Perspective

Imperialism From the Cradle to the Grave

In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid.

Mesopotamia was the cradle of empires, but it was also their grave, as the Persians were to discover.  The Persians were a great people, whose simple code of honor—ride a horse, shoot straight, and tell the truth—was admired by their Greek enemies.  The conquest of Babylon in 537 B.C. (the occasion of Cyrus’s edict), although it sealed Persia’s fate as an imperial nation doomed to degenerate and fail, shows the Persians flushed with success but determined to deal justly with their subjects.  Although it has been conjectured that the Persians were rewarding the Babylonian Jews for covert assistance in the defeat of Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king, there is no need to posit any special relationship between a tiny and helpless people and the greatest ruler of the day.  It was Cyrus’s general policy to reverse the oppression inflicted by Babylonian and Assyrian rulers, who had driven defeated enemies into exile and resettled foreigners in the vacated lands.  This divide et impera strategy would be emulated by later tyrants.

The Assyrians permanently destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Babylonians, after...

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