions of Syria and Palestine under Persian control. Today, Cyrus the Great Day is an unofficial holiday in Iran with celebrations taking place at his commemorative tomb.