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The Medians

The accounts of the two ancient Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, relating to Median history differ completely. The record of the number of Median kings and the extent of their reigns as mentioned by Thucydides – now proved as baseless – by far exceeds what has been reported by Herodotus.

It has been reported that Rusā, the Orārtu king, initiated a revolt in some parts of the Assyrian kingdom in c. 716 or 715 BC with the help of Dayāukku. However, the Assyrian king, Sargon II, suppressed the rebellion and exiled Dayāukku and his family to Hamāh in Syria. Although there appears to be a difference of ten to fifteen years between the times of this Dayāukku and the times of Deioces, to whom Herodotus refers to as the founder of the Median rule, in all probability “Deioces” is none other than the “Dayāukku” of the Assyrian sources. Nevertheless, the account given by Herodotus about Deioces’s independent rule and his capital in Ecbatana (the present-day Hamadān), with its seven labyrinthine forts, is subject to doubt since it seems very unlikely that the Assyrian kings would tolerate the existence of such a large citadel. 

According to Herodotus, the Medians had selected “Deioces” as the judge of their community and to administer justice among them because of his honesty. He adds that “Deioces” had shied away from this responsibility several times until he was ultimately chosen by the people as their king. However, Dayāukku’s rule was merely a local one and the independent Median rule was only established years later. Farvartish (known to the Greeks as Phraortes) succeeded Dayāukku in 675 or 674 BC, and apparently after managing to subjugate the Persians, tried to initiate an alliance against the Assyrians by uniting the Mannai and the Cimmerian tribes that had entered the Iranian plateau from the Caucasus, towards the end of the 8th century. When Farvartish and his allied forces reached the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, the Sakās unexpectedly attacked the Medians. Farvartish was killed during this attack - that was apparently inflicted on the request of the Assyrians - and the Sakas came to dominate the Median territory for a period of twenty-eight years. 

When Cyaxares succeeded his father, Farvartish, he was very young and had no other choice but to make peace with the Sakas. However, he finally managed to kill the Saka king and his commanders and put an end to their dominance over the Median territory. Cyaxares is, therefore, the actual founder of the Median rule. He organized his army into various divisions of infantry and cavalry and deployed the remaining Sakas in his army. After managing to subjugate all the Median, Persian, and Mannai tribes he took advantage of the internal and external problems facing Āshur and prepared his army to attack the ancient Assyrian Empire. Cyaxares and his ally Nabopolassar, the Babylonian ruler, unsuccessfully attacked Āshur several times but finally succeeded in besieging Nineveh, and after conquering it, plundered and razed it completely in 612 BC. Shortly, all the vestiges of resistance on the part of the Assyrians were crushed and this defeat marked the end of the Assyrian Empire in 610 or 609 BC. The Assyrian kingdom was then divided between the Median and the Babylonian kings and from this point on the Median dynasty carved a niche for itself as a new power in Persian history. Consequently, Cyaxares began to expand his empire and confronted the Lydian empire in Asia Minor. The battle between these two newly established empires lasted for five years but finally came to an end with a solar eclipse that came to be interpreted as a bad omen by them on May 28, 585 BC and the Hālis River (present-day Kizilirmak) came to be recognized as the boundary-line between the two empires. Cyaxares died some time during the course of the peace talks and his son, Ishtuvigu (Hystaspes), known to the Greeks as “Astyages” in 585 BC came to power. Little information is available regarding the thirty-five year rule of Ishtuvigu. It is said that towards the end of his rule, the ideas of attacking Babylonia and conquering Harrān stirred up in his mind. However, news of the rebellion of the Persian tribes under the leadership of Cyrus, the Achaemenian, and the King of Anshān - who was apparently his own grandson - reached his ears and he was left with no choice but retreating to his own capital. This war between the two rivals lasted for three years and finally Ishtuvigu’s army rebelled against him and handed over the Median king to Cyrus in 550 or 549 BC. In no time, the Median capital fell into the hands of Cyrus, and in this manner, the first independent Iranian reign came to an end.

* source: Zarrinkoob ,Roozbeh "Iran Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.524 - 525

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