CYRUS vi. Cyrus the Younger



vi. Cyrus the Younger

This prince (ca. 423-01 b.c.e.) was the second of the four sons of Darius II (ca. 424-05) and Parysatis (Plutarch, Artoxerxes 1.2) and a younger brother of Arsaces/Arsicas, later Artaxerxes II (405/4-359/8). The ancient Greeks called him “the Younger” (ho neṓteros or ho deúteros) to distinguish him from Cyrus the Great (see iii, above). According to Ctesias (Jacoby, Fragmente III/C, p. 470 fr. 15.51), his mother was already queen when he was born, which must have been after the winter of 424-23, when Darius ascended the throne (at the latest February 423). Parysatis preferred him to Arsaces, who had been born while Darius was still crown prince (or a “private gentleman”; Plutarch, Artoxerxes 2.4). She sought to win for him the succession and furthered his claims to the throne by repeatedly pointing out that Xerxes I (486-65) had been not the firstborn son of Darius I (522-486 b.c.e.) but the first born “to the purple,” after his father’s accession to the throne (cf. Boyce, Zoroas­trianism II, pp. 200-01). Cyrus was only fifteen or sixteen years old when his mother managed to have him appointed both satrap of Lydia, Greater Phrygia, and Cappadocia (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.9.7) and suc­cessor to Tissaphernes (see *Čiθrafarnah) as commander-in-chief of the troops assembled on the plain of Castolus east of Sardis (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.1.2, 1.9.7; cf. idem, Hellenica 1.4.3, where the appropriate title is given in the Greek form káranos, which is derived from OPers. kāra- “army,” and from which it may be concluded that Cyrus had been given one of the “great army commands” of the empire). He was thus to function as both civilian governor and supreme military commander of Asia Minor. This elevation must have occurred in 408 or 407. From the time of his arrival in the west Cyrus pursued a consistent policy of assisting Sparta in its struggle against Athens (cf. Thucydides, 2.65.12, on his financial support for Spartan naval construction). In particular, the Spartan admiral Lysander became his friend; owing to Cyrus’ influence, Lysander was reappointed to his post (though with a nominal chief) in violation of Spartan law.

When Darius became dangerously ill sometime in 405 he recalled his son to court (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.1.2); Cyrus turned over all his funds to Lysander (Xenophon, Hellenica 1.1.2) and traveled upcountry with Tissaphernes, who had been appointed satrap of Caria, and a guard of 300 hired Greek hoplites (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.1.2). After Darius’ death in the winter of 405-04 (at the latest in March 404) Arsaces ascended the throne as Artaxerxes II; Cyrus undertook to assassinate him during the coronation ceremony at Pasargadae, but Tissaphernes warned Arsaces (Plutarch, Artoxerxes 3.3-5; cf. Xenophon, Anabasis 1.1.3; Ctesias, in Jacoby, Fragmente III/C, p. 472 fr. 16.59). It was Parysatis who, through fervent supplication, induced the new king not only to pardon his brother but also to confirm him in his satrapy and his military command.

Cyrus probably returned to Sardis in the summer of 403 and, while writing submissively to the king, im­mediately began secret preparations for armed rebel­lion. As he had personally observed the Greeks’ military superiority, he planned to organize a Greek mercenary force for his purposes. All the Ionian cities except Miletus joined Cyrus against a supposed threat from Tissaphernes, and he was thus able to gather a large army. He revealed his true intentions, however, only to the Spartans, whom he also asked for assistance (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.4.2; idem, Hellenica 3.1.1; Diodorus, 14.19.4); they responded by sending 700 hoplites under Cheirisophus and placing their fleet at Cyrus’ disposal. In all nearly 14,000 Greek mercenar­ies were recruited and organized in separate contin­gents, each commanded by its own general, though Clearchus eventually became commander-in-­chief of the entire Greek force.

Having completed his mobilization, Cyrus gathered most of his troops in Sardis, officially to open a campaign against the rebellious Pisidians (Diodorus, 14.19.6; Xenophon, Anabasis 1.1.11, 1.2.1). The expedition departed sometime in the spring of 401 and was joined on the march by contingents under Menon, Clearchus, and other generals, so that more than 10,000 hoplites and peltasts, as well as a large army of Asians (numbering 100,000 men, according to Xenophon, Anabasis 1.7.10, but 70,000, according to Diodorus, 14.19.7), advanced by way of Colossae, Celaenae, Peltae, Caystru Pedium, Thymbrium, Tyrtaeum, Iconium (modern Konya), and Tarsus to the Euphrates river at Thapsacus. Only at that point did Cyrus disclose to his forces that he was in fact marching against his brother; the Greeks in particular were reluctant to continue, and he was able to overcome their resistance only by promises of great increases in pay. The troops crossed the river and marched south along the east bank of the Euphrates without meeting any opposition until they reached Cunaxa, a village about 90 km west of Babylon (Plutarch, Artoxerxes 8.2), where Artaxerxes’ huge army awaited them. Again it was Tissaphernes who had ridden with 500 horsemen to the royal court to warn the king of his brother’s advance.

Exactly 180 days after the departure from Sardis (84 marching days and 96 days of rest, according to the detailed description in Xenophon’s Anabasis, bk. 1), in autumn 401, the decisive battle was fought at Cunaxa (the often-repeated exact date of 3 September is abso­lutely unfounded; cf. Weissbach, col. 1171). Cyrus at once attacked the enemy, which was superior in num­bers with a considerably longer front line. He ordered Clearchus, whose Greek troops constituted his right wing, to attack the enemy center, but Clearchus re­fused to leave his position on the riverbank, which offered cover from the right and ensured that he could not be surrounded. The Greeks therefore advanced straight ahead, rushed their opponents, and pursued them for some distance; this quick success neverthe­less opened a gap in Cyrus’ line. Cyrus himself had meanwhile plunged into the center of the enemy and, when he saw his brother directly ahead, forgot all caution and rushed him fiercely, striking him in the chest. Nevertheless, he was struck down by an enemy spear and killed, at the age of only twenty-two years. The details of his death are not entirely clear; the best source may be Ctesias, who, as physician to the royal family, was stationed behind the front line and at­tended the wounded king (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.26-­27; Diodorus, 14.23.6-7; Plutarch, Artoxerxes 11.1-5, cf. 10.1-3, for Dinon’s account).

The outcome of the battle was thus a resounding victory for the king. The Greek mercenaries, having forced their way so far into hostile country, were in a difficult situation; it became almost entirely hopeless after their commanders were seized and murdered through the treachery of Tissaphernes. Nevertheless, these troops, also known as “the Cyreians” (hoi Kúreioi; Xenophon, Hellenica 3.2.7), succeeded in reaching the Black Sea after suffering a difficult and dangerous retreat, an eyewitness account of which has been offered by Xenophon (see anabasis).

Xenophon, who had participated in Cyrus’ campaign and knew him personally (cf. Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.16-25), described Cyrus the Younger as ceaselessly active and courageous, generous and grateful, a warm­hearted man, an audacious fighter, an able satrap, and an effective politician, all qualities of greatness inspir­ing him to seek a higher position. His encomium (Anabasis 1.9) begins, however, with praise of “the man who was the most kingly and the most worthy to rule of all the Persians who have been born since Cyrus the Elder” (Anabasis 1.9.1) and corresponds strikingly to the same author’s portrait of Cyrus the Elder in the Cyropaedia (cf. Hirsch, chap. IV; Boyce, Zoroastrian­ism II, pp. 211-16). Aside from the Anabasis and Hellenica of Xenophon the main sources on the prince’s life are the report of Ctesias, who was living at the Persian court; Plutarch’s Artoxerxes, based on the reports of both Xenophon and Ctesias but also on the Persiká of Dinon, which is only fragmentarily preserved; and the work of Diodorus (14.19.1­-14.31.35), whose account is mainly based on that of Ephorus and also incorporates part of a report, now almost entirely lost, by Sophaenetus of Stymphalus, another participant in the campaign (cf. Jacoby, Fragmente II/B, p. 523).

On the other hand, there is not a single mention of Cyrus the Younger in any Old Persian or Achaemenid royal inscription, as the short inscription CMa (cf. Kent, Old Persian, p. 116), which was ascribed to him by F. H. Weissbach and others, belongs to Cyrus the Great. It is likely that Cyrus issued coins, as other satraps did. An unusual type of daric (gold coin) in Greek, rather than Oriental, style with an image of a beardless adolescent royal figure (a running archer with a bow spear) in a richly decorated robe can reasonably be attributed to him (cf. Babelon, cols. 49-­52, pl. lxxxvi/16-17; Hill, pp. cxxv-cxxvi and n. 6, p. 156). A. Shapur Shahbazi has suggested that the tomb known as Gūr-e Doḵtar, located on the plain of Bozpār in southwestern Fārs province, a replica of the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae (cf. Stronach, pp. 300-02; see v, above), is the tomb of Cyrus the Younger, but such an identification seems extremely questionable (cf. most recently Hirsch, pp. 173-74). Walther Hinz identified a similar rock-cut tomb known as Dā o Doḵtar, situated halfway between Shiraz and Behbahān (cf. Stronach, p. 304) as that of Cyrus the Younger (1979, pp. 38-41) but offered no proof.



E. Babelon, Traité des monnaies grecques et romaines II/2, Paris, 1910.

J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, London, 1983, esp. chap. XVIII.

G. Cousin, Kyros le Jeune en Asie Mineure, Nancy, 1905.

M. A. Dandamaev, A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire, tr. W. J. Vogelsang, Leiden, 1989.

G. F. Hill, Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Arabia, Mesopotamia and Persia, London, 1922.

W. Hinz, Darius und die Perser. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Achämeniden II., Baden-Baden, 1979.

Idem, “Kyros,” RIA VI, 1980-83, pp. 402-03.

S. W. Hirsch, The Friendship of the Barbarians. Xenophon and the Persian Empire, Hanover, N.H., 1985.

E. Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums IV/17, IV/27, V6, Darmstadt, 1975-80.

A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, esp. pp. 367-76.

J. Roy, “The Mercenaries of Cyrus,” Historia 16, 1967, pp. 287-323.

A. Sh. Shahbazi, “The Achaemenid Tomb in Buzpar (Gur-i Dukhtar),” Bāstān-šenāsī wa honar-e Īrān 9-10, 1972, pp. 54-56.

D. Stronach, Pasargadae, Oxford, 1978.

F. H. Weissbach, “Kyros 7,” in Pauly-Wissowa, Suppl. IV, cols. 1166-1177.

(Rüdiger Schmitt)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 10, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, pp. 524-526