The Medes

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The Medes were a people who lived in the Ancient Middle East, in a large part of what is now Iran and parts of what is now Iraq and Turkey. For a brief period of time, the Medes were the power in the area that included the ancient Elamites.


Various sources list the Medes (also referred to as the Madai) as among the list of kingdoms paying tributes to the powerful Assyrian Empire in the 9th and 8th Centuries B.C. The Greek historian Herodotus listed six Mede tribes: Arizanti, Budii, Busae, Magi, Paretaceni, and Struchates. The Medes' power grew in the 7th Century, and a man named Deioces is said to have united the kingdoms under his rule in 678 B.C. He was succeeded after a few decades by his son, Phraortes. He died in battle against the Assyrians and, in turn, was succeeded by his son, Cyaxares, who was the most famous Median ruler of all.

Median Empire map

It was Cyaxares who dared to stop paying tribute to Assyria and who organized a military coalition that helped bring about the demise of Assyria, punctuated by the sack of Nineveh in 612 B.C. The Medes then achieved a brief period of preeminence.

Born in Ecbatana, the Median capital, Cyaxares enjoyed a period of success that also included a major victory over another neighboring power, the Lydians. He was also the commander at a battle that ended with both sides laying down their arms: On May 28, 585 B.C., a solar eclipse disrupted the struggle between Cyaxares and his Medes and King Alyattes and his Lydians; the arrival of the eclipse convinced both kings to discuss peace. (The eminent Greek scientist Thales of Miletus had predicted this eclipse.)

Median kings

Cyaxares was also the father of Amytis, whom he gave as a wife to the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon built for her.

Cyaxares' son, Astyages, followed his father onto the Median throne. After a handful more decades, the Medes were themselves overthrown by one of their own, who became known as Cyrus the Great.

The Median Empire disappeared in name only. The Medes lived on, as subjects of the Persian Empire. They profited from the downfall of that empire at the hands of Alexander the Great, who made Ecbatana his headquarters for a time during his various campaigns against Persian King Darius II. The division of Alexander's empire after his death gave the southern Median lands to the Seleucid Empire and the northern Median lands to a man named Peithon, who had been one of Alexander's seven personal bodyguards.

The next union of Median lands came at the hands of a conqueror, the Parthian king Mithradates the Great. The Parthians eventually conquered all of Mesopotamia and gave Ancient Rome all kinds of grief. The Medes were eventually absorbed into the Sassanian Empire.

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