Cyrus The Great (580 BC-529 BC) is one of the most notable emperors in world history. He united the original Medes and Persian tribes to form the first equally unified and united Persian (Iranian) Empire, and after many other conquests, he created one of the largest empires ever. (The Persian Empire was later extended even further by successive Emperors.)
What really makes Cyrus stand out in history is the tolerant and respectful attitude he had towards all people in his empire, including those he had just defeated. This was a vast contrast to virtually every other notable leader before him, most of who had oppressive reigns and commonly forced their ways and cultures into conquered people.
Cyrus had his own cultural background and was a follower of the Zoroastrian religion, yet he showed great respect for the religious beliefs and cultural traditions of all other races. His tolerant actions earned him the devotion, respect, and admiration of his citizens.
Although Cyrus is known today as a great conqueror, he was actually more like a liberator. His understanding and gracefulness towards others was truly ahead of his time. Even in modern times, most people in the world do not enjoy such freedoms as the ones Cyrus granted to the citizens of his empire over two and a half millennium ago.
When Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, he issued a special charter at his coronation that outlined his beliefs in the rights of nations and humankind. For most of history after Cyrus’s reign, the charter was lost, and only excerpts of it remained in other historical texts. However, in 1878, an excavation in Babylon uncovered the original Charter, which was written in Ancient Persian cuneiform (wedge-shaped characters) on a baked clay cylinder.
Cyrus’s charter is considered the first ever document on human rights. In 1971, the United Nations published and distributed translations of the charter in all the official UN languages in order to promote peace.
I am Kourosh [Cyrus], King of the World, Great King, Mighty King, King of Babylon…
When I, well inclined, entered Babylon, I set up a seat of government in the royal palace amidst celebration and rejoicing... My numerous troops moved about calmly in Babylon… I did not let anyone terrorize the land…
I considered the needs of Babylon and all its sacred places to further their prosperity... I took off their [the citizens of Babylon] unflattering yoke.… I restored their deteriorated dwellings. I ended their misfortunes… [I allowed them to] live peacefully in their homes...
As I put the crown of the kingdom of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions on the head with the help of Mazda, I proclaim that I will respect the traditions, customs and religions my empire’s nations, and will never let any of my governors and deputies look down on or insult them while I am alive.
From now on, until Mazda grants me and my kingdom the favor, I will not force my monarchy on any nation. Each [nation] is free to accept it, and if any one of them rejects it, I will never decide on letting war prevail.
While I am the king of Iran, Babylon, and the nations of the four directions, I will never let anyone oppress anyone else, and if it does happen, I will restore the oppressed person’s right, and punish the oppressor. And while I am king, I will never let anyone take possession of the movable or fixed properties [real estate] of others by force or without compensation.
While I am alive, I will prevent unpaid, forced labor. Today, I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live anywhere and take up a job as long as they never violate other people’s rights.
No one should be punished for his or her relatives’ faults. I will prevent slavery, and my governors and deputies are required to outlaw the slave trade within their own ruling areas. Such a practice [slavery] should be abolished throughout the world.
I request Mazda to make me successful in fulfilling my obligations to the nations of Iran [Persia], Babylon, and the ones of the four directions.