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 BC (the Bronze
Age collapse). By the 6th century BC, 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 BC until 549 BC 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.
credits “Deioces son of Phraortes” (probably c. 715) with the creation of the Median kingdom and the founding of its capital city
at Ecbatana, it was probably not before 625 BC 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 BC). 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 BC.
In 612 BC, Cyaxares conquered Armenia, and in alliance with Nabopolassar (who created the Neo-Babylonian Empire), succeeded in destroying the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, in 612 BC, and by 606 BC, 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 BC, whereby the Halys River was established as the Medes' frontier with Lydia. Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon married a daughter of Cyaxares. Cyaxares' son, Astyages (584 BC - 550 BC), 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 BC, 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 BC 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.