History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Persia and the East




Media (Amadai)
c.728 - 530 BC

The Medes, or Medians, were a collection of Indo-European tribes who entered the area of the northern Zagros Mountains from the start of the first millennium BC, during the period of instability and migration throughout the Middle East that seemingly began with the destruction of the Hittite empire. The region had previously been inhabited by the Gutians, who provided third millennium Sumer with so many problems. Initially the Medians, along with other new arrivals such as the Alans, Mannaeans, and the Persians, formed a state that was a very loose coalition of tribes, each with a leader or king of its own. Consolidation came later, but all of these new arrivals contributed towards a more uncertain political sphere to the east of Babylonia and Assyria (who knew them as the Amadai).

The Medians co-operated with the Babylonians to destroy Assyria. They shared the captured territory between themselves, with Media assuming power in eastern Assyria, and north and east of the Tigris from 609 BC. By now the kingdom's capital was at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan). Unfortunately, archaeology has so far failed to turn up any finds that are older than 248 BC at Ecbatana, and the specific site itself may not even have been the location for the Median fortress of that name. Median culture at the time had an aversion to large-scale building projects and even to living in cities. Apparently, Ecbatana was home only to the king, his family, and his administration. This aversion seems to have extended to making any kind of statues or friezes. The result is that there is a sad lack of any representations of the royal family, Median life, or their army before the time of Darius II, when the Persians began showing Median troops mixed with Persians.

Originally nomadic, the Medes spoke an Iranian language which was of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European, but none of these new tribal arrivals in the Zagros region had any native written tradition, so their history must be pieced together from outside sources. The popular Greek forms of names of Median kings are shown below in green, and many of the details regarding the later Median empire are Greek (largely from Herodotus). In the eyes of some scholars they are not to be trusted, and Herodotus' theory of a great Median empire is total fiction designed to complete a gap in his view of a sequence of eastern empires.

The Medes seem to have had only one god, the fire god, whom they worshiped alongside the Persians, from the mountain tops. They did not build temples and tended to look with scorn on those who did. Around the time of Cyrus II the Persians seem to have adopted a different system, subscribing to the teachings of one of their mystics, and they eventually became Zoroastrians, who were polytheists.

(Additional information by Jo Amdahl and Edward Dawson, and from Empire of Gold: Foundations, Jo Amdahl, with reference to a large number of original and secondary sources that are included in the 'Persia and Eastwards' section of the Sources page. Further additional information from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005).)

fl 880s BC


First in Ctesias' unreliable list of nine kings, Arbaces is said to destroy the Assyrian city of Ninevah at this time. The Assyrians are becoming a dominant force in their region, so this attack may be an attempt to subjugate then and halt their expansion. If it works at all, the Median success is brief.

836 BC

The Medes are mentioned for the first time in historical records when Shalmaneser III of Assyria receives tribute from the 'Amadai' after fighting wars against the tribes of the Zagros Mountains. Living in the central Zagros along the Khorasan road, the Medes are usually mentioned in conjunction with the Scythians, another steppe tribe who appear to be the dominant force in the region.

Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountain range provided the Medes with their home, but it was also the Assyrian gateway into Iran, one that was used in later attacks on the Indo-European Persians and Medes






fl c. 750 BC

Xshatrita I

In the late eighth century, for the first time, fortified cities begin to appear in strategic locations in the Zagros, built by Assyria which now reduces the region to three provinces in an attempt to control the trade route along the Khorasan road. Assyria's political control is incomplete, and various small groups of Medians remain independent. Some twenty-two Median chiefs pay tribute to Sargon II.

c.728 - 675 BC

Dayaukku / Daiukku / Dioka / Deioces

Governor of Mannae.

Herodotus names Deioces (or Dioces), grandfather of Cyaxares, as the king who eventually unites the formerly nomadic Median tribes, forming a single kingship that is centred on Ecbatana. The six Median tribes he dominates are named as follows: the Arizanti, Budii, Busae, Paretaceni, and Struchates, plus the independent, priestly tribe of the Magi (Maggai) that serves them all. This does not explain the twenty-two Median chiefs who paid tribute to Sargon II, although some of those could have been lesser chiefs in control of sub-kingdoms. By now, if not before, Median and Persian dress is the same, with the latter being the lesser of the two peoples.

Deioces then builds the earliest stages of the city of Ecbatana and begins a tradition in which the kings are expected to separate themselves from their own people in order to perpetuate a kind of myth-like aura around themselves, convincing their own subjects that they are not mere men. They are unapproachable by all but members of their own royal family. Anyone who has business with the king is obliged to deal with his family as intermediaries. There is literally no mention of Ecbatana having a population (other than the palace with the king and his family) until the Persians occupy the area. Accordingly the Nabonaidus Chronicle identifies the entire area, not just the fortress, as Ecbatana, so it is possible that the true city of the Medes does not form the earliest stages of the Persian Ecbatana and is yet to be discovered. Perhaps an older belief that Mount Bikni is the site of the Median fortress is correct after all.

675 - 653 BC

Xshatrita II / Phraortes / Kashtaritu

Son. Killed by Assyria.

653 BC

Phraortes (or Phraorla) leads the league that endangers Assyrian control of the Zagros Mountains and is himself killed in battle against Assyria. He is succeeded by his young son, but the Medians are quickly subjugated by a Scythian invasion of the steppes. One of their number rules the Medes and associated Iranian tribes, and it takes the Medians under Cyaxares almost thirty years to restore their independence.

The year 652 BC marked the apogee of Cimmerian power, with their conquest of the kingdom of Lydia, but their supremacy would last only another eleven or so years before defeat and total eclipse


653 - 625 BC

Madyas the Scythian / Madys / Madius

Scythian overlord during the subjugation of the Medes.

625 BC

Herodotus says that Cyaxares reigns for forty years including the time of the domination of the Scythians, but virtually all historians agree that what is meant is forty years excluding the time of the domination of the Scythians. At the beginning of his reign, Cyaxares is considered a vassal of the Scythians until he throws off their yoke in 625 BC and takes sovereign control of his country. In total then, he reigns for sixty-eight years and therefore must be very young when he succeeds his father as he continues to conduct military campaigns in person up until the year of his death.

Fritz Hommel identifies Huwaxshatra (Cyaxares) with Sandakhshatra of the Cimmerians, and his son, Ishtumegu (Astyages) with Ishtivegu. Both of these names are given in their Greek form by Herodotus but it is unclear, despite some similarity, whether they can be the same individuals. Hommel also connects the earlier Cimmerian king, Tugdamme, as Phraortes, although this seems less likely.

625 - 585 BC

Huwaxshatra / Uvakshatra / Cyaxares

Son of Phraortes. Overthrew Scythians and Assyrian empire.

fl 614 BC


Overthrew Assyrian empire. Same as Cyaxares.

c.620 BC

The Medians (possibly) take control of Achaemenid Persia from the weakening Assyrians who themselves had only recently taken control of the region from Elam. According to Herodotus, Media governs all of the Iranian steppe tribes. The Umakishtar mentioned for 614 BC is actually the Cyaxares who rules between 625-585 BC. Cyaxares is the Greek version of the name, with Huwaxshatra/Umakishtar being the Aramaic version, and Uvakshatra being the original Median version.

Cyaxares is the first to develop an organised cavalry with divisions which can act together and in conjunction with other units. It is this innovation that gives him the advantage over the Scythians and breaks their hold over his land. The Babylonians under Nabopolassar begin integrating cavalry into their army when Cyaxares shows the king what they can achieve (a treaty exists between the two peoples, and their armies are influenced by one another). Nabopolassar's son, Nebuchadnezzar, later employs a large organised force of cavalry. In his turn, Cyaxares begins using the heavier Assyro-Babylonian-style chariots and presumably the faster, leggier horses that pull them.

The British Museum has a collection of artefacts known as the Oxus Treasure, found near the River Oxus in Persia and dating from around the time of Cyrus the Great or perhaps just after. In this collection is a highly-detailed model of a chariot. The work is definitely Persian, but the subject matter is a Median war chariot. Its waist-high platform with large, nail-studded wheels is usually pulled by four horses. Persian chariots are shorter and lighter, only needing two horses. Also, they tended to use scythes attached to the sides of the wheels rather than studding them with nails as do the Medians. The dress of the occupants is also Median, not Persian.

Oxus Treasure chariot
The Oxus Treasure contains this Persian model of a Median war chariot, although it is only pulled by two horses rather that the customary four

616 BC

A power vacuum has existed in the region since the fall of Elam. While Assyria itself has been invaded by the Babylonians, the Medians are able to take advantage in their own right and conquer Mannae, chief city of the Mannaeans, so that it can be integrated into the Median kingdom.

615 - 609 BC

The Medians conclude an alliance with Babylonia, with the marriage between Amyhia, daughter of Cyaxares, and Nebuchadnezzar II, son of Nabopolasser of Babylon, being agreed to seal the alliance. Together with groups such as the Scythians the new alliance overthrows and destroys Assyria. According to Herodotus, Cyaxares is now in command of large parts of the Iranian Plateau. Nebuchadnezzar II later builds the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 'Wonders of the Ancient World', in order to assuage his bride's homesickness.

Amyhia is assumed by some historians to be the granddaughter rather than daughter of Cyaxares. This is probably because her brother, Ishtumegu (Astyages), also has a daughter named Amyhia, but that princess marries Cyrus II, not Nebuchadnezzar. Amyhia is better known historically by the Greek transliteration of her name, Amytis. She is queen of Babylon, and great-aunt of Cyrus II. Depending upon the identification of Ahasuerus (a St James Bible translation of the Greek and Old Persian Xerxes and Xšayārša respectively), she may possibly be the aunt of the nebulous Darius the Mede, who claims the kingship of the Chaldeans after the fall of Babylon's last king in 539 BC.

590/585 BC

Again, according to Herodotus, Cyaxares captures the territory which had formed the kingdom of Urartu and, at the end of a fifteen-year war, defeats the army of Lydia at the Battle of the Eclipse. The end of the war signals the start of closer ties between the two kingdoms. Alyattes II of Lydia gives his daughter in marriage to Astyages, son of Cyaxares.

585 - 550 BC

Ishtumegu / Astyages

Son of Cyaxares.

553 - 550 BC

Astyages should not be confused with Alyattes II of Lydia, who is his father-in-law. Herodotus tells the story of how the Medians lose control of Achaemenid Persia when the Persian chief Cyrus rebels. In 550 BC (or 549 BC) Cyrus wins a decisive victory and Astyages is captured by his own nobles and handed over. Harpagus, a Median of the royal house and the main cause of Astyages' defeat, conquers Anatolia for the Persians in 547-546 BC and his descendants reign in Caria and Lycia thereafter.

The sources conflict when it comes to explaining the precise relationship between Cyrus and Astyages. According to some, Cyrus is his son-in-law, while others state that he is his grandson via his daughter Mandane, and the legal heir of Media. The two versions are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Cyrus is Astyages' grandson through the latter's marriage to a Persian princess. In addition, Cyrus has also married his aunt, Astyages' daughter, Amyhia (not to be confused with his sister of the same name!), in order to cement his claim to the Median throne.

521 BC

Upon the execution of the Persian usurper, Smerdis, Farvartish tries to restore the Median kingdom. He is defeated by Persian generals and executed.

521 BC

Farvartish / Phraortes

Descended from Cyaxares. Pretender to Persian/Median throne.

409 - 401 BC

A Median rebellion in 409 BC against the Persian king Darius II is short-lived. A subsequent revolt in 401 BC is by Cyrus, satrap of Asia Minor. He mobilises an army which also consists of ten thousand Greek mercenaries to attack his brother. Defeat leads to his death in October 401 BC at the Battle of Cunaxa.

Accompanying the many Greeks on this campaign is Xenephon, a notable Greek writer from Athens. He notes that (the now-Persian) Ecbatana is much smaller than the generous estimate given by Herodotus some half a century before him. Xenephon offers a very credible three hundred metres for each of the outer sides, and even claims that it has no walls other than that around the citadel at the very top of the hill. What Herodotus had termed walls (fortifications) could simply be painted terraces, foundations for the road, spiralling up around the hill and leading up to the palace, which at this time is certainly walled and is accented in gold. If the area around the outside of the hill where the road begins its rise is counted as part of the 'city' then its size would come much closer to Herodotus' claims.

Argead Dynasty

The Argead were the ruling family and founders of Macedonia who reached their greatest extent under Alexander the Great and his two successors before the kingdom broke up into several Hellenic sections. Following Alexander's conquest of central and eastern Persia in 331-330 BC, the Greek empire ruled the region until Alexander's death in 323 BC and the subsequent regency period which ended in 310 BC. Alexander's successors held no real power, being mere figureheads for the generals who really held control of Alexander's empire. Following that latter period and several wars, the region was left in the hands of the Seleucid empire from 312 BC. It possessed a vast eastern empire which reached as far as India.

Media continued to be of the greatest importance, remaining a vital heartland for the Seleucid empire, as it had been the core of the Achaemenid empire. There are monuments from this period along the Silk Road (such as the reclining Heracles at Behistun) and elsewhere.

(Additional information from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, and from External Links: Encyclopćdia Britannica and Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars at Livius.org, and Diodorus of Sicily at the Library of World History.)

323 BC

The Achaemenid satrapies have largely been retained, although Media has been divided between the smaller northern region of Media Atropatene (thereby creating the basis for the subsequent kingdom of Atropatene), and the larger southern region, which is governed by Peithon. The kingdom of Atropatene continues to be ruled by members of the Persian elite.

323 - 320? BC


Greek satrap of northern Media. Former Achaemenid satrap.

320 BC

Alexander's general, Seleucus, governs Persia during the period of the Wars of the Diadochi, and it is possible that he also has some authority over Atropates and Peithon. During the Third War of the Diadochi, the Empire of Antigonus captures areas of Seleucus' rule (between 315-312 BC) and Peithon fights alongside Antigonus, but once Persia is recovered by Seleucus, it is retained by his descendants within the Seleucid empire until 141 BC.

Silver tetradrachm of Peithon
Two sides of a silver tetradrachm struck by Peithon during his time as satrap of (southern) Media, a successful officer under Alexander and a supporter of Antigonus


323? - 316 BC


Greek satrap of Media (formerly of Indus). Killed in battle in 312 BC.

316 - 312 BC


Greek satrap of Media for Antigonus. Died in battle?

305 BC

The Fourth War of the Diadochi sees Media and Persis ruled by the Hellenic Seleucid empire from Babylon and then Antioch, in Syria. The satraps of Media and Persia or Persis (the region as opposed to the former empire) answer directly to the Seleucid ruler, although precisely how much control is wielded from Antioch is unclear. In essence the satraps in the eastern regions operate as they see fit, within certain limits.

? - 220 BC


Seleucid satrap of Media. Brother of Alexander of Persis.

223 - 221 BC

Antiochus III sets about rebuilding the Seleucid empire which is shown to be very weak at this time. Media and Persis immediately stage a joint rebellion in 223 BC under their satraps, the brothers Molon and Alexander. Ill-advised in the matter, Antiochus sends generals east to deal with them while he embarks on a farcical attack on Egypt to regain lost territory in the south. Both campaigns end in utter defeat. In the north, Achaeus, Antiochus' cousin, records the only immediate success by forcing Pergamum back to its original borders.

Antiochus deals personally with the eastern rebellion in 221 BC. It collapses in the face of his advance, with Molon's forces deserting him. Lesser Media under another rebel, Artabazanes, also buckles and Atropatene in north-western Media is captured.

163 - 160 BC

Timarchus of Miletus

Seleucid satrap of Media. Revolted.

163 - 160 BC

The reign of young Antiochus V of the Seleucid empire is a busy one. Recognised by Rome in favour of his uncle, Demetrius, he and his regent, Lysias, then suffer the revolt of Timarchus, satrap of Media in 163 BC. They win a victory in the war against Judas Maccabeus at Beth-Zechariah in 162 BC, but then Antiochus' advisor, Philip, revolts in Antioch. A peace treaty is agreed with the Maccabaeans, giving them favourable terms because the Seleucid troops are needed in Antioch and Media. Antiochus is killed by his own uncle before he can use those troops.

Ecbatana was the capital of Media, a prized possession of the Seleucid empire and one that had to be regained upon the event of a revolt - this view shows the surviving ancient walls in modern Hamadan in Iran

Timarchus accepts the title of 'great king' (just as Eucratides I of Bactria had accepted this title a couple of years earlier). Babylonia is soon under his control, if not from the start of his rebellion (the extent of the realm under the control of Timarchus is contested. It is unclear whether he had been the governor of all territories east of the Euphrates or the Tigris. If the former, then he had already been responsible for Babylonia too, but if the latter then he must have taken it by force or through the threat of force). It takes until 160 BC for Demetrius to overthrow him and accept the title 'soter', meaning 'saviour', from the grateful Babylonians.

141 BC - AD 4

MapSeleucid rival claimant Antiochus VI is recognised in Antioch, and Demetrius is forced to flee to Seleucia near Babylon, although he only makes it thanks to soldiers from Judea who save his life. However, the Parthians under the very able Mithradates I make the most of the Seleucid civil war by taking Media in 141 BC. In the same year Mithradates also captures Seleucia and then Uruk. Although it briefly loses Media and Babylonia to Antiochus VII in 130-129 BC, thereafter the Parthian empire retains its holdings in Mesopotamia until it eventually breaks up, leaving behind it a patchwork of kingdoms which remain in a loose alliance with one another for a further two hundred years.

c. AD 70


Brother of Vologeses of Persia and Tiridates II of Armenia.

c.AD 70

An attack by the warlike Alani tribe to the north of the Black Sea defeats a Median force.