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The Medes, (Greek , from an Old Persian ; Assyrian Mādāyu; Kurdish: Med û Medya or مەدئوو مەدیا; New Persian ) were an ancient Iranian peopleA) "Mede." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 January 2008 /www.britannica.com/eb/article-9051719>.B) Andrew Dalby, Dictionary of Languages: the definitive reference to more than 400 languages, Columbia University Press, 2004, pg 278.

C) Gwendolyn Leick, Who's Who in the Ancient Near East, Routledge, Published 2001. pg 192

D) Ian Shaw, Robert Jameson, A Dictionary of Archaeology, Blackwell Publishing, 1999.

E) Sabatino Moscati, Face of the Ancient Orient, Courier Dover Publications, Published 2001. pg 67

F) John Prevas, Xenophon's March: Into the Lair of the Persian Lion, Da Capo Press, 2002. pg 20. who lived in the northwestern portions of present-day Iranmarker. This area is known as Media (also Medea; Greek , Old Persian ; 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 Babylonia defeated the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Medes were able to establish their own empire, the largest of its day, 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 his overlord and grandfather, Astyages, king of Media.

The Medes are sometimes considered to be one of the ancestors of the Kurds based on linguistic and geographic evidence. This conjecture is, however, challenged by other scholars who consider central Iranian dialects, mainly those of Kashanmarker area, and Tati as the only direct offshoots of Median language. Moreover, although some medieval Armenian authors refer to Kurds as mark(Medians) or azgn marac(the tribe of the Medians), this is considered as part of a literary tradition of identifying modern ethnic groups with the unrelated ancient people.

History

Origins

The prehistoric origin of the Medes lies in the common Indo-Iranian homeland in the Eurasian steppes. The early Iranian expansion takes them towards the Persian Plateau and the Zagrosmarker mountains during the later second millennium BC as part of the population movements associated with the Bronze Age collapse.

Josephus claimed that the Medes were descended from Madai, the grandson of Noah.

Assyrian record

Costumes of ancient Mede nobility.
The Medes, people of the Mada (the Greek form is Ionic for ), appear in history first in 836 BC. Earliest records show that Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser III received tribute from the "Amadai" in connection with wars against the tribes of the Zagrosmarker. His successors undertook many expeditions against the Medes (Madai).

From the names in the Assyrian inscriptions, it appears they had already adopted the religion of Zoroaster.

In 715 BC and 713 BC, Sargon II of Assyria subjected them up to "the far mountain Bikni", i.e. the Elburzmarker (Damavandmarker) and the borders of the desert. If the account of Herodotus is to be trusted, the Median dynasty descends from Deioces(Daiukku) a prince from Diauehi and a Median chieftain in the Zagrosmarker, who, along with his kinsmen, was transported by Sargon to Hamathmarker (Haniah) in Syriamarker in 715 BC. This Daiukku seems to have originally been a governor of Mannae, subject to Sargon prior to his exile.

In spite of repeated rebellions by the early chieftains against Assyrian rule, the Medes paid tribute to Assyria under Sargon's successors, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashur-bani-pal whenever these kings marched against them. Assyrian forts located in Median territory at the time of Esarhaddon's campaign (ca. 676) included Bit-Parnakki, Bit-kari and Harhar (Kar-Sharrukin).

Median Empire

Median Empire of Persia/Iran.
Although Herodotus credits “Deioces son of Phraortes” (probably c. 715) with the creation of the Median kingdom and the founding of its capital city at Ecbatanamarker (modern Hamadanmarker), it was probably not before 625 BC that Cyaxares, grandson of Deioces, succeeded in uniting into a kingdom the many Iranian-speaking Median tribes.

Herodotus, i. 101, lists the names of six Median tribes: "Thus Deioces collected the Medes into a nation, and ruled over them alone. Now these are the tribes of which they consist: the Busae, the Paretaceni, the Struchates, the Arizanti, the Budii, and the Magi." He further notes that "the Medes had exactly the same equipment as the Persians; and indeed the dress common to both is not so much Persian as Median." (7.62) According to Herodotus, "the Medes were called anciently by all people Aryans; but when Media, the Colchian, came to them from Athensmarker, they changed their name. Such is the account which they themselves give." --- the Medes, History of Herodotus (7.7). Medea is the daughter of the Colchian King Aeëtes in the Greek myth, Jason and the Argonauts.

According to Herodotus, the conquests of Cyaxares the Medes 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 Seamarker and invaded Asia Minormarker. The state of Mannae was finally conquered and assimilated by the Medes in the year 616 BC.

In 612 BC, Cyaxares conquered Urartu, and in alliance with Nabopolassar (who created the Neo-Babylonian Empire), succeeded in destroying the Assyrian capital, Ninevehmarker, 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 Cappadociamarker. 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 Rivermarker 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.

Modern research by a professor of Assyriology, Robert Rollinger, has questioned the extent of the Median empire and its sphere of influence, proposing for example that it did not control the Assyrian heartland.

List of Median kings



Achaemenid Persia

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 Ecbatanamarker; 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.

After the assassination of the usurper Smerdis, a Mede Fravartish (Phraortes), claiming to be a scion of Cyaxares, tried to restore the Mede kingdom, but was defeated by the Persian generals and executed in Ecbatana (Darius in the Behistun inscr.). Another rebellion, in 409 BC, against Darius II (Xenophon, Hellen. ~. 2, 19) was of short duration. But the Iranian tribes to the north, especially the Cadusii, were always troublesome; many abortive expeditions of the later kings against them are mentioned .

Under Persian rule, the country was divided into two satrapies: the south, with Ecbatana and Rhagae (Reymarker near modern Tehranmarker), Media proper, or Greater 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 Persian empire decayed and the Cadusii 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 Anabasis always designates Assyria by the name of "Media".

The Medes during the Hellenistic period

Seleucid rule

Alexander the Great occupied the satrapy of Media in the summer of 330 BC. In 328 he appointed as satrap a former general of Darius called Atropates (Atrupat), whose daughter was married to Perdiccas in 324, according to Arrian. In the partition of his empire, southern Media was given to the Macedonian Peithon; but the north, far off and of little importance to the generals squabbling over Alexander's inheritance, was left to Atropates.

While southern Media, with Ecbatanamarker, passed to the rule of Antigonus, and afterwards (about 310 BC) to Seleucus I, Atropates maintained himself in his own satrapy and succeeded in founding an independent kingdom. Thus the partition of the country, that Persia had introduced, became lasting; the north was named Atropatene (in Pliny, Atrapatene; in Ptolemy, Tropatene), after the founder of the dynasty, a name still said to be preserved in the modern form 'Azerbaijanmarker'.

The capital of Atropatene was Gazaca in the central plain, and the castle Phraaspa, discovered on the Araz river by archaeologists in April 2005. 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 dependent in turn upon the Parthians, upon Tigranes of Armenia, and in the time of Pompey who defeated their king Darius (Appian, Mithr. 108), upon Antonius (who invaded Atropatene) and upon Augustus of Rome. In the time of Strabo (AD 17), the dynasty still existed; later, 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. Southern Media remained a province of the Seleucid Empire for a century and a half, and Hellenism was introduced everywhere. Media was surrounded everywhere by Greek towns, in pursuance of Alexander's plan to protect it from neighboring barbarians, according to Polybius (x. 27). Only Ecbatana retained its old character. But Rhagaemarker became the Greek town Europus; and with it Strabo (xi. 524) names Laodiceamarker, Apamea Heraclea or Achais. Most of them were founded by Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I.

Arsacid rule

In 221 BC, 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, the Mede satrap Timarchus took the diadem and conquered Babylonia; on his coins he calls himself the great king Timarchus; but 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 began, brought about chiefly by the intrigues of the Romans, and shortly afterwards, in about 150, the Parthian king Mithradates I conquered Media (Justin xli. 6).

From this time Media remained subject to the Arsacids or Parthians, 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 Parthians, it passed in 226 to the Sassanids, together with Atropatene.

Zoroastrian revival under the Sassanids

The revival of Zoroastrianism, enforced everywhere by the Sassanids, completed this development. Atropatene, already center of the fire cult during Parthian times (see Takht-i-Suleimanmarker) now became the site of one of the legendary Great Fires. Under the patronage of Kartir, the 'priest of priests' of the early Sassanid kings, Arsacia/Rhagae advanced to become one of the two (the other being Ishtakhr, ancestral seat of the Sassanid priest-kings) centers of the Zoroastrian priesthood.

In Greco-Roman historiography

Josephus relates the Medes (OT Heb. Madai) 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.

According to the Book of Jubilees (10:35-36), Madai had married a daughter of Shem, and preferred to live among Shem's descendants, rather than dwell in Japheth's allotted inheritance beyond the Black Sea; so he begged his brothers-in-law, Elam, Asshur and Arphaxad, until he finally received from them the land that was named after him, Media. The Kurds still maintain traditions of descent from Madai.

We can see how the Persian element gradually became dominant; princes with Persian names occasionally occur as rulers of other tribes. But the Gelae, Tapuri, Cadusii, Amardi, Utii and other tribes in northern Media and on the shores of the Caspian may not have been Persian stock. Polybius (V. 44, 9), Strabo (xi. 507, 508, 514), and Pliny (vi. 46), considered the Anariaci to be among these tribes; but this name, meaning the "non-Arians", is probably a comprehensive designation for a number of smaller indigenous tribes.

The story that Ctesias gave (a king named Pharnus, said to have been crucified by the Assyrian Ninus in c. 2175 BC, followed by a list of nine later kings beginning with Arbaces, said to have destroyed Ninevehmarker in 880s BC; preserved in Diodorus ii. 32 sqq. and copied by many later authors) has no historical value whatsoever; though some of his names may be derived from local traditions.

Median language

Strabo, in his "Geography", mentions the affinity of Mede with other Iranian languages:

Words probably of Mede origin appear in various other Iranian dialects, including Old Persian. For example, Herodotus mentions the word Spaka (dog), still found in Iranic languages such as Talyshi. Other words also thought to be of Mede origin (I.M Diakonoff, Medes) include

  • Farnah: Divine glory; ( nah),
  • Paridaiza: Paradise, (as in Pardis پردیس)
  • Vazraka: Great, (as Modern Persian Bozorg بزرگ),
  • Vispa: All, (as in Avestan),
  • Xshayathiya (royal, royalty).


An Armenian manuscript from the 15th century which was probably copied from a much older work contains a Christian prayer in seven languages, one of them called "the Median language". The "Median language" in this prayer is in a Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji) dialect and may constitute the earliest record of Kurdish. The orientalist Vladimir Minorsky, an expert on Kurds, claimed that the basic unity of the Kurdish language derived from a single language and suggested that these might have been the Medes. Gernot Windfurh also adds that "The majority of those who now speak Kurdish most likely were formerly speakers of Median dialects".

See also



References and Notes

  1. John Limbert, "The Origins and Appearance of the Kurds in Pre-Islamic Iran", Iranian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1968. Excerpt: "Although some scholars have dismissed the Kurds' claim of Median descent, linguistic and geographical evidence supports these claims. All Kurdish dialects have maintained the basic characteristics of Kurdish despite the wide dispersion of the tribes. This fact suggests that there was an ancient and powerful language from which the dialects evolved.".
  2. G. Asatrian, Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds, Iran and the Caucasus, Vol.13, pp.1-58, 2009. (p.21)
  3. G. Asatrian, Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds, Iran and the Caucasus, Vol.13, pp.1-58, 2009. (pp.21-22) Excerpt:"In the late Armenian sources, especially in the colophons of the manuscripts, the Kurds are sometimes referred to as mark‘ “Medians” or azgn marac‘ “the tribe of the Medians”. Namely this phenomenon in the Armenian written tradition is declared by the protagonists of the mentioned idea (e.g. Minorsky, Les origines des Kurds, Actes du XXe Congrès international des orientalistes, Louvain: 143-152, 1940). However, the labeling of the Kurds as Medians by the Armenian chroniclers is a mere literary device within the tradition of identifying the contemporary ethnic units with the ancient peoples, known throughout the Classical literature. Tatars, e.g., were identified with the Persians, azgn parsic; Kara-qoyunlu Turkmens were called "the tribe of the Scythians", azgn skiwt‘ac‘woc‘.
  4. M. Chahin, Before the Greeks, p. 109, James Clarke & Co., 1996, ISBN 0718829506
  5. Mary Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago: Univ. Of Chicago Press, 1990) [1]
  6. On some problems concerning the Western expansion of the Median empire"
  7. Cyaxares - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  8. I.M. Diakonoff, “Media” in Cambridge History of Iran 2
  9. Rudiger Schmitt, "Cadusii" in Encyclopedia Iranica
  10. John Limbert, The Origins and Appearance of the Kurds in Pre-Islamic Iran, Iranian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring 1968.
  11. D.N. Mackenzie, The Language of the Medians. D. N. MacKenzie,. Source: BSOAS (22), 1959, pp. 354-355. The Prayer is: "Pâkizh xudê, pâkizh zahm, pâkizh vêmarg, kôy hâtî xâchê izh kir ma, rrahmatê ma."
  12. "Kurdish Nationalism and Competing Ethnic Loyalties", Original English version of: "Nationalisme kurde et ethnicités intra-kurdes", Peuples Méditerranéens no. 68-69 (1994), 11-37.
  13. Windfuhr, Gernot. "Isoglosses: A Sketch on Persians and Parthians, Kurds and Medes" in Hommages et Opera Minora, Monumentum H. S. Nyberg, Vol. 2., Acta Iranica 5. Tehran-Liège: Bibliothèque Pahlavi, 457-472. pg 468. excerpt: "One may add that the overlay of a strong superstrate by a dialect from the eastern parts of Iran does not imply the conclusion that ethnically all Kurdish speakers are from the east, just as one would hesitate to identify the majority of Azarbayjani speakers as ethnic Turks. The majority of those who now speak Kurdish most likely were formerly speakers of Median dialects"


  • "Mede." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 16 January 2008 /www.britannica.com/eb/article-9051719>.


Bruno Genito, 1986, The Medes: a Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence, East & West, 36, Nos. 1-3, pp. 11-83. Rome.

Bruno Genito, 1995, The Material Culture of the Medes: Limits and Perspectives in the Archaeological Research,Un Ricordo che non si spegne, Scritti di docenti e collaboratori dell'Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli in memoria di Alessandro Bausani, pp. 103-118. Napoli

Bruno Genito, 2005 The Archaeology of the Median period: an outline and a research perspective, The Iron Age in the Iranian World (17- 20 November 2003) Ghent, Ghent University and the Royal Museums for Art and History, Brussels, Iranica Antiqua, 40, 315-340. Ghent.


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