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Kazakhstan Revives Legend of Female Ruler Who Killed Cyrus the Great

By Aygul Ospanova April 14, 2017

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Tomyris, a legendary female ruler who reigned over the Massagetae, a Scythian nomadic confederation of Central Asia in 570-520 BC. / Pinterest

Kazakhstan’s KazakhFilm film studio plans to shoot a historical movie about Tomyris, a legendary female ruler who is said to have reigned for 50 years over the Massagetae and killed one of ancient Persia’s most famous rulers.

The Almaty-based studio announced earlier this week that the film will be directed by Akan Satayev, a Kazakhstani producer and director best known for movies like The Liquidator (2011) and Hacker (2016). The new film will be released sometime in late 2018.

“We have already started preparatory work, including developing and writing a script, planning the production of the whole project, forming a film crew, consulting scientists, studying historical materials and we, of course, now are choosing a location for the movie, Satayev told local media.

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The film about Tomyris will be directed by Akan Satayev, Kazakhstan-based producer and director, known for such movies as The Liquidator (2011) and Hacker (2016). / Brod.Kz

Aliya Nazarbayeva, the youngest daughter of Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, is the film’s producer and co-screenwriter.

The Massagetae, or Massageteans, were an ancient Iranian nomadic confederation that inhabited the steppes of Central Asia, north-east of the Caspian Sea. The region today includes modern Turkmenistan, western Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan.

Although the Greek historian Herodotus mentions that many stories circulated in the ancient world regarding the death Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, local lore says it was Tomyris who killed the famed ruler, in 530 BC. Tomyris’ reign is thought to be between 570-520 BC.

The movie will focus on the story of a large-scale battle between Tomyris’ and Cyrus’ armies. According to Herodotus, Cyrus – famous for his conquests and expansion of the Persian Empire – intended to seize areas east of the Caspian Sea, which included the areas inhabited by the Massagetae. According to the story, he was slain by Tomyris during the standoff.

“First, the two armies stood apart and shot their arrows at each other; then, when their quivers were empty, they closed and fought hand-to-hand with lances and daggers; and thus they continued fighting for a length of time, neither choosing to give ground,” wrote Herodotus, whose works will also be used in the development of the film’s script.

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Aliya Nazarbayeva, the youngest daughter of the country’s president is the producer and one of the screenwriters of the upcoming movie about Tomyris. / Arthur Yagafarov / Haprer's Bazaar Kazakhstan

“At length the Massagetai prevailed. The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years,” he continues. “Of the many different accounts which are given of the death of Cyrus, this which I have followed appears to me most worthy of credit.”

Filming will begin in Kazakhstan in the Fall, and will incorporate the expertise of foreign script consultants and computer graphics specialists. Casting is expected to be announced soon, and actors will be trained in horse riding, archery and various skills necessary to recreate the battle between Tomyris’ and Cyrus’ armies.