An Achaemenid from the clan of the great tribe of Pasargadae, he had established his residence in their domain, at Pasargadae. When he was still only a ‘petty vassal’ of the king of the Medes he had built a town there, which, as a matter of fact, was not very different from a nomads’ encampment in the sense that it was composed of little more than a few royal buildings erected inside a walled park and surrounded by a greater or smaller number of tents and flocks depending on the season. However, it was dominated by an artificial stone-covered terrace, Takht-e Soleyman, which presumably must have supported the buildings of a citadel. However, up to the present only the remains of comparatively crude constructions have been found there.
The royal edifices were excavated during 1949 and 1950. One of them, generally known as the “Palace of the Stele”, was the building through which one entered the park. In the past one could read this inscription on it, repeated several times: “I, Cyrus, the King, the Achaemenid.” Another, “the Palace of the Column”, perhaps was where the sovereign held official audiences. Yet another must have been his residence.
However, it is probable that in or before 540 BC Cyrus having conquered Astyages and overcome Asia Minor, realized that the small country village of Pasargadae in a remote valley could never become the seat of government of a great state and decided to shift his capital to greater and more easily defended site. It was very probably he, and not Darius, who chose the site of Persepolis at the foot of “Kooh-e-Rahmat” (Mountain of Mercy), some forty miles from Pasargadae in a very beautiful part of Fars province. He did not erect the monuments there of course, nor even start them; but he probably began to build the enormous terrace near the foot of the mountain on which the citadel of Persepolis was built.
No doubt he continued to inhabit his former town of Pasargadae at the same time as he cut away the rock and filled in the ravines on the site of the new city. There is no text extant enabling us to confirm or refute this, but the construction of the terrace at Persepolis represents such a considerable body of work that we cannot add the Apadana and Tachra of Darius to it, unfinished as they were, during the thirty six years of sovereign’s reign. No builder, even if equipped with modern technical resources, would undertake to carry out such works in such a short space of time. Consequently it is impossible to imagine Darius choosing the site of Persepolis in 518 BC, as is commonly accepted and constructing during his reign not only “Takht-e-Jamshid”, the terrace at Persepolis, but also the Tachra and the greater part of the Apadana, the immense palace for royal audiences.
When Cyrus died in 529 BC during an expedition against the Massagetae in the plains to the east of the Caspian Sea, his body was brought back to Pasargadae and placed in the tomb he had made there. It is a small stone edifice, roughly square in plan, with a two-sided pitched roof, on a tiered pyramidal base. The only way to give an idea of its true dimensions is to compare the height of the tiers with that of a human being.
After reigning for eight years, Cyrus’s successor, his son Cambyses II, who conquered Egypt, died in Syria. His body was not recovered. So the tomb attributed to him at Pasrgadae was not occupied by him. Incidentally it is probable that it never would have been, even if Cambyses had died in his capital or if his body had been brought back to it. And this for a reason which strongly reinforces the theory which is about the choice of the site of Persepolis and the beginning of the construction work on the terrace by Cyrus. E. Hertzfeld, who undertook the excavation of the monuments at Persepolis in 1931, spotted in their immediate neighborhood, between the Takht and Cliff in which the tombs of Darius and his successors were hollowed out, the lower tiers of substructure identical to that of the mausoleum Cyrus at Pasargadae and considered that it had certainly been intended to bear the tomb of Cambyses. No one would believe it. Why should the tomb of this king have been built so far from his capital, Pasargadae? Yet if Cyrus or even Cambyses had decided that Pasargadae should be abandoned and Persepolis elevated to the rank of capital of the empire, and if the work of construction had begun, what could be more natural?
The course of events might have told us exactly what happened but, after the death of Cambyses, power passed into the hands of Darius who came from another branch of the Achaemenid family. Pasargadae, in decline because of this, was replaced by Persepolis while it was still being built. So that we could perhaps assume, as scholars have done so far, that it was only then that the site of the new capital was chosen by Darius, if it were not for the fact that this hypothesis is inconsistent with the time required to build the works we have just mentioned and the fact that the tomb of Cambyses seems to have been near Persepolis, not at Pasargadae.
The construction of the buildings on the terrace was pushed forward actively during the reigns of Darius I, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes I. later there were nothing but few finishing touches and additions of no great importance. The citadel of Persepolis, resting on the ‘Kouh-e Rahmat’ and facing the immense plain called Marvi Dasht, consists of a vast group of constructions established on a substructure partly built of colossal blocks of stone and partly cut out of the mountain. On this gigantic base, some sixty feet high in some places, the upper platform of which has an area of no less than thirty-three acres, were crowded the reception palaces and residences of the kings, the vast storerooms of the Treasury and the military quarters, the size of which is proving greater and greater as the work on excavating the ‘Takht’ advances. The ‘royal town’ of which the historians speak lay at the foot of the terrace on the level of the plain, protected by a double wall and a moat.