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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee


Mada / Median History


First Nation & Empire - Second Phase of Zoroastrian History

Terrain Location


Medians as Aryans

Median Groups

Assyrian Raids

Mede Revolt Against Assyrians

Rise of the Median Nation - Democracy

Median Kings Chronology

Median Empire

Battle of Halys (585 BCE)

Scythian Invasion

Median Artefacts


» Suggested prior reading: Ranghaya, Sixteenth Vendidad Nation & Western Aryan Lands


English: Mede, Modern Persian: Madah, Old Persian: Madai, Greek: Μηδοι (Midoi), Assyrian: Madayu.

English: Media, Modern Persian: Madi, Old Persian: Mada, Greek: Μηδία (Midia), Akkadian: Madai.

On this page we will frequently quote from translations of Greek classical writers Herodotus' (c. 485-420 BCE ) Histories abbreviated as 'H', together with the book number, section number, e.g. H.7.62, and similarly quoting Strabo's (c. 63/64-24 ACE) Geography using the notation S. book, chapter, section e.g. S 15.2.8.

Map of Ancient Persian & Mesopotamian States
Map of Ancient Persian & Mesopotamian States. Base map courtesy Microsoft Encarta

First Nation & Empire - Second Phase of Zoroastrian History

The first phase of Zoroastrian history is defined by the history of Aryans in the sixteen lands or nations listed in the Zoroastrian scripture, the Avesta's, book of Vendidad. It was a history centred around Airyana Vaeja, the Central Asian homeland of the Aryans.

Media is the first Irano-Aryan nation to enter recorded history after the close of the Zoroastrian scripture's - the Avesta's - canon. (Also see Ranghaya, the last Avestan nation and Early Persian History.)

The land that came to be called the nation of Mada (Media) was land centred around its ancient capital of Ecbatana (or Ekbatana), modern Hamadan in north-western Iran, and included land running along the eastern slopes of the Zagros mountain range.

Terrain / Location

H.1.110 "The mountains, on the skirts of which his cattle grazed, lie to the north of Agbátana*, towards the Euxine. That part of Media which borders on the Saspirians is an elevated tract, very mountainous, and covered with forests, while the rest of the Median territory is entirely level ground."

* The capital of Media was called Hagmatāna (modern Hamadan, Iran) in Old Persian. Herodotus calls the capital Agbátana or Ekbátana (Ecbatana).

Hamadan / Ecbatana is 1850 meters above sea level and lies to the west of the Iranian plateau. It is about 350km. southwest of the present-day city of Rai (southern Tehran, Iran) and Rai had been identified as part of ancient Rakham / Ragha, the twelfth Vendidad nation. Ecbatana may also have been close to the thirteenth Vendidad nation Chakhrem of which we know very little.

One arm of the Aryan trade roads (the Silk Roads), the arm that in medieval times could have been called the Great Khorasan Road, could very well have run through Ragha to Ecbatana via Saveh enroute to Kermanshah and Babylon. The Aryans could very well well have established a trading colony in Ecbatana prior to it becoming the centre of the Medians. Together with Ragha / Rai, Ecbatana / Hamadan is one of the oldest cities in Iran.


The Medes as well as their compatriots the Persians, the Parsa or Parsu, first enter recorded history in an Assyrian inscription from 844 BCE. The inscription records that an Assyrian military expedition encountered Medes and Persians in the area around Lake Urmia (or Urmiya) in the northwest of present-day Iran.

The inscription records a successful military expedition by King Shalmaneser III (859-824 BCE) that enabled him to exact tribute from 27 chieftains in Parsua. We also gather from the inscriptions that the predecessors to the Medes and the Persians were organized as loose federations of autonomous districts, each with its own chief.

Medians as Aryans

Map of the Median Empire c. 600 BCE. Second Aryan empire that included the traditional Aryan lands
Map of the Median Empire c. 600 BCE.
Second Aryan empire that
included the traditional Aryan lands
Image credit: Wikipedia

H.7.62: "The Medes had exactly the same equipment as the Persians; and indeed the dress common to both is not so much Persian as Median. They had for commander Tigranes, of the race of the Achaemenids. These (Medes & Persians) were called anciently by all people Aryans."

S.15.2.8 "The name of Aryana (the greater Aryan nation) is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak the same language with only slight variations." It is interesting to note that ancient Aryana lands included part of modern Media and Persia. Examining the sixteen Aryan nations listed in the Vendidad, we note that Rai/Ray/Ragha that was part of modern Media was one of the original sixteen Vendidad nations. Similarly, parts of eastern Persia could have been part of old Sistan/Haetumant and Aria/Haroyu.

When Media became an empire, the extent of the empire covered the traditional Aryan lands of the Avesta - from Sugd (Sogdiana), Pamirs and Upper Indus in the east to Ranghaya (upper Tigris-Euphrates basin) in the west. The Medes had in effect become the dominant kingdom in the federation of Aryan kingdoms - Aryana. In the process, the king of the Medes became a king of kings of Aryana, land of the Aryans.

Median Groups

H.1.101 "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."

Assyrian Raids

Map of Ancient Lands in the Urmia-Zagros Region
Map of Ancient Lands in the Urmia-Zagros Region
Image credit: The Cambridge Ancient History

In the 844 BCE inscriptions relating the military expeditions of Assyrian King Shalmaneser III (859-824 BCE), we find first mention of Parsua and its twenty-seven kings or chieftains.

Shalmaneser's successor Shamsi-Adad V (822-811 BCE) left behind inscriptions that mention raids further east into Median lands. His armies crossed the Kullar mountains (the main Zagros range) and entered Messi on the upper reaches of the River Jagatu, where they captured a large quantity of cattle, sheep and a number of two-humped Bactrian camels. The capture of Bactrian camels is very significant as they were widely used by Aryan traders. Many settlements were burnt or raised to the ground. The Assyrians then made their way into the Gizilbunda mountains (in the present-day between Shahberdi and Kafelan-kuh and which form the watershed between the rivers Jagatu and Safid-rud) which formed the boundary between Upper Zamua, which was now part of Manni. After subduing the Gizilbunda kingdom, the Assyrians entered Median lands. Unlike their western neighbours, the Medes were united under a common leader who they called Hansiruka whose capital the Assyrians called Sagbitu. They battled the Assyrians and suffered heavy losses before the Assyrians withdrew with their plunder.

Assyrian King Adad-nirari III (811-783 BCE) continued raiding Median lands which by this time included the triangle between present-day Hamadan, Zanjan and Qazvin (tiday's provinces of Hamadan and Zanjan) and was reputed to have briefly penetrated Aryan lands as far east as the lapis mines of Badakhshan.

Mede Revolt Against Assyrians

H.1.95 "The Assyrians had held the Empire of Upper Asia for the space of five hundred and twenty years, when the Medes set the example of revolt from their authority. They took arms for the recovery of their freedom, and fought a battle with the Assyrians, in which they behaved with such gallantry as to shake off the yoke of servitude, and to become a free people. Upon their success the other nations also revolted and regained their independence."

Rise of the Median Nation - Democracy

The formation of a unified nation based on the rule of law was made possible by the election of the ruler by the people. The system of rule of Aryan kings was that they ruled by a implicit social and divine contract that enabled them to rule in grace. Ferdowsi's epic, the Shahnameh contains a verse to this effect:

I've said preceding sovereigns worshipped God (Mazda)
By whom their crowns were given
To protect the people from oppressors.
God they served, acknowledging God's goodness -
For to God, the pure, unchangeable, the Holy One!
They owed their greatness and their earthly power.

When a king rules in grace they are said to have realized their khvarenah. The khvarenah is a person's calling. A person's realization of her or his khvarenah cloaks that person with the aura of charisma and grace. For rulers, this allows them to lead without resorting to authority. However, metaphorically, the khvarenah is like a bird that hovers over a person, and one that can fly away. If grace is replaced by evil ambitions, the bird is replaced by serpents growing out of that person's shoulders

The rise of the Median nation according to Herodotus is as follows:

H.1.96 "Thus the nations over that whole extent of country obtained the blessing of self-government, but they fell again under the sway of kings, in the manner which I will now relate. There was a certain Mede named Deioces, son of Phraortes, a man of much wisdom, who had conceived the desire of obtaining to himself the sovereign power. In furtherance of his ambition, therefore, he formed and carried into execution the following scheme. As the Medes at that time dwelt in scattered villages without any central authority, and lawlessness in consequence prevailed throughout the land, Deioces, who was already a man of mark in his own village, applied himself with greater zeal and earnestness than ever before to the practice of justice among his fellows. It was his conviction that justice and injustice are engaged in perpetual war with one another. He therefore began his course of conduct, and presently the men of his village, observing his integrity, chose him to be the arbiter of all their disputes. Bent on obtaining the sovereign power, he showed himself an honest and an upright judge, and by these means gained such credit with his fellow-citizens as to attract the attention of those who lived in the surrounding villages. They had long been suffering from unjust and oppressive judgments; so that, when they heard of the singular uprightness of Deioces, and of the equity of his decisions, they joyfully had recourse to him in the various quarrels and suits that arose, until at last they came to put confidence in no one else."

H.1.97 "The number of complaints brought before him continually increasing, as people learnt more and more the fairness of his judgments, Deioces, feeling himself now all important, announced that he did not intend any longer to hear causes, and appeared no more in the seat in which he had been accustomed to sit and administer justice. "It did not square with his interests," he said, "to spend the whole day in regulating other men's affairs to the neglect of his own." Hereupon robbery and lawlessness broke out afresh, and prevailed through the country even more than heretofore; wherefore the Medes assembled from all quarters, and held a consultation on the state of affairs. The speakers, as I think, were chiefly friends of Deioces. "We cannot possibly," they said, "go on living in this country if things continue as they now are; let us therefore set a king over us, that so the land may be well governed, and we ourselves may be able to attend to our own affairs, and not be forced to quit our country on account of anarchy." The assembly was persuaded by these arguments, and resolved to appoint a king."

H.1.98 "It followed to determine who should be chosen to the office. When this debate began the claims of Deioces and his praises were at once in every mouth; so that presently all agreed that he should be king. Upon this he required a palace to be built for him suitable to his rank, and a guard to be given him for his person. The Medes complied, and built him a strong and large palace, on a spot which he himself pointed out, and likewise gave him liberty to choose himself a bodyguard from the whole nation. Thus settled upon the throne, he further required them to build a single great city, and, disregarding the petty towns in which they had formerly dwelt, make the new capital the object of their chief attention. The Medes were again obedient, and built the city now called Agbatana, the walls of which are of great size and strength, rising in circles one within the other. The plan of the place is that each of the walls should out-top the one beyond it by the battlements. The nature of the ground, which is a gentle hill, favours this arrangement in some degree, but it was mainly effected by art. The number of the circles is seven, the royal palace and the treasuries standing within the last. The circuit of the outer wall is very nearly the same with that of Athens. Of this wall the battlements are white, of the next black, of the third scarlet, of the fourth blue, of the fifth orange; all these are coloured with paint. The two last have their battlements coated respectively with silver and gold."

H.[1.99 "All these fortifications Deioces caused to be raised for himself and his own palace. The people were required to build their dwellings outside the circuit of the walls. When the town was finished, he proceeded to arrange the ceremonial. He allowed no one to have direct access to the person of the king, but made all communication pass through the hands of messengers, and forbade the king to be seen by his subjects. He also made it an offence for any one whatsoever to laugh or spit in the royal presence. This ceremonial, of which he was the first inventor, Deioces established for his own security, fearing that his compeers, who were brought up together with him, and were of as good family as he, and no whit inferior to him in manly qualities, if they saw him frequently would be pained at the sight, and would therefore be likely to conspire against him; whereas if they did not see him, they would think him quite a different sort of being from themselves."

H.1.100 "After completing these arrangements, and firmly settling himself upon the throne, Deioces continued to administer justice with the same strictness as before. Causes were stated in writing, and sent in to the king, who passed his judgment upon the contents, and transmitted his decisions to the parties concerned: besides which he had spies and eavesdroppers in all parts of his dominions, and if he heard of any act of oppression, he sent for the guilty party, and awarded him the punishment meet for his offence."

Median Kings Chronology

According to Eusebius (e), Herodotus and Ctesias (Deioces united the Median tribes Busae, Paretaceni, Struchates, Arizanti, Budii, and Magi):

Reign BCE Ruler Name: Median* / Greek or Latin
*Old Persian
28 yearsArbaces (e)
20 yearsMaudaces (e)
30 yearsSosarmus (e)
30 yearsArtycas (e)
? Other previous rulers Arbianes and Artseus
728-675Dahyu-ka (?) / Deiocesson of Kyaxares or Phraotes?
grandson of Deioces?
675-653 Fravartish / Phraortesson of Deioces
653-625 ? / Madius - Scythian interregnum
625-585 Hvakhshathra, Uvakhshtra* / Cyaxares
*Khusru / Kaikhusrou (Kurdish / Persian)
son of Phraotes
585-550 Rishti-Vaiga* / Astyages
*Ishtovigu (Persian)
son of Uvakhshtra / Cyaxares
550 Media under Persian king Cyrus II

According to Assyrian cuneiform and local sources:

Reign BCE Ruler Name: Median / Assyrian Lineage
mid 700's-728Kshatrita (ruler of Kar Kashi) / ?
r. 701-665
Dahyu-ka (?) / Daiukku (Elamite Dayaukku)
665/4-633 Fravartish (Pr. Kshatrita) / Kashtaritison of Dayaukku
633-585 Hvakshatra or Uvakshatra / Uksatarson of Fravartish
585-550 Rishti-Vaiga / Ishtumeguson of Uvakshatra
550 Media under Persian king Cyrus II

Median Empire

The Median kingdom rapidly united the different Median groups and then proceeded to gain dominance over all the traditional Aryan states - the sixteen nations of the Vendidad. In doing so, the Medians formed the second Aryan empire - the first empire having been formed by the legendary King Feridoon. The Median empire would become the foundation for the third Aryan empire, the Achaemenid Persian empire of Cyrus the Great.

Map of the Median Empire c. 600 BCE. Second Aryan empire that included the traditional Aryan lands
Map of the Median Empire c. 600 BCE. Second Aryan empire that included the traditional Aryan lands.
Image credit: Wikipedia

H.1.102 "Having reigned three-and-fifty years, Deioces was at his death succeeded by his son Phraortes. This prince, not satisfied with a dominion which did not extend beyond the single nation of the Medes, began by attacking the Persians; and marching an army into their country, brought them under the Median yoke before any other people. After this success, being now at the head of two nations, both of them powerful, he proceeded to conquer Asia, overrunning province after province. At last he engaged in war with the Assyrians - those Assyrians, I mean, to whom Nineveh belonged, who were formerly the lords of Asia. At present they stood alone by the revolt and desertion of their allies, yet still their internal condition was as flourishing as ever. Phraortes attacked them, but perished in the expedition with the greater part of his army, after having reigned over the Medes two-and-twenty years."

H.1.103 "On the death of Phraortes his son Cyaxares ascended the throne. Of him it is reported that he was still more war-like than any of his ancestors, and that he was the first who gave organisation to an Asiatic army, dividing the troops into companies, and forming distinct bodies of the spearmen, the archers, and the cavalry, who before his time had been mingled in one mass, and confused together. He it was who fought against the Lydians on the occasion when the day was changed suddenly into night, and who brought under his dominion the whole of Asia beyond the Halys. This prince, collecting together all the nations which owned his sway, marched against Nineveh, resolved to avenge his father, and cherishing a hope that he might succeed in taking the town. A battle was fought, in which the Assyrians suffered a defeat, and Cyaxares had already begun the siege of the place, when a numerous horde of Scyths, under their king Madyes, son of Prtotohyes, burst into Asia in pursuit of the Cimmerians whom they had driven out of Europe, and entered the Median territory."

According to Xenophon in Cyropaedia 1.5.2, it is Assyria that provoked a conflict with Media during the reign of Cyaxares, uncle of the then Persian prince Cyrus (who would become Cyrus the Great). Cyaxares sent out an appeal to Media's allies and vassal states and Cyrus was given charge of the Persian army that went to Media's aid. Cyrus gradually assumed effective leadership of all the allied forces that defeated the Assyrians.

Battle of Halys (585 BCE)

The Battle of Halys is also known as the Battle of the Eclipse since it ended on a day of a solar eclipse on May 28, 585 BCE. The battle between Alyattes II of Lydia and Cyaxares of the Medes, had been fought for fifteen years before ending abruptly because the eclipse was taken as an divine omen requiring the fighting to stop.

The two leaders hastily arranged a truce and as part of the terms, Alyattes's daughter Aryenis was given to Cyaxares's son Astyages in marriage. Further, the river Halys was set as the border of the two nations. The river (present-day Kizilirmak river, meaning red river, in Turkey) was known to the Hittites as the Marassantiya River and it formed the boundary of the Hittite land of Hatti. For classical Greek writers, the Halys formed boundary between Asia Minor and the rest of Asia.

The border agreement remained in place until Croesus of Lydia crossed it to attack Cyrus the Great in 547 BCE. Cyrus and his army opposed the aggression and defeated the Lydian army. As a result Persia annexed the Lydian lands that extended to the Aegean Sea.

The following are excerpts from Herodotus' Histories regarding the war between Croesus and Cyrus:

H.1.73 "There were two motives which led Croesus to attack Cappadocia: firstly, he coveted the land, which he wished to add to his own dominions; but the chief reason was that he wanted to revenge on Cyrus the wrongs of Astyages, and was made confident by the oracle of being able so to do: for Astyages, son of Cyaxares and king of the Medes, who had been dethroned by Cyrus, son of Cambyses, was Croesus' brother by marriage. This marriage had taken place under circumstances which I will now relate. A band of Scythian nomads, who had left their own land on occasion of some disturbance, had taken refuge in Media. Cyaxares, son of Phraortes, and grandson of Deioces, was at that time king of the country. Recognising them as suppliants, he began by treating them with kindness, and coming presently to esteem them highly, he entrusted to their care a number of boys, whom they were to teach their language and to instruct in the use of the bow. Time passed, and the Scythians employed themselves, day after day, in hunting, and always brought home some game; but at last it chanced that one day they took nothing. On their return to Cyaxares with empty hands, that monarch, who was hot-tempered, as he showed upon the occasion, received them very rudely and insultingly. In consequence of this treatment, which they did not conceive themselves to have deserved, the Scythians determined to take one of the boys whom they had in charge, cut him in pieces, and then dressing the flesh as they were wont to dress that of the wild animals, serve it up to Cyaxares as game: after which they resolved to convey themselves with all speed to Sardis, to the court of Alyattes, the son of Sadyattes. The plan was carried out: Cyaxares and his guests ate of the flesh prepared by the Scythians, and they themselves, having accomplished their purpose, fled to Alyattes in the guise of suppliants."

H.1.74 "Afterwards, on the refusal of Alyattes to give up his suppliants when Cyaxares sent to demand them of him, war broke out between the Lydians and the Medes, and continued for five years, with various success. In the course of it the Medes gained many victories over the Lydians, and the Lydians also gained many victories over the Medes. Among their other battles there was one night engagement. As, however, the balance had not inclined in favour of either nation, another combat took place in the sixth year, in the course of which, just as the battle was growing warm, day was on a sudden changed into night. This event had been foretold by Thales, the Milesian, who forewarned the Ionians of it, fixing for it the very year in which it actually took place. The Medes and Lydians, when they observed the change, ceased fighting, and were alike anxious to have terms of peace agreed on. Syennesis of Cilicia, and Labynetus of Babylon, were the persons who mediated between the parties, who hastened the taking of the oaths, and brought about the exchange of espousals. It was they who advised that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis in marriage to Astyages, the son of Cyaxares, knowing, as they did, that without some sure bond of strong necessity, there is wont to be but little security in men's covenants. Oaths are taken by these people in the same way as by the Greeks, except that they make a slight flesh wound in their arms, from which each sucks a portion of the other's blood."

H.1.75 "Cyrus had captured this Astyages, who was his mother's father, and kept him prisoner, for a reason which I shall bring forward in another of my history. This capture formed the ground of quarrel between Cyrus and Croesus."

Scythian Invasion

H.1.104 "The distance from the Palus Maeotis to the river Phasis and the Colchians is thirty days' journey for a lightly-equipped traveller. From Colchis to cross into Media does not take long - there is only a single intervening nation, the Saspirians, passing whom you find yourself in Media. This however was not the road followed by the Scythians, who turned out of the straight course, and took the upper route, which is much longer, keeping the Caucasus upon their right. The Scythians, having thus invaded Media, were opposed by the Medes, who gave them battle, but, being defeated, lost their empire. The Scythians became masters of Asia."

H.1.106 "The dominion of the Scythians over Asia lasted eight-and-twenty years, during which time their insolence and oppression spread ruin on every side. For besides the regular tribute, they exacted from the several nations additional imposts, which they fixed at pleasure; and further, they scoured the country and plundered every one of whatever they could. At length Cyaxares and the Medes invited the greater part of them to a banquet, and made them drunk with wine, after which they were all massacred. The Medes then recovered their empire, and had the same extent of dominion as before. They took Nineveh - I will relate how in another history - and conquered all Assyria except the district of Babylonia. After this Cyaxares died, having reigned over the Medes, if we include the time of the Scythian rule, forty years."

Median Artefacts


Gold Rhyton found in Ecbatana
Gold Rhyton found in Ecbatana

A Rhyton is a ceremonial drinking cup shaped like an animal head or horn. Rhyta were favoured ceremonial wine vessels in Media, Persia (from the second millennium BC onwards), the Ancient Near East and Minoan Crete. The Rhyta found in ruins of palaces were often decorated with an animal's head with the mouth forming the rim around the opening of the vessel.

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