Hellenistic Structures > Tomb of Cyrus the Great

Tomb of Cyrus the Great


The interactions of Alexander the Great at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great provide a fascinating glimpse into the legacy and influence of the Achaemenid Empire on Alexander's own reign and ambitions. Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, was renowned for his enlightened rule and expansive empire, qualities that Alexander admired. Here's an in-depth look at Alexander's interactions with the Tomb of Cyrus the Great:

Historical Context

  1. Cyrus the Great:

    • Cyrus the Great (c. 600–530 BCE) was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, known for his military conquests and his policies of tolerance and respect for the cultures and religions of the lands he conquered.
    • He was buried in a modest but elegantly constructed tomb in Pasargadae, the first dynastic capital of the Achaemenid Empire in present-day Iran.
  2. Alexander the Great:

    • Alexander III of Macedon, known as Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), conquered the Achaemenid Empire, including its capitals and significant sites, as part of his campaign to expand his own empire.
    • He deeply respected Cyrus the Great and viewed him as a model ruler.

Visit to the Tomb of Cyrus

  1. Conquest of Persia:

    • After defeating Darius III and effectively ending Achaemenid rule, Alexander took control of Persian territories, including the historic city of Pasargadae.
  2. The Tomb of Cyrus:

    • The Tomb of Cyrus is a simple yet grand structure, consisting of a rectangular stone chamber atop a stepped plinth.
    • Ancient sources describe it as being surrounded by a royal park (paradise) and enclosed by a wall, with an inscription attributing the tomb to Cyrus.

Interactions at the Tomb

  1. Alexander's Respect:

    • According to historical sources, including the accounts of Arrian and Plutarch, Alexander visited the tomb of Cyrus the Great to pay his respects.
    • He admired Cyrus's achievements and the respect Cyrus commanded as a ruler.
  2. Restoration and Preservation:

    • During his visit, Alexander found the tomb desecrated and in a state of disrepair. Reports suggest that the tomb had been looted, possibly by Persian soldiers or local vandals.
    • Alexander ordered the restoration of the tomb and appointed guards to protect it, demonstrating his respect for Cyrus and his desire to honor his legacy.

Historical Accounts

  1. Arrian:

    • Arrian, in his work "Anabasis of Alexander," describes Alexander's visit to the tomb and his actions to restore and protect it. He notes that Alexander was deeply moved by the sight of the tomb and the respect he had for Cyrus.
  2. Plutarch:

    • Plutarch, in his "Life of Alexander," provides a detailed account of the visit, including the discovery of the desecration and Alexander's orders for restoration.
    • Plutarch emphasizes Alexander's admiration for Cyrus and the significance of this gesture as a reflection of Alexander's character and values.

Significance of the Visit

  1. Symbolic Gesture:

    • Alexander's visit to the tomb was a symbolic gesture that reflected his admiration for Cyrus the Great and his recognition of the continuity of imperial rule.
    • It was also a political act, reinforcing his legitimacy as the successor to the Persian kings and his respect for the traditions of the lands he conquered.
  2. Legacy and Influence:

    • The visit underscores the influence of Persian culture and governance on Alexander's own rule. He adopted various aspects of Persian administration and customs, blending them with Greek practices.
    • Alexander's actions at the tomb highlight his strategic use of respect and cultural assimilation to consolidate his rule over a diverse and vast empire.


Alexander the Great's interactions at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great demonstrate his deep respect for the legacy of the Achaemenid Empire and its founder. By restoring and honoring the tomb, Alexander not only paid homage to a ruler he admired but also reinforced his own legitimacy and authority in the eyes of the conquered Persian populace. This act is a testament to Alexander's recognition of the importance of cultural and historical continuity in effective governance and his admiration for one of history's most revered rulers.


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