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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (Retd.)

Pasargadae on Map showing the route of Alexander the Great

Pasargadae (Hindi: पासारगाद, Persian: پاسارگاد - Pāsārgād) was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great who had issued its construction (559–530 BC). It was also the location of his tomb. It is in Fars Province, Iran.


It was a city in ancient Persia, located near the city of Shiraz (in Pasargad County), and is today an archaeological site and one of Iran's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[1]

Variants of name


Pasargadae was the old capital of Persia, founded by Cyrus; but its place was afterwards taken by Persepolis.[2]

Cyrus the Great began building the capital in 546 BC or later; it was unfinished when he died in battle, in 530 or 529 BC. The remains of the tomb of Cyrus' son and successor Cambyses II have been found in Pasargadae, near the fortress of Toll-e Takht, and identified in 2006.[2]

Pasargadae remained the capital of the Achaemenid empire until Cambyses II moved it to Susa; later, Darius founded another in Persepolis. The archaeological site covers 1.6 square kilometres and includes a structure commonly believed to be the mausoleum of Cyrus, the fortress of Toll-e Takht sitting on top of a nearby hill, and the remains of two royal palaces and gardens. Pasargadae Persian Gardens provide the earliest known example of the Persian chahar bagh, or fourfold garden design (see Persian Gardens)

Ch 6.29: Alexander in Persis — tomb of Cyrus repaired

Arrian[3] writes.... He himself then marched to Pasargadae in Persis, with the lightest of his infantry, the Companion cavalry and a part of the archers; but he sent Stasanor down to his own land.[1] When he arrived at the confines of Persis, he found that Phrasaortes was no longer viceroy, for he happened to have died of disease while Alexander was still in India. Orxines was managing the affairs of the country, not because he had been appointed ruler by Alexander, but because he thought it his duty to keep Persia in order for him, as there was no other ruler.[2] Atropates, the viceroy of Media, also came to Pasargadae, bringing Baryaxes, a Mede, under arrest, because he had assumed the upright head-dress and called himself king of the Persians and Medes.[3] With Baryaxes he also brought those who had taken part with him in the attempted revolution and revolt. Alexander put these men to death. He was grieved by the outrage committed upon the tomb of Cyrus, son of Cambyses; for according to Aristobulus, he found it dug through and pillaged. The tomb of the famous Cyrus was in the royal park at Pasargadae, and around it a grove of all kinds of trees had been planted. It was also watered by a stream, and high grass grew in the meadow. The base of the tomb itself had been made of squared stone in the form of a rectangle. Above there was a stone building surmounted by a roof, with a door leading within, so narrow that even a small man could with difficulty enter, after suffering much discomfort.[4] In the building,lay a golden coffin, in which the body of Cyrus had been buried, and by the side of the coffin was a couch, the feet of which were of gold wrought with the hammer. A carpet of Babylonian tapestry with purple rugs formed the bedding upon it were also a Median coat with sleeves and other tunics of Babylonian manufacture. Aristobulus adds that Median trousers and robes dyed the colour of hyacinth were also lying upon it, as well as others of purple and various other colours; moreover there were collars, sabres, and earrings of gold and precious stones soldered together, and near them stood a table. On the middle of the couch lay the coffin[5] which contained the body of Cyrus. Within the enclosure, near the ascent leading to the tomb, there was a small house built for the Magians who guarded the tomb; a duty which they had discharged ever since the time of Cambyses, son of Cyrus, son succeeding father as guard. To these men a sheep and specified quantities of wheaten flour and wine were given daily by the king; and a horse once a month as a sacrifice to Cyrus. Upon the tomb an inscription in Persian letters had been placed, which bore the following meaning in the Persian language:

" man, I am Cyrus, son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of the Persians, and was king of Asia. Do not therefore grudge me this monument."

As soon as Alexander had conquered Persia, he was very desirous of entering the tomb of Cyrus; but he found that everything else had been carried off except the coffin and couch. They had even maltreated the king's body; for they had torn off the lid of the coffin and cast out the corpse. They had tried to make the coffin itself of smaller bulk and thus more portable, by cutting part of it off and crushing part of it up, but as their efforts did not succeed, they departed, leaving the coffin in that state. Aristobulus says that he was himself commissioned by Alexander to restore the tomb for Cyrus, to put in the coffin the parts of the body still preserved, to put the lid on, and to restore the parts of the coffin which had been, defaced. Moreover he was instructed to stretch the couch tight with bands, and to deposit all the other things which used to lie there for ornament, both resembling the former ones and of the same number. He was ordered also to do away with the door, building part of it up with stone and plastering part of it over with cement and finally to put the royal seal upon the cement. Alexander arrested the Magians who were the guards of the tomb, and put them to the torture to make them confess who had done the deed; but in spite of the torture they confessed nothing either about themselves or any other person. In no other way were they proved to have been privy to the deed; they were therefore released by Alexander.[6]

1. Aria. See chap. 27 supra.

2. Curtius (x. 4) says Orxines was descended from Cyrus.

3. See iii. 25 supra.

4. Cf. Strabo, xv. 3, where a description of this tomb is given, derived from Onesioritus, the pilot of Alexander. See Dean Blakesley's note on Herodiotus i. 214.

5. Just a few lines above, Arrian says that the couch was by the side of the coffin.

6. Cf. Ammianus, xxiii. 6, 32, 33. The Magi were the priests of the religion of Zoroaster, which was professed by the Medes and Persians. Their Bible was the Avesta, originally consisting of twenty-one books, only one of which, the twentieth (Vendidad), is still extant.


Ch 7.1 Alexander's Plans. — The Indian Philosophers

Arrian[4] writes.... When Alexander arrived at Pasargadae and Persepolis,[1] he was seized with an ardent desire to sail down the Euphrates and Tigres[2] to the Persian Sea, and to see the mouths of those rivers as he had already seen those of the Indus as well as the sea into which it flows. Some authors[3] also have stated that he was meditating a voyage round the larger portion of Arabia, the country of the Ethiopians, Libya (i.e. Africa), and Numidia beyond Mount Atlas to Gadeira (i.e. Cadiz),[4] inward into our sea (i.e. the Mediterranean); thinking that after he had subdued both Libya and Carchedon (i.e. Carthage), he might with justice be called king of all Asia.[5] For he said that the kings of the Persians and Medes called themselves Great Kings without any rights since they did not rule the larger part of Asia. Some say that he was meditating a voyage thence into the Baxine Sea, to Scythia and the Lake Maeotis (i.e. the Sea of Azov); while others assert that he intended to go to Sicily and the Iapygian Cape,[6] for the fame of the Romans spreading far and wide was now exciting his jealousy. For my own part I cannot conjecture with any certainty what were his plans; and I do not care to guess. But this I think I can confidently affirm, that he meditated nothing small or mean; and that he would never have remained satisfied with any of the acquisitions he had made, even if he had added Europe to Asia, or the islands of the Britons to Europe ; but would still have gone on seeking for unknown lands beyond those mentioned. I verily believe that if he had found no one else to strive with, he would have striven with himself. And on this account I commend some of the Indian philosophers, who are said to have been caught by Alexander as they were walking in the open meadow where they were accustomed to spend their time.[7] At the sight of him and his army they did nothing else but stamp with their feet on the earth, upon which they were stepping. When he asked them by means of interpreters what was the meaning of their action, they replied as follows: "king Alexander, every man possesses as much of the earth as this, upon which we have stepped; but thou being only a man like the rest of us, except in being meddlesome and arrogant, art come over so great a part of the earth from thy own land, giving trouble both to thyself and others.[8] And yet thou also wilt soon die, and possess only as much of the earth as is sufficient for thy body to be buried in."

1. Pasargadae was the ancient capital of Cyrus, but Persepolis was that of the later kings of Persia. The tomb of Cyrus has been discovered at Murghab; consequently Parsagadae was on the banks of the river Cyrus, N.E. of Persepolis. The latter city was at the junction of the Araxes and Medus. Its extensive ruins are called Chel-Minar, "the forty columns."

2. The Tigris rises in Armenia, and joins the Euphrates ninety miles from the sea, the united stream being then called Shat-el-Arab. In ancient times the two rivers had distinct outlets. In the Hebrew the Tigris is called Chiddekel, i.e. arrow. The Greek name Tigres is derived from the Zend Tighra, which comes from the Sanscrit Tig, to sharpen. Its present name is Dijleh. The respective lengths of the Euphrates and Tigris are 1,780 and 1,146 miles.

3. Among these were Curtius (x. 3); Diodorus (xviii. 4); and Plutarch (Alex., 68).

4. Gadeira or Gades was a Phoenician colony. The name is from the Hebrew 'li, a fence. Cf. Pliny (iv. 36); appellant Poeni Gadir ita Punica lingua septum significante. Also Avienus (Ora Maritima, 268): Punicorum lingua conseptum locum Gaddir vocabat. According to Pliny (v. 1), Suetonius Paulinus was the first Eoman general who crossed the Atlas Mountains.

5. See note 3, page 309.

6. Now called Capo di Leuoa, the south-eastern point of Italy.

7. Cf. Arrian (Indica, 11).

8. Cf. Alciphron (Epistolae, i. 30, 1), with Bergler and Wagner's notes.


Tomb of Cyrus the Great

The most important monument in Pasargadae is the tomb of Cyrus the Great. It has six broad steps leading to the sepulchre, the chamber of which measures 3.17 m long by 2.11 m wide by 2.11 m high and has a low and narrow entrance. Though there is no firm evidence identifying the tomb as that of Cyrus, Greek historians tell that Alexander believed it was. When Alexander looted and destroyed Persepolis, he paid a visit to the tomb of Cyrus. Arrian, writing in the second century AD, recorded that Alexander commanded Aristobulus, one of his warriors, to enter the monument. Inside he found a golden bed, a table set with drinking vessels, a gold coffin, some ornaments studded with precious stones and an inscription on the tomb. No trace of any such inscription survives, and there is considerable disagreement to the exact wording of the text. Strabo reports that it read:

Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who gave the Persians an empire, and was king of Asia.
Grudge me not therefore this monument.

Another variation, as documented in Persia: The Immortal Kingdom, is:

O man, whoever thou art, from wheresoever thou cometh, for I know you shall come, I am Cyrus, who founded the empire of the Persians.
Grudge me not, therefore, this little earth that covers my body.

The design of Cyrus' tomb is credited to Mesopotamian or Elamite ziggurats, but the cella is usually attributed to Urartu tombs of an earlier period.[3] In particular, the tomb at Pasargadae has almost exactly the same dimensions as the tomb of Alyattes II, father of the Lydian King Croesus; however, some have refused the claim (according to Herodotus, Croesus was spared by Cyrus during the conquest of Lydia, and became a member of Cyrus' court). The main decoration on the tomb is a rosette design over the door within the gable.[5] In general, the art and architecture found at Pasargadae exemplified the Persian synthesis of various traditions, drawing on precedents from Elam, Babylon, Assyria, and ancient Egypt, with the addition of some Anatolian influences.


  1. Ancient Pasargadae threatened by construction of dam, Mehr News Agency, 28 August 2004
  2. Arrian: The Anabasis of Alexander/3b, f.n.6
  3. The Anabasis of Alexander/6b, Ch.29
  4. The Anabasis of Alexander/7a, Ch.1
  5. Ferrier, Ronald W (1989), The Arts of Persia, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-03987-5.

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