Birth of the Persian Empire
The great Persian Empire of the fifth to third centuries [B.C.E.] was almost the by-product of the search for security by the Persians of Fars. As they moved from nomadism to settled agriculture, the Persians, along with the Medes and other groups on the Iranian plateau, sought to control as much land as possible on the perimeters of their settlements. In this quest for land, water, protection, and order, the quality of leadership within each group played a decisive role in that group’s success. For protection lay in numbers, and numbers were possible only through loose confederations between groups who were natural rivals. By their very nature, these confederations could retain their cohesiveness only through a strong leader exhibiting a charismatic personality. It was this environment that produced the most remarkable leader in Iranian history, [Cyrus the Great.]
On ascending the throne around 559 [B.C.E.], Cyrus began to build his empire. In 550 [B.C.E.], he wooed as much as conquered the Medes under his principles of conquest. First, persuasion and accommodation would take precedence over brute force. Second, the vanquished would never be humiliated. With a deft political touch, Cyrus granted the captured king of the Medes all reverence due his position and preserved intact Media’s existing military and administrative organizations along with the people who managed them. Avoiding needless reprisals against the subjugated, Cyrus created partners rather than adversaries in the expanding Persian Empire.
As a tribute to his politics and pragmatism, Cyrus’s empire was not only large, it was stable because the Persians realized what had never occurred to the Assyrians and the other imperialist powers of that age: that national interest does not have to express itself solely in vindictiveness, that it is not necessarily impaired by respect for lesser national interests, and that tolerance pays off.