History : Sep-Oct 2016
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 39 seen. Written in cuneiform, the Cyrus Cylin- der recounts how sovereigns from the Upper Sea (the Mediterranean) to the Lower Sea (the Persian Gulf) came to offer tribute to Cyrus in Babylon and kiss his feet. Pax Persiana If the rise of the Persian emperor was stellar, his end was a grim anticlimax. In 530 b.c., when he was approaching his 60s, Cyrus led a campaign to the northeastern frontier of his empire. Ac- cording to Herodotus, he believed that “against whatever country he turned his arms, it was im- possible for that people to escape.” Do Herodotus’s words hint at hubris? Cyrus was killed during a battle against a local tribe, the Massagetae. According to the Greek histo- rian, the queen of the tribe, Tomyris, had lost her own son in the battle and plunged the emperor’s severed head in a pail of blood. Cyrus’s gruesome end did not diminish his astonishing legacy, nor did it stall the ongoing expansion of his already colossal empire. His immediate successor, Cambyses II, conquered Egypt, establishing its 27th dynasty. Attempts by Cambyses to push even farther afield into Ethiopia, and west toward Carthage, were frus- trated, and it was left to his successor, Darius I, to take the Persian Empire to its widest span, conquering the Indus Valley and crossing the Danube into Europe. The son of a provincial governor, Darius had to prove his mettle by quashing numerous revolts. But his greatest legacy was his administrative genius: His schemes to standardize weights and coinage across his vast territories became a blue- print for the world’s future empires. Continuing the religious policy set by Cyrus, faiths within the empire were allowed to flourish, including those of the Jews and the Egyptians. Darius’s bid for westward expansion was checked at the Battle of Marathon in 490 b.c. The failure by his successor, Xerxes I, to break the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis a decade later, opened a new chapter in world history: the flour- ishing of fifth-century b.c. Athens. A MOTHER’S REVENGE Jean-Simon Berthélemy’s 18th- century canvas “The Beheading of Cyrus II” shows Queen Tomyris watching as the emperor’s head is plunged into a pail of blood to avenge her son. Musée des Beaux Arts, Nîmes BRIDGEMAN/ACI A PROFESSOR AT THE CARLOS III UNIVERSITY OF MADRID IN SPAIN, JAIME ALVAR EZQUERRA SPECIALIZES IN THE HISTORY OF THE MEDITERRANEAN AND ASIA.