Cyrus the Great became king of Persia in 550 BC. Cyrus built the magnificent capital city of the Persian Empire, Pasargadae. The arrival of Cyrus marked the end of Croesus, the famous Lydian monarch. In 546 BC, Cyrus defeated Croesus and took over the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, Cappadocia, Armenia, Parthia, and Hyrcania. Cyrus added Babylon to his empire in 539 BC. Here he liberated the captive Jews, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel. Cyrus earned the respect of the Jews for his religious tolerance and his place in the Old Testament. The Cyrus Cylinder is a text of the king's own proclamation, inscribed in cuneiform on a clay cylinder. On his cylinder, Cyrus is quoted:
"To Assur and Susa, Agade, Esnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der... I returned the images of the gods...I gathered all their inhabitants [the Jews of Babylon] and returned to them their dwellings"
Cyrus died in 530 BC. By this time his empire became largest known empire in the ancient world. The capital cities were Babylon, Susa, and Ecbatana.
The Reign of Darius I
Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II. Cambyses reign was a short one. Although he succeeded in adding Egypt to the Achaemenid Empire, Cambyses had to face an internal revolt and lost his life in the turmoil. The next important ruler of the dynasty was Darius I (reign 550 BC - 486 BC), a distant cousin of Cyrus. Darius was a great builder, and he commissioned rebuilding the old capital of Susa. By 518 BC, he established the city of Persepolis. The palaces and structures of Persepolis were marvels of ancient architecture. Like Cyrus, Darius was a benevolent king. He paid for the laborers who worked to build Persepolis. Darius capital was the first city to have a full-fledged drainage system. He also added to Cyrus empire. He added Palestine, parts of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
In 515 BC, he commissioned the building of a royal road that connected the far reaches of his empire. He built a canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Nile. The Achaemenid Empire was an invincible force.
By 490 BC, a few minor cities in Asia Minor broke out in revolt, supported by the Greek city-state, Athens. Darius initiated the infamous Greco-Persian Wars with the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. He lined his ships across the Bosphorus Strait and marched his army through the boats. Themistocles won the battle because of his superior strategy, and Darius withdrew from Greece. Before he could reach Persepolis, Darius died in 486 BC, after naming his son Xerxes the next king.
Fall of the Achaemenid Empire
Xerxes dealt with the revolts in Egypt and Babylon and proceeded to attack the Greeks. He decided to fight the battle on two fronts. His army crossed over to Thermopylae, and after an initial struggle, they defeated the Spartan army to enter Athens. Athens was deserted and Xerxes, in a rare fit of anger, had Athens razed. On the other front, Xerxes was lured into the narrow Straits of Salamis by Themistocles and the Greek Navy where they were routed. Xerxes withdrew to Persia. In 465 BC, he was murdered and was succeeded by Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes completed the work at Persepolis. By the fourth century BC, however, the empire was weakened by rebellions and invasions. Egypt, supported by the Greeks, rose up in rebellion. Artaxerxes led a campaign against the Greeks in Memphis and drove them out. In 424 BC, Artaxerxes died leading up to the decline of the great Achaemenid Empire. In 336 BC, Darius III came to power. By this time Alexander the Great gained power and challenged Darius III in a series of battles. Alexander pushed the Persians back to Persepolis. In 330 BC, Alexander conquered and burnt Persepolis. Soon, Darius III was murdered, bringing an end to the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia.