I think that there are several factors that could make a king/leader in ancient history great. Perhaps they were charismatic, earning the respect and admiration of their people. Perhaps they improved the lives of people around them, making them well liked. Or maybe they were simply successful conquerors. Other factors that could help them along the way are their parents and offsprings.
Even though both Alexander III from Macedon and Cyrus II from Persia were born in different times, I think it’s possible to decide who’s "greater" by considering factors like their parentage, extent of conquest, likability, and success of their offsprings.
Both Cyrus and Alexander were born into royalty. They both had the benefit of having parents in power.
Alexander’s father was King Philip II of Macedon and his mother was Olympias, daughter of King Neoptolemus.
Taking into account their parentage alone, I believe Cyrus is “greater” because he was dealt a worse hand compared to Alexander. Cyrus started off as the king of Anshan (after his father) but still had to defeat the median empire’s overlord (his grandfather, Astyages) for full power. He had to gather people and convince them to rebel against Astyages. He succeeded, eventually taking over the median empire. Astyages was not well liked and Cyrus' mother, being the daughter of the Median king, might have helped.
On the opposite end, Alexander did not have to struggle as much. He was taught by Aristotle and raised to achieve excellence. Furthermore, his father, Philip II, had already built a powerful Macedonian army for him to control which is not as impressive.
Alexander - 0 Cyrus - 1
Extent of Conquest
Alexander was able to conquer Macedon, Persian Empire, Indus Valley, and Egypt in less than a decade and it is a feat not easy to accomplish.
Cyrus conquered Babylon, Lydia, and the Greek cities of Asia Minor, forming the Achaemenid Empire. I was not able to find a map with just the land that Cyrus conquered so actually, the Achaemenid Empire should be smaller. Areas like Egypt were only conquered when Cyrus' son, Cambyses II, took over.
Based on land area alone, Alexander’s empire looks larger (and honestly I have no idea how to read a map) so I’m going to give this one to Alexander.
Alexander - 1 Cyrus - 1
Cyrus employed propaganda to portray himself and the Persian Empire as friendly and peaceful, which is seen in the Cyrus cylinder. He ended the Jews’ exile from Israel and freed them from Babylon. They appreciated him so much that he’s seen as a messiah in the Tanakh and “Koresh”, which is Hebrew for Cyrus, is a common name in Israel.
The Cyrus cylinder also shows consideration for human rights as it states that everyone can choose their own religion and it has stuff about racial equality. His tolerance for a diversity of people and friendly persona definitely would have made him likeable. However, Cyrus was killed by Tomyris, leader of Massagetae, after refusing to leave Massagetae alone. Thus, he was still not liked by some people.
Like Cyrus, Alexander has done good in his time. He helped to spread the culture of the Greeks throughout his empire and founded many cities. And as we have learned in class, one of his cities, Alexandria, is where the Greek version of the Hebrew bible, Septuagint, was written. Helping to preserve the religious documents of another culture would surely make one likeable.
Although Alexander was admired, he was not well liked by his people. His army began disliking him when he started following Persian customs. People conspired against him and were planning his assassination. When Alexander found out, he immediately killed everyone involved. He also killed his close friend during a drunken argument they had about his obsession with Persian culture. Yikes.
Despite the fact that Cyrus had pissed off Tomyris and got himself killed, I’m going to give this round to him because it seems like he had less haters.
Alexander - 1 Cyrus - 2
Success of Offsprings
In contrast, Cyrus’ son, Cambyses II, continued his reign and conquered Egypt, expanding the empire.
It is fair to say that since Cyrus' son was more successful in continuing his legacy, he wins this round.
Alexander - 1 Cyrus - 3
Comparing two very different people who were accomplished in their own ways might be difficult but I think what Cyrus had achieved is more impressive. He was the “King of Kings” and his empire lasted 200 years. In spite of Alexander being great in battle and conquest, I still don’t think he was that great because he was groomed with all the right tools to succeed. Hence, I would say that Cyrus the Great is "greater".