Chapter 4

Cyrus the Great

by Xenophon Icon

Boring Office and Routine Jobs are not Recomended


But why do you need to illustrate all the sciences, Socrates?

It would not be very easy to discover efficient craftsmen of all the arts, and quite impossible to become skilled in all one’s self. So please, confine yourself to the nobler branches of knowledge that I can focus on.


A good suggestion, Critobulus.

The base mechanic arts

  • have got a bad name
  • are reasonably held in ill repute by civilised communities because they ruin the health of those who work in them, workers and overseers alike. They are forced to sit and hug the loom or crouch a whole day confronting a furnace.

The physical enervation enfeebles the soul. The demand which these base mechanic arts makes on the time of those employed in them leaves them no leisure to devote to the claims of friendship and the state.

They necessarily become sorry friends and ill defenders of the fatherland. In some states, especially the warlike ones, no citizen is allowed to exercise any mechanical craft at all.

Critobulus Then which are the arts you would counsel us to engage in?

We should imitate the kings of Persia.

They regard amongst the noblest and most necessary pursuits two in particular, which are the arts of husbandry and war, and in these two he takes the strongest interest.

Critobulus What! Do you really believe that the king of Persia pays a personal regard to husbandry, along with all his other cares?

He takes strong interest in military matters. since, however numerous the tributary nations, there is a governor to each, and every governor has orders from the king how many cavalry, archers, slingers and targeteers he must support to:

  • control the subject population, or
  • to defend the country in case of hostile attack

Apart from these the king, keeps garrisons in all the citadels.

The actual support of these devolves upon the governor, to whom the duty is assigned. The king himself meanwhile conducts the annual inspection and review of troops, both mercenary and other, that have orders to be under arms.

These all are simultaneously assembled (with the exception of the garrisons of citadels) at the mustering ground.


The king personally reviews the portion of the army within access of the royal residence. The remainder, living in remoter districts of the empire, he inspects by proxy, sending certain trusty representatives.

Wherever the commandants of garrisons, the captains of thousands, and the satraps (6) are seen to have their appointed members complete, and at the same time shall present their troops equipped with horse and arms in thorough efficiency, these officers the king delights to honour, and showers gifts upon them largely.

But as to those officers whom he finds either to have neglected their garrisons, or to have made private gain of their position, these he heavily chastises, deposing them from office, and appointing other superintendents in their stead.

Such conduct, I think we may say, indisputably proves the interest which he takes in matters military.

By means of a royal progress through the country, he can personally inspect some portion of his territory, and again of visiting the remainder in proxy as above by trusty representatives;

In this way, he sees governors that show him districts thickly populated, with soil in active cultivation, full of trees and fruits. He rewards such officers with more territory, adorning them with gifts and distinguishing them by seats of honour.


He also sees lands lying idle and with but few inhabitants, owing either to the harshness of their government or the insolence of its officers. He punishes such governors and appoints other rulers in their place.

This creates a great an anxiety to promote the active cultivation of the land by its inhabitants, just as it promotes the defence by its military.

The governors appointed in these two departments are different.

  • One class governs the inhabitants, including the workers of the soil. It collects the tribute from them
  • Another is in command of the armed garrisons.

If the commander protects the country insufficiently, the civil governor of the population, who is in charge also of the productive works, lodges accusation against the commander to the effect that the inhabitants are prevented working through deficiency of protection.

Or if again, in spite of peace being secured to the works of the land by the military governor, the civil authority still presents a territory sparse in population and untilled, it is the commander’s turn to accuse the civil ruler.

For you may take it as a rule, a population tilling their territory badly will fail to support their garrisons and be quite unequal to paying their tribute. Where a satrap is appointed he has charge of both departments.

Besides all this, nowhere among the various countries which he inhabits or visits does he fail to make it his first care that there shall be orchards and gardens, parks and “paradises,” as they are called, full of all fair and noble products which the earth brings forth; and within these chiefly he spends his days, when the season of the year permits.

Critobulus When the king himself spends so large a portion of his time there, his paradises should be furnished to perfection with trees and all else beautiful that earth brings forth.

Some say that when the king gives gifts, he summons in the first place those who have shown themselves brave warriors, since all the ploughing in the world were but small gain in the absence of those who should protect the fields; and next to these he summons those who have stocked their countries best and rendered them productive, on the principle that but for the tillers of the soil the warriors themselves could scarcely live.

Cyrus was the most famous prince who ever wore a crown. He once said to those who had been called to receive the gifts: “it were no injustice, if he himself received the gifts due to warriors and tillers of the soil alike,” for “did he not carry off the palm in stocking the country and also in protecting the goods with which it had been stocked?”

Critobulus It clearly shows that Cyrus took as great a pride in fostering the productive energies of his country and stocking it with good things, as in his reputation as a warrior.

Socrates= Yes, had Cyrus lived, he would have been the best of rulers.

He marched to do battle for the sovereignty of Persia with his brother. Tens of thousands deserted the king for Cyrus.

This would be a great testimony to a ruler’s worth, that his followers follow him of their own free will, and when the moment of danger comes refuse to part from him.

The friends of Cyrus not only fought their battles side by side with him while he lived, but when he died they too died battling around his dead body, except only Ariaeus, who was absent at his post on the left wing of the army.

But there is another tale of this same Cyrus in connection with Lysander, who himself narrated it on one occasion to a friend of his in Megara.


Lysander had gone with presents sent by the Allies to Cyrus, who entertained him, and amongst other marks of courtesy showed him his “paradise” at Sardis.

Lysander was astonished at the beauty of the trees within, all planted (17) at equal intervals, the long straight rows of waving branches, the perfect regularity, the rectangular (18) symmetry of the whole, and the many sweet scents which hung about them as they paced the park.

In admiration he exclaimed to Cyrus: “All this beauty is marvellous enough, but what astonishes me still more is the talent of the artificer who mapped out and arranged for you the several parts of this fair scene.”

Cyrus was pleased by the remark, and said= “Know then, Lysander, it is I who measured and arranged it all. Some of the trees,” he added, “I planted with my own hands.”

Then Lysander, regarding earnestly the speaker, when he saw the beauty of his apparel and perceived its fragrance, the splendour (20) also of the necklaces and armlets, and other ornaments which he wore, exclaimed= “What say you, Cyrus? did you with your own hands plant some of these trees?” whereat the other= “Does that surprise you, Lysander? I swear to you by Mithres, (21) when in ordinary health I never dream of sitting down to supper without first practising some exercise of war or husbandry in the sweat of my brow, or venturing some strife of honour, as suits my mood.” "

On hearing this," said Lysander to his friend, “I could not help seizing him by the hand and exclaiming, ‘Cyrus, you have indeed good right to be a happy man, (22) since you are happy in being a good man.’”


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