Siege of Pasargadae Hill

Year: Spring 551 BC

Place: North-West of Pasargadae [30°20'34.35"N and 52°59'47.24"E]

Participants: Persia ¤ Media

Result: Decisive victory for the Persians 

Consequence: Cyrus defeated the Medes and saved Persia. Cyrus was now more powerful than Astyages

After their heroic display of bravery in the battle of the Persian Border, Cyrus and Oebares retreated to the mountainous Pasargadae area, where  they blocked the narrow passes into Persia. They had brought the women, men, children and old people of the border-city with them. Oebares defended the passes with 10.000 heavily armed soldiers and made the road into Persia imposible for the Medes. Therefore Astyages decided to envelop the defiant Persians by finding a pass in the mountains, but it was very difficult, because the mountains where very high with steep sides, and some of the passes where overtopped by high walls of rocks. 

 The 100.000 soldiers of Astyages decided to climb the mountain in order to surprise Cyrus and the defenceless people. The Medes encircled the hills and were standing on both sides of the hills. The Medes bravely attacked the passes and hills that were held by the heavily armed Persians. The terrain of the hills and mountains made it more difficult for the Medes to attack the seemingly invincible Persians. The mountainside was covered by oak forests and wild olive trees, and thus the Persians had the upper hand. Now the Medes reached the Persian soldiers:

"The Persians fought still more bravely; in one place Cyrus dashed forward, and in another Oebares, who urged them not to let their wives, mothers, and old men be massacred and tortured by the Medes. So they rushed down with a cry, and when their javelins failed, they threw down stones in great numbers..."

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 352)


The Medes could not stand against the relentless charge of the Persian soldiers and people. Eventually they were driven back and did not dare to meet the Persians. Both sides finally withdrew from the fierce battle that ensued. The Persians were now stranded on the hills that were besieged by the Medes. Cyrus also realized that he was in a desperate situation, and he started to pray: 


"He kindled a fire of cypress and laurel-wood, and offered the sacrifice of the man who is distressed and in desperate circumstances. Then followed thunder and lightning, and when Cyrus sank down in prayer, birds of good omen settled on the roof as a sign that he would again reach Pasargadae."

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 352)


Thus the Persians remained on the mountain knowing that they had to fight for their very existence against the desillusioned Medes. The future of Persia was at stake the next morning, but it all looked dreadful and it was as if the future of Persia was doomed. The only thing that seemed to make them hopeful was the good omen they all witnessed when Cyrus was praying.

 (The nature near Pasargadae,

On the following morning the Medes launched their attacks. The Persians were only relying on the good omens in a hopeless situation. The Persians fought unforgetably, and the Median king Astyages was even impressed, and he feared that his huge army was going to be obliterated. Therefore he placed 50.000 soldiers behind his own soldiers so they would not flee from the Persian men: 


"...Astyages placed 50.000 at the foor of the mountain behind those who were attacking, and bade them slay all who came down."

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 352)


Consequently the Median soldiers could not escape the battle. Therefore they fought more zealously than they had ever done. The Persians were outnumbered and were not well-equipped as their adversaries, and they were almost panicking. They decided to retreat to the top of the mountain, where all the women and children were. When the Persian women saw that the Persian men had retreated, they ran out to meet them and they cried out to them:


"Cowards, whither would ye fly, will ye creep back into the bosoms that bore you?"

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 352)


The Persian men heard this and they were ashamed. How could they let down their women and children? Their women, children and their country reminded them the values they had to fight for. The Persians were now filled with courage and decided to figth for their values, and they attacked the pursuing Medes, and drove them down the mountainside: 


"... The Persians turned, and in one onslaught drove the Medes down the mountain, and slew sixty thousand of them."

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 352)


The women of Persia proved to be the turning-point in the vital battle, and they were rewarded for their deed. Plutarch says:


"The cry of the women brought about a change in the battle, and for this reason Cyrus made a law that as often as the king came into the city of Pasargadae, every woman should receive a piece of gold. Ochus marched past the city to evade the law; but Alexander twice entered Pasargadae, and gave double to all the women that were with child."


Cyrus defeated the Median forces one more time, and he took the camp of the Medes. Cyrus went into the tent of Astyages, who had fled the battle, and took the sceptre of the mightiest king in the world. Oebares put the throne of the king and crowned Cyrus, who now was a king. Oebares said:


"Thou art more worthy to bear it; give it to thee for thy virtue, and grant the Persians to rule over the Medes."

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 353)


Therefore the subjects of the Medes accepted Cyrus as their king. The immense wealth found in the tents of the Medes were all brought to Pasargadae under the supervision of Oebares. 


The rumors of the Persian victory reached the far corners of the empire:


"It was not long before the intelligence of the defeat and flight of Astyages spread abroad, and nations as well as individuals deserted him. First of all Artasyras, the chief of the Hyrcanians, came, with 50.000 men, and recognised Cyrus as King; afterwards came the chiefs of the Parthians, Sacse, Bactrians, and other nations, each seeking to arrive before the other"

(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 353)


Cyrus the Great had now not only saved Persia, he had started the foundation of the first true empire the world had ever seen. The day he was standing on the hills outside Pasargadae he did not know that he was creating a superpower that was going to last for the next 228 years.


But Cyrus had only one obstacle: not all the Medes had defected to the Persians, and Astyages still had faithful soldiers...



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