MEDIA, the ancient name of the north-western part of Iran, the country of the Medes, corresponding to the modern provinces of Azerbaijan, Ardelan, Irak Ajemi, and parts of Kurdistan. It is separated from Armenia and the lowlands on the Tigris (Assyria) by the mighty ranges of the Zagros (mountains of Kurdistan; in its northern parts probably called Choatras, Plin. v. 98), and in the north by the valley of the Araxes (Aras). In the east it extends towards the Caspian Sea; but the high chains of mountains which surround the Caspian Sea (the Parachoathras of the ancients and the Elburz, separate it from the coast, and the narrow plains on the border of the sea (Gilan, the country of the Gelae and Amardi, and Mazandaran, in ancient times inhabited by the Tapuri) cannot be reckoned as part of Media proper. The greater part of Media is a mountainous plateau, about 3000-5000 ft. above the sea; but it contains some fertile plains. The climate is temperate, with cold winters, in strong contrast to the damp and unwholesome air of the shores of the Caspian, where the mountains are covered with a rich vegetation. Media contains only one river, which reaches the sea, the Sefid Rud (Amardus), which flows into the Caspian; but a great many streams are exhausted after a short course, and in the north-west is a large lake, the lake of Urumiah or Urmia. From the mountains in the west spring some great tributaries of the Tigris, viz. the Diyala (Gyndes) and the Kerkheh (Choaspes). Towards the south-east Media passes into the great central desert of Iran, which eastwards of Rhagae (mod. Rai, near Teheran), in the region of the “Caspian gates,” reaches to the foot of the Elburz chain. On a tract of about 150 m. the western part of Iran is connected with the east (Khorasan, Parthyaea) only by a narrow district (Choarene and Comisene), where human dwellings and small villages can exist.
The people of the Mada, Medes (the Greek form Μῆδοι is Ionian for Μᾶδοι) appear in history first in 836 B.C., when the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser II. in his wars against the tribes of the Zagros received the tribute of the Amadai (this form, with prosthetic a-, which occurs only here, has many analogies in the names of Iranian tribes). His successors undertook many expeditions against the Medes (Madai). Sargon in 715 and 713 subjected them “to the far mountain Bikni,” i.e. the Elburz (Demavend) and the borders of the desert. They were divided into many districts and towns, under petty local chieftains; from the names which the Assyrian inscriptions mention, we learn that they were an Iranian tribe and that they had already adopted the religion of Zoroaster. In spite of different attempts of some chieftains to shake off the Assyrian yoke (cf. the information obtained from prayers to the Sun-god for oracles against these rebels: Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengott), Media remained tributary to Assyria under Sargon’s successors, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon and Assur-banipal.
Herodotus, i. 101, gives a list of six Median tribes (γένεα), among them the Paraetaceni, the inhabitants of the mountainous highland of Paraetacene, the district of Isfahan, and the Magoi, i.e. the Magians, the hereditary caste of the priests, who in Media took the place of the “fire-kindlers” (athravan) of the Zoroastrian religion, and who spread from Media to Persia and to the west. But the Iranian Medes were not the only inhabitants of the country. The names in the Assyrian inscriptions prove that the tribes in the Zagros and the northern parts of Media were not Iranians nor Indo-Europeans, but an aboriginal population, like the early inhabitants of Armenia, perhaps connected with the numerous tribes of the Caucasus. We can see how the Iranian element gradually became dominant: princes with Iranian names occasionally occur as rulers of these tribes. But the Gelae, Tapuri, Cadusii, Amardi, Utii and other tribes in northern Media and on the shores of the Caspian were not Iranians. With them Polybius v. 44, 9, Strabo xi. 507, 508, 514, and Pliny vi. 46, mention the Anariaci, whom they consider as a particular tribe; but in reality their name, the “Not-Arians,” is the comprehensive designation of all these small tribes.
In the second half of the 7th century the Medians gained their independence and were united by a dynasty, which, if we may trust Herodotus, derived its origin from Deioces (q.v.), a Median chieftain in the Zagros, who was, with his kinsmen, transported by Sargon to Hamath (Hamah) in Syria in 715 B.C. The kings, who created the Median Empire, were Phraortes and his son Cyaxares. Probably they were chieftains of a nomadic Median tribe in the desert, the Manda, mentioned by Sargon; for the Babylonian king Nabonidus designates the Medians and their kings always as Manda. The origin and history of the Median Empire is quite obscure, as we possess, almost no contemporary information, and not a single monument or inscription from Media itself. Our principal source is Herodotus, who wrongly makes Deioces the first king and uniter of the whole nation, and dates their independence from c. 710—i.e. from the time when the Assyrian supremacy was at its height. But his account contains real historical elements, whereas the story which Ctesias gave (a list of nine kings, beginning with Arbaces, who is said to have destroyed Nineveh about 880 B.C., preserved in Diod. ii. 32 sqq. and copied by many later authors) has no historical value whatever, although some of his names may be derived from local traditions. According to Herodotus, the conquests of Cyaxares were interrupted by an invasion of the Scythians, who founded an empire in western Asia, which lasted twenty-eight years. From the Assyrian prayers to the Sun-god, mentioned above, we learn that the Median dynasts, who tried rebellions against the Assyrians in the time of Esar-haddon and Assur-bani-pal, were allied with chieftains of the Cimmerians (who had come from the northern shore of the Black Sea and invaded Armenia and Asia Minor), of the Saparda, Ashguza and other tribes; and from Jeremiah and Zephaniah we know that a great invasion of Syria and Palestine by northern barbarians really took place in 626 B.C. With these facts the traditions of Herodotus must in some way be connected; but at present it is impossible to regain the history of these times. The only certain facts are that in 606 Cyaxares succeeded in destroying Nineveh and the other cities of Assyria (see Phraortes and Deioces).
From then the Median king ruled over the greatest part of Iran, Assyria and northern Mesopotamia, Armenia and Cappadocia. His power was very dangerous to their neighbours, and the exiled Jews expected the destruction of Babylonia by the Medes (Isa. xiii., xiv., xxi.; Jerem. l. li.). When Cyaxares attacked Lydia, the kings of Cilicia and Babylon intervened and negotiated a peace in 585, by which the Halys was established as the boundary. Nebuchadrezzar married a daughter of Cyaxares, and an equilibrium of the great powers was maintained till the rise of Cyrus.
About the internal organization of the Median Empire, we know only that the Greeks derive a great part of the ceremonial of the Persian court, the costume of the king, &c., from Media. But it is certain that the national union of the Median clans was the work of their kings; and probably the capital Ecbatana (q.v.) was created by them.
By the rebellion of Cyrus, king of Persia, against his suzerain Astyages, the son of Cyaxares, in 553, and his victory in 550, the Medes were subjected to the Persians. In the new empire they retained a prominent position; in honour and war they stood next to the Persians; the ceremonial of their court was adopted by the new sovereigns who in the summer months resided in Ecbatana, and many noble Medes were employed as officials, satraps and generals. After the assassination of the usurper Smerdis, a Mede Fravartish (Phraortes), who pretended to be of the race of Cyaxares, tried to restore the Median kingdom, but was defeated by the Persian generals and executed in Ecbatana (Darius in the Behistun inscr.). Another rebellion, in 409, against Darius II. (Xenophon, Hellen. i. 2, 19) was of short duration. But the non-Aryan tribes of the north, especially the Cadusians, were always troublesome; many abortive expeditions of the later kings against them are mentioned.
Under the Persian rule the country was divided into two satrapies. The south, with Ecbatana and Rhagae (Rai), Media proper, or “Great 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 empire decayed and the Carduchi 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 ii. 4, 27; iii. 5, 15; vii. 8, 25; cf. iii. 4, 8 sqq. always designates Assyria by the name of Media.
Alexander occupied Media in the summer of 330; in 328 he appointed Atropates, a former general of Darius (Arrian iii. 8, 4), as satrap (iv. 18, 3, vi. 29, 3), whose daughter was married to Perdiccas in 324 (Arrian vii. 4, 5). In the partition of his empire, southern Media was given to the Macedonian Peithon; but the north, which lay far off and was of little importance for the generals who fought for the inheritance of Alexander, was left to Atropates. While southern Media with Ecbatana passed to the rule of Antigonus, and afterwards (about 310) to Seleucus I.; Atropates maintained himself in his satrapy and succeeded in founding an independent kingdom. Thus the partition of the country, which the Persian had introduced, became lasting; the north was named Atropatene (in Plin. vi. 42, Atrapatene; in Ptolem. vi. 2, 5, Tropatene; in Polyb. v. 44 and 55 corrupted in τὰ σατραπεῖα καλούμενα), after the founder of the dynasty, a name which is preserved in the modern Azerbaijan; cf. Nöldeke, “Atropatene,” in Zeitschrift der deuischen morgenl. Gesellschaft, 34, 692 sqq. and Marquart, Eranshahr, p. 108 sqq. The capital was Gazaca in the central plain, and the strong castle Phraaspa (Dio Cass. xlix. 26; Plut. Anton. 38; Ptol. vi. 2, 10) or Vera (Strabo xi. 523), probably identical with the great ruin Takhti Suleiman, with remains of Sassanid fire-altars and of a later palace. 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 to conclude a disadvantageous treaty (Polyb. v. 55), and in later times the rulers became in turn dependent on the Parthians, on Tigranes of Armenia, and in the time of Pompey who defeated their king Darius (Appian, Mithr. 108), on Antonius (who invaded Atropatene) and on Augustus of Rome. In the time of Strabo (A.D. 17), the dynasty existed still (p. 523); in later times the country seems to have become a Parthian province.
Atropatene is that country of western Asia which was least of all influenced by Hellenism; there exists not even a single coin of its rulers. But the opinion of modern authors—that it had been a special refuge of Zoroastrianism—is based upon a wrong etymology of the name (which is falsely explained as “country of fire-worship”), and has no foundation whatever. There can be no doubt that the kings adhered to the Persian religion; but it is not probable that it was deeply rooted among their subjects, especially among the non-Aryan tribes.
Southern Media remained a province of the Seleucid Empire for a century and a half, and Hellenism was introduced everywhere. “Media is surrounded everywhere by Greek towns, in pursuance of the plan of Alexander, which protect it against the neighbouring barbarians,” says Polybius (x. 27). Only Ecbatana retained its old character. But Rhagae became a Greek town, Europus; and with it Strabo (xi. 524) names Laodicea, Apamea, Heraclea or Achais (cf. Plin. vi. 48). Most of them were founded by Seleucus I. and his son Antiochus I. In 221, 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, in 161, the Median satrap Timarchus took the diadem and conquered Babylonia; on his coins he calls himself “the great king Timarchus”; but this time 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 begins, which was brought on chiefly by the intrigues of the Romans, and shortly afterwards, about 150, the Parthian king, Mithradates I. (q.v.), conquered Media (Justin xli. 6). From this time Media remained subject to the Arsacids, 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 Arsacids or Parthians, it passed in A.D. 226 to the Sassanids, together with Atropatene. By this time the old tribes of Aryan Iran had lost their character and had been amalgamated into the one nation of the Iranians. The revival of Zoroastrianism, which was enforced everywhere by the Sassanids, completed this development. It was only then that Atropatene became a principal seat of fire-worship, with many fire-altars. Rhagae now became the most sacred city of the empire and the seat of the head of the Zoroastrian hierarchy; the Sassanid Avesta and the tradition of the Parsees therefore consider Rhagae as the home of the family of the Prophet. Henceforth the name of Media is used only as a geographical term and begins to disappear from the living language; in Persian traditions it occurs under the modern form Māh (Armen. Mai; in Syriac the old name Madai is preserved; cf. Marquart, Eranshahr, 18 seq.).
- Anc. Mantiane, Strabo xi. 529; Martiane, Ptol. vi. 2, 5, probably identical with the name Matiane, Matiene, by which Herodotus i. 189, 202, iii. 94, v. 49, 52 (in i. 72 and vii. 72 they seem to be a different people in Asia Minor); Polyb. v. 44, 9; Strabo i. 49, ii. 73, xi. 509, 514, 523, 525; Plin vi. 48, designate the northern part of Media.