The Medes were an Iranian people of Aryan origin who lived in the western and north-western portion of present-day Iran. During the 8th century BC they were dominated by the nomadic group of the Scythians. By the 6th century BC (prior to the Persian invasion) the Medes were able to establish an empire which stretched from Aran (the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan) to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
The people of the Mada, Medes (the Greek form "Μηδοί" is Ionian for Madot) appear in history first in 836 BC, when the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser II. in his wars against the tribes of the Zagros received the tribute of the Amadai (this form, with prosthetic a-, which occurs only here, has many analogies in the names of Iranian tribes). His successors undertook many expeditions against the Medes (Madai). Sargon in 715 BC and 713 BC subjected them "to the far mountain Bikni," i.e. the Elburz (Demavend) and the borders of the desert. They were divided into many districts and towns, under petty local chieftains; from the names which the Assyrian inscriptions mention, we learn that they were an Iranian tribe and that they had already adopted the religion of Zoroaster. In spite of different attempts by some chieftains to shake off the Assyrian yoke (cf. the information obtained from prayers to the Sun-god for oracles against these rebels: Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengotl), Media remained tributary to Assyria under Sargon's successors, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Assur-bani-pal.
Herodotus, i. 101, gives a list of six Median tribes (ytvta), among them the Paraetaceni, the inhabitants of the mountainous highland of Paraetacene, the district of Isfahan, and the Magoi, i.e. the Magians, the hereditary caste of the priests. Many historians (like Igor Diakonoff, Richard N. Frye and James Darmesteter ) agree the the Medians was composed of Indo-European peoples.
Josephus relates the Medes to the biblical character, Madai, son of Japheth. "Now as to Javan and Madai, the sons of Japhet; from Madai came the Madeans, who are called Medes, by the Greeks" Antiquities of the Jews, I:6
The six Median tribes from Herodotus
Herodotus mentioned the six Mede ethnic "tribes", some of which are similar to the Scythian tribal names. For this reason the two groups are often tied together.
1. The "Busae" group supposed to derive from the Persian term "buza" which means the aboriginals (i.e. not Iranians). Whether this was based on an originally Iranian term or their own name, is not known.
2. The second group is called " Parae-tak-(eni)" in Persian and means nomads. This name is much like the Scythian "Para-la-ti", the people of Kolaxis, who we believe represented the common people in general, "the black heads". Similarly in Sumerian the term bar=rib, boundary, wastelands. It was in such lands, useless for cultivation, that the "nomads" and shepherds worked their flocks. (Hungarian "par-lag", Sumerian "par-im", Scythian "para-la-ti").
3.The third group is called "Strukhat". Here the term "Chat, Khat, Had, Geta" can mean clan/clan territory as in all Ural Altaic, Dravidian languages or "KAATI" which means the royal house of the Hatti and Scythians. Similarly there was a Mede king named Katiertes. The term STRU in Mesopotamian meant to cover, while Turkish c'atir and Hungarian sátor or Sumerian sudug means a simple tent or temporary home/cover.
4. The fourth group is the "Arizanti" . It is consists of two Persian words: Arya (noble) and Zantu (tribe, clan) and this name means "From the Aryan clan".
5. The fifth group were the "Budii" found also amongst the Black Sea Scythians as Budi-ni as well as the eastern Saka. Budha was of the tribe "Budha"., which was also eastern Scythian "sakiya".
6.The sixth tribe, which is also non Iranian, are the Magii. They were a priest class, who were the carriers of not Iranian religion but ancient Mesopotamian religion deriving from the Sumerians. Their name implies also a link with the language of the Sumerians who called their language "Emegir", which was over time simplified to Magi. Christian tradition has twisted them out of their original forms and made them descending from all over, but in fact they were one people and Mesopotamian in origin. They did spread into Central Asia also due to Persian persecution at times. In time the Persians also developed their own form of Magian religion, with several differences from the Magian-like religion of the Huns or the Mesopotamians.
Mede personal names
König writes that there are no known Mede basic words, only personal names or titles (very much like the case with Hunish). These are known from two Assyrian military reports. The first from 800 BC lists 28 names. Of these 19 are certainly not Iranian and 4 are Chaldean-Urartuan-Hurrian, 4 are unknown, leaving 1 which might be Iranian. The second report is from ca. 700 BC and lists 26 names. Of these 5 sound sort of Iranian, the others are not. (Too bad those don't interest him.)
1 Anc. Mantiane, Strabo xi. 529; Martiane, Ptol. vi. 2, 5, probably identical with the name Matiane, Matiene, by which Herodotus i. 189, 202, iii. 94, v. 49, 52 (in i. 72 and vii. 72 they seem to be a different people in Asia Minor); Polyb. v. 44, 9; Strabo i, 49, ii. 73, xi. 509, 514, 523, 525; Plin vi. 48, designate the northern part of Media.
We can see how the Iranian element gradually became dominant:
Princes with Iranian names occasionally occur as rulers of these tribes. But the Gelae, Tapuri, Cadusii, Amardi, Utii and other tribes in northern Media and on the shores of the Caspian were not Iranians. With them Polybius V. 44, 9, Strabo xi. 507, 5o8, 514, and Pliny vi. 46, mention the Anariaci, whom they consider as a particular tribe; but in reality their name, the Not-Arians, is the comprehensive designation of all these small tribes.
In the second half of the 7th century BC the Medians gained their independence and were united by a dynasty. If we may trust Herodotus, this dynasty derived its origin from Deioces (q.v.), a Median chieftain in the Zagros, who was, along with his kinsmen, transported by Sargon to Hamath (Haniah) in Syria in 715 BC. The kings, who created the Median Empire, were Phraortes and his son Cyaxares. They were probably chieftains of a nomadic Median tribe in the desert, the Manda, which was mentioned by Sargon. The Babylonian king Nabonidus designates the Medians and their kings always as Manda.
The Median Empire
The origin and history of the Median Empire is quite obscure, as we possess, almost no contemporary information, and not a single monument or inscription from Media itself. Our principal source is Herodotus, who wrongly makes Deioces the first king and uniter of the whole nation, and dates their independence frQm c. itoi.e. from the time when the Assyrian supremacy was at its height. But his account contains real historical elements, whereas the story which Ctesias gave (a list of nine kings, beginning with Arbaces, who is said to have destroyed Nineveb about 88o B.C., preserved in Diod. ii. 32 sqq. and copied by many later authors) has no historical value whatever, although some of his names may be derived from local traditions. According to Heroclotus, the conquests of Cyaxares were interrupted by an invasion of the Scythians, who founded an empire in western Asia, which lasted twenty-eight years.
From the Assyrian prayers to the Sun-god, mentioned above, we learn that the Median dynasts, who tried rebellions against the Assyrians in the time of Esar-haddon and Assur-bani-pal, were allied with chieftains of the Cimmerians (who had come from the northern shore of the Black Sea and invaded Armenia and Asia Minor), of the Saparda, Ashguza and other tribes; and from Jeremiah and Zephaniah we know that a great invasion of Syria and Palestine by northern barbarians really took place in 626 BC.
With these facts the traditions of Herodotus must in some way be connected; but at present it is impossible to regain the history of these times. The only certain facts are that in 6o6 Cyaxares succeeded in destroying Nineveh and the other cities of Assyria (see PHRAORTES and Dxtocas).
From then the Median king ruled over the greatest part of Iran, Assyria and northern Mesopotamia, Armenia and Cappadocia. His power was very dangerous to their neighbors, and the exiled Jews expected the destruction of Babylonia by the Medes (Isa. xiii., xiv., xxi.; Jerem. 1. li.). When Cyaxares attacked Lydia, the kings of Cilicia and Babylon intervened and negotiated a peace in 585 BC, by which the Halys was established as the boundary. Nebuchadrezzar married a daughter of Cyaxares, and an equilibrium of the great powers was maintained until the rise of Cyrus.
About the internal organization of the Median Empire, we know only that the Greeks derive a great part of the ceremonial of the Persian court, the costume of the king, &c., from Media. But it is certain that the national union of the Median clans was the work of their kings; and probably the capital Ecbatana (q.v.) was created by them.
Subjection to the Persians
By 553 BC— the time of the rebellion of Cyrus, king of Persia, against his suzerain Astyages, the son of Cyaxares— and his victory in 550 BC, the Medes were subjected to the Persians. In the new empire they retained a prominent position; in honor and war they stood next to the Persians; the ceremonial of their court 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. After the assassination of the usurper Smerdis, a Mede Fravartish (Phraortes), who pretended to be of the race of Cyaxares, tried to restore the Median kingdom, but was defeated by the Persian generals and executed in Ecbatana (Darius in the Behistun inscr.). Another rebellion, in 409, against Darius II. (Xenophon, Hellen. ~. 2, 19) was of short duration. But the non-Aryan tribes of the north, especially the Cadusians, were always troublesome; many abortive expeditions of the later kings against them are mentioned.
Under the Persian rule the country was divided into two satrapies: the south, with Ecbatana and Rhagae (Rai), Media proper, or Great Media, as it is often called, formed in Darius 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 (Herod. iii. 94; cf. v. 49, 52, VII. 72).
When the empire decayed and the Carduchi and other mountainous tribes made themselves independent, eastern Armenia became a special satrapy, while Assyria seems to have been united with. Media; therefore Xenophon in the Ana&asis i~. 4, 27; iii. 5, I5; vii. .8, 25; cf. iii. 4, 8 sqq. always designates Assyria by the name of Media.
Media and Hellenistic Greece
Alexander occupied Media in the summer of 330 BC. In 328 he appointed Atropates, a former general of Darius (Arrian iii. 8, 4), as satrap (iv. 18, 3, Vi. 29, 3), whose daughter was married to Perdiccas in 324 (Arrian vu. 4, ~). In the partition of his empire, southern Media was given to the Macedonian Peithon; but the north, which lay far off and was of little importance for the generals who fought for the inheritance of Alexander, was left to Atropates.
While southern Media with Ecbatana passed to the rule of Antigonus, and afterwards (about 31o) to Seleucus I, Atropates maintained himself in his satrapy and succeeded in founding an independent kingdom. Thus the partition of the country, which the Persian had introduced, became lasting; the north was named Atropatene (in Plin. Vi. 42, Atrapatene; in. Ptolem. Vi. 2, 5, Tropatene; in Pniyb, V. 44 and 55 corrupted in r?. isarpajr a KaXouu~va), after the founder of the dynasty, a name which is preserved in the modern Azerbaijan; cf. Nldeke, Atropatene, in Zeitschrif.t der deutschen morgeni. Geselisclzaft, 34, 692 sqq. and Marquart, Eranshahr, p. 108 sqq.
The capital was Gazaca in the central plain, and the strong castle Phraaspa (Dio Cass. xlix. 26; Plut. 4nlon. 38; Ptol. Vi. 2, 10) or Vera (Strabo xi. 523), probably identical with the great ruin Takhti Suleiman, with remains of Sassanid fire-altars and of a later palace. The kings had a strong and warlike army, especially cavalry (Polyb. v. 55; Strabo xi. 253). Nevertheless, King Artabazanes was forced by Antiochus the Great in 220 BC to conclude a disadvantageous treaty (Polyb. v. 55), and in later times the rulers became in turn dependent on the Parthians, on Tigranes of Armenia, and in the time of Pompey who defeated their king Darius (Appian, Mithr. 108), on Antonius (who invaded Atropatene) and on Augustus of Rome. In the time of Strabo (A.D. 17), the dynasty existed still (p. 523); in later times the country seems to have become a Parthian province.
Atropatene is that country of western Asia which was least of all other countries influenced by Hellenism; there exists not even a single coin of its rulers. But the opinion of modern authors that it had been a special refuge of Zoroastrianism, is based upon a wrong etymology of the name (which is falsely explained as "country of fire-worship"), and has no foundation whatever. There can be no doubt that the kings adhered to the Persian religion; but it is not probable that it was deeply rooted among their subjects, especially among the non-Aryan tribes.
Southern Media remained a province of the Seleucid Empire for a century and a half, and Hellenism was introduced everywhere. Media is surrounded everywhere by Greek towns, in pursuance of Alexander's plan to protect it from neighboring barbarians, says Polybius (x. 27). Only Ecbatani retained its old character. But Rhagae became the Greek town, Europus; and with it Strabo (xi. 524) names Laodicea, Apamea Heraclea or Achais (cf. Pun. Vi. 48). Most of them were fouiidec by SeJeucus I. and his son Antiochus I.
In 221, the satrap Molon tried to make himself independent (there exist bronze coins with his name and the royal title), together with his brother Alexander, satrap of Persis, but they were defeated and killed by Antiochus the Great. In the same way, hI 16r, the Median satrap Timarchus took the diadem and conquered Babylonia; on his coins he calls himself the great king Timarchus; but this time again the legitimate king, Demetrius I, succeeded in subduing the rebellion, and Timarchus was slain. But with Demetrius I. the dissolution of the Seleucid Empire begins, which was Jrought on chiefly by the intrigues of the Romans, and shortly afterwards, about 150, the Parthian king, Mithradates I. (q.v.), conquered Media (Justin xli. 6).
From this time Media remained subject to the Arsacids, who changed the name of Rhagae, or Europus, into Arsacia (Strabo xi. 524), and divided the country into five small provinces (Isidorus Charac.). From the Arsacids or Parthians, it passed in A.D. 226 to the Sassanids, together with Atropatene.
By this time the old tribes of Aryan Iran had lost their character and had been amalgamated into the one nation of the Iranians. The revival of Zoroastrianism, which was enforced everywhere by the Sassanids, completed this development. It was only then that Atropatene became a principal seat of fire-worship, with many fire-altars. Rhagae now became the most sacred city of the empire and the seat of the head of the Zoroastrian hierarchy; the Sassanid Avesta and the tradition of the Parsees therefore consider Rhagae as the home of the family of the Prophet.