And so Babylon the Great fell without a fight to the armies of the Medes and Persians, but what happened afterward was even more remarkable. Cyrus tells the story in his own words
"A weakling was installed as the king of his country; the correct images of the gods were removed from their thrones, imitations were ordered to place upon them... For Ur and the other sacred cities inappropriate rituals [were ordered?]. Daily he did blabber incorrect prayers. He furthermore interrupted in a fiendish way the regular offerings,...The worship of Marduk, the king of the gods, he changed into abomination, daily he used to do evil against Marduk's city... He tormented its inhabitants with corvée-work without relief, he ruined all...”
Transliteration and translation: F. H. Weissbach, in Die Keilinschriften der Achämeniden (VAB, III), 2 ff. Translations: Ebeling, in AOT, 368 ff., and R. W. Rogers, Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament (New York, 1926), pp. 380 ff."
These are very serious accusations, for the first responsibility of a Babylonian king was to observe the proper rituals at the proper times, and thereby, ensure the continuity of cosmic order in the kingdom. There was no separation of church and state in ancient Mesopotamia. The king was the chosen intermediary between the gods and his subjects, and it was his duty to keep the gods happy with appropriate ritual. All of civilization depended upon it, and to do otherwise was to court disaster.
No wonder this kingdom did not survive! Cyrus, on the other hand, had more respect for the traditional duties of kingship and as he records in his famous 'Cyrus cylinder', he immediately addressed the most pressing problems:
"When I entered Babylon as a friend and established the seat of government in the place of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord (induced) the magnanimous inhabitants of Babylon (to love me) and I daily endeavored to praise him. My numerous troops walked around in Babylon in peace, I did not allow anybody to terrorize (any of the people) of the country of Sumer and Akkad. I strove for peace in Babylon and in all his (other) sacred cities. As to the inhabitants of Babylon (who) against the will of the gods (had/were I abolished) the corvee (yoke) which was against their (social standing). I brought relief to their dilapidated housing, putting an end to their main complaints..."
Although the cylinder is riddled with lacuna and the resulting incomprehensible bits, the meaning is clear enough. Cyrus was different. He didn't do things the way other conquerors did. According to Dr. Darius Jahanian,
"What took place after the victory in Babylon was contrary to the standard of the time. Based on the inscriptions of the neighboring countries (Assyrians, Babylonians), it was customary to destroy the vanquished cities, level houses and temples, massacre the people or enslave the population, replace them with snakes, wolves and even carry away the soil to make the land barren. But here, peace and liberty replaced the massacre and slavery, and construction substituted for destruction."
...The inhabitants became troubled. The brick form and the brick basket he imposed upon them. Through the hard work they[lacuna] he killed the inhabitants, women and youngsters included. Their prosperity he brought to an end...”
The author then goes on to describe how Cyrus made everything better:
And you can be sure that the following spring, at the vernal equinox, when the time for that most important annual New Year's festival came around, Cyrus did not neglect its observance. The king did come to Babylon for the ceremonies of the month of Nissan, and the god Nabû came as well. Bêl/Marduk did go out of Esagila in procession, and Cyrus the Great, imperial mastermind, took this occasion to stage his own magnificent coronation, confirming his kingship with the blessing of Marduk (Jupiter/Zeus), the lord of the city.
It was in commemoration of this sumptuous occasion that Cyrus published his famous 'Cyrus Cylinder.' Within its text, he not only proclaimed his rule, but in stating his goals and intentions towards the people under his command, he showed an historic sense of justice and magnanimity, especially in the context of his times.
The Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum