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Definition

by Wikipedia
published on 28 April 2011

The Medes, (Greek Μῆδοι, from an Old Persian ماد Mādai) were an ancient Iranian people who lived in the northwestern portions of present-day Iran. This area is known as Media (also Medea; Greek Μηδία, Old Persian Māda; the English adjective is Median, antiquated also Medean). They entered this region with the first wave of Iranian tribes, in the late second millennium BCE (the Bronze Age collapse). By the 6th century BCE, after having together with the Babylonians defeated the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Medes were able to establish their authority, lasting for about sixty years, from the sack of Nineveh in 612 BCE until 549 BCE when Cyrus the Great established the Achaemenid Empire by defeating Astyages, king of Media.

The Median homeland, as can be understood through Assyrian sources, was on the northwest bounded to the land of Mannaeans, on the west to Parsua, on the southwest to Ellipi and on the south to Simashki region of the Elamites. The eastern border of the Medes was bounded with Mount Bikni, which modern scholars traditionally identified with Mount Damavand, but in recent decades some scholars tend to identify it with Mount Alvand near Hamadan, where the Ecbatana (the capital of the Medes) is supposed to be located. Although Herodotus credits “Deioces son of Phraortes” (probably c. 715 BCE) with the creation of the Median kingdom and the founding of its capital city at Ecbatana, it was probably not before 625 BCE that Cyaxares, grandson of Deioces, succeeded in uniting into a kingdom the many Iranian-speaking Median tribes.

According to Herodotus, the Median conquests of Cyaxares were preceded by a Scythian invasion and domination lasting twenty-eight years (under Madius the Scythian, 653-625 BCE). The Medes tribes seem to have come into immediate conflict with a settled state to the West known as Mannae, allied with Assyria. Assyrian inscriptions state that the early Medes rulers, who had attempted rebellions against the Assyrians in the time of Esarhaddon and Ashur-bani-pal, were allied with chieftains of the Ashguza (Scythians) and other tribes — who had come from the northern shore of the Black Sea and invaded Asia Minor. The state of Mannae was finally conquered and assimilated by the Medes in the year 616 BCE. In 612 BCE, Cyaxares conquered Armenia, and in alliance with Nabopolassar (who created the Neo-Babylonian Empire), succeeded in destroying the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 BCE, and by 606 BCE, the remaining vestiges of Assyrian control. From this point, the Medes king ruled over much of northern Mesopotamia, eastern Anatolia and Cappadocia. His power was a threat to his neighbors, and the exiled Jews expected the destruction of Babylonia by the Medes (Isaiah 13, 14m 21; Jerem. 1, 51.). When Cyaxares attacked Lydia in the Battle of Halys, the kings of Cilicia and Babylon intervened and negotiated a peace in 585 BCE, whereby the Halys River was established as the Medes' frontier with Lydia. Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon married a daughter of Cyaxares. Cyaxares' son, Astyages (584 BCE - 550 BCE), went to war with the Babylonian king Nabonidus. An equilibrium of the great powers was maintained until the rise of the Persians under Cyrus the Great.

In 553 BCE, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, rebelled against his grandfather, the Mede King, Astyages son of Cyaxares; he finally won a decisive victory in 550 BCE resulting in Astyages' capture by his own dissatisfied nobles, who promptly turned him over to the triumphant Cyrus. After Cyrus's victory against Astyages, the Medes were subjected to their close kin, the Persians. In the new empire they retained a prominent position; in honor and war, they stood next to the Persians; their court ceremony was adopted by the new sovereigns, who in the summer months resided in Ecbatana; and many noble Medes were employed as officials, satraps and generals. Interestingly, at the beginning the Greek historians referred to the Achaemenid Empire as a Median empire.

Under Persian rule, the country was divided into two satrapies: the south, with Ecbatana and Rhagae (Rey near modern Tehran), Media proper, or Greater Media, as it is often called, formed in Darius I the Great's organization the eleventh satrapy (Herodotus iii. 92), together with the Paricanians and Orthocorybantians; the north, the district of Matiane (see above), together with the mountainous districts of the Zagros and Assyria proper (east of the Tigris) was united with the Alarodians and Saspirians in eastern Armenia, and formed the eighteenth satrapy (Herodotus iii. 94; cf. v. 49, 52, VII. 72). The very existence of a Median empire is questioned by modern scholars. It is being increasingly argued that such a political entity even if existed, must have been merely a political alliance among highland neighbors of Assyrians, such as Armenia in southeastern Anatolia, Sagartians in modern northern Iraq, and the actual Medians in the area between what is today Hamadan-Kirmanshah in cental Zagros. Neither cuneiform sources nor archaeological evidence nor biblical accounts support the historiography provided by Herodotus, who claimed there existed a Median empire.

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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 2143 BCE - 2124 BCE
    Gudea, ruler of Lagash mentions "Mada" as a land where grain is grown.
  • 836 BCE
    First Assyrian records of the Medes: Shalmaneser III receives tribute from the "Amadi".
  • 728 BCE - 675 BCE
    Deioces is ruler of the Medes.
  • 675 BCE - 653 BCE
    Phraortes is ruler of the Medes.
  • 653 BCE - 625 BCE
    Madius the Scythian is ruler of the Medes.
  • 625 BCE - 585 BCE
    Cyaxares is ruler of the Medes.
  • 585 BCE - 549 BCE
    Astyages is ruler of the Medes.
  • 560 BCE
    The oracles of Delphi and Thebes both tell King Croesus of Lydia that if he attacks the Medes, he will destroy a great empire. Seeing this as a good omen, he goes to war, loses, and the Lydian Empire is destroyed.
  • 553 BCE
    Cyrus the Great successfully rebels against the Medes and establishes the Achaemenid Empire of Persia.
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