Combat between two warriors and the death of Cyrus

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Combat between two warriors and the death of Cyrus
In this vertical tapestry we see, in the foreground, the battle between one of Cyrus’ soldiers and a soldier from the nomadicMassagetae confederation. In the background, other pairs of soldiers fight to the death. King Cyrus lies dying in one of the tents depicted in the background.

The war against the Massagetae

For years Cyrus conquered land after land virtually unchallenged. In 529 BC, he decided to extend his empire to the region between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, where the Massagetae (whose name means ‘Great Scythians’) lived. In the first battle, Cyrus achieved a partial victory, although he took Spargapises, son of Queen Tomyris, as a prisoner. The queen begged him to free her son and leave her territories, but Cyrus denied and decided to crush the Massagetae.

Cyrus is defeated

According to Herodotus (Book I, CCXIV), the battle between the two armies was fierce and bloody. In the tapestry, this is represented through pairs of soldiers fighting hand-to-hand. The battle turns to carnage which “lasted a long time, with neither side yielding, until at last the Massagetae triumphed”. Cyrus died inside his tent after the battle, and we can see here in the tapestry.

Series Story of Cyrus

Fifth tapestry of the series

Models Anonymous, based on Michiel Coxcie

Manufacture Antwerp, c. 1590

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 337 x 255 cm

Location Royal Palace of Aranjuez

On display Hall of the King’s Halberdiers

Origin Documented in the royal collections since the time of Charles III


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