The King and Us

Cyrus the Great is one of the best-known, best-loved figures of Near Eastern antiquity. His forward-looking vision of pluralism, many contend, makes him almost unique among the conquerors and kings who came before and after him. But historian John W.I. Lee points out that this view of Cyrus does not survive examination with a critical eye — and that the man who inspired Alexander the Great actually offers another lesson in leadership: realism can provide an impetus to protect human rights as much as idealism.

Cyrus II — commonly called Cyrus the Great — looms large in world cultural and political history. This is understandable. He transformed an obscure dynasty, the Achaemenids, ruling an obscure city-state, Anshan, in what is now southwestern Iran into the driving …

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