John Florens | Apr 19, 2024

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The Medes (Hebrew: מָדַי) were an ancient Iranian people who lived in a region of northwestern Iran. Around 1100 to 1000 BC, they occupied the mountainous region of northwestern Iran and the northeastern and eastern Mesopotamian region of Hamadan (Ecbatane). Their emergence in Iran is thought to have occurred between 800 and 700 BC. By the 7th century BC, all of western Iran and certain other territories were under Mede rule, but their precise geographical extension remains unknown.

Although generally acknowledged to have played an important role in the history of the ancient Middle East, this people has left no textual sources from which to reconstruct its history. It is known only from external sources, Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek, as well as from a few Iranian archaeological sites, which are presumed to have been occupied by Medes.

Herodotus' accounts of the Medes left us with the image of a powerful people, who formed an empire in the early 7th century BC that lasted until 550 BC, playing a decisive role in the fall of the Assyrian Empire and competing with the powerful kingdoms of Lydia and Babylon. However, a recent reappraisal of contemporary sources from the Mede period has altered scholars' perceptions of the "Mede kingdom". This state remains difficult to perceive in the documentation, leaving many doubts about it, with some specialists even proposing that there never was a powerful Mede kingdom. In any case, it seems that after the fall of the last Mede king to Cyrus II of Persia, Media became an important and prized province for the empires that successively dominated it (Achaemenids, Seleucids, Parthians and Sassanids).

The Medes are an Iranian people who settled in northwestern Iran, between the mountainous regions of western Zagros and Elbourz, southern Mazandaran, around the last centuries of the 2nd millennium. They came here from Central Asia, probably at the same time as the related Persians. By the time they appear in textual documentation, in the middle of the 9th century, they had undoubtedly been present in this region for a long time.

The present name of the Medes derives from the ancient Greek Mêdos (Μῆδος). The Assyrians spoke of the "Mede country", KUR Mada, Mata, or Manda, and the Babylonians referred to them as Ummān-manda. Because of their proximity to the Persians, Greek authors sometimes had difficulty distinguishing them from them, as evidenced by the expression "Medes wars", which is a misnomer.

It has to be said that this people remains elusive to modern archaeologists and historians, first and foremost in terms of its cultural traits. Assyrian and Greek sources indicate that they occupied a region in west-central Iran, bordered to the north by the land of the Manneans, to the south by that of Ellipi, and to the west by the territories of Urartu and Assyria; their eastern limit is unknown. However, the fact that Iranian place names and people are found in neighboring regions indicates that there was no ethnic homogeneity in western Iran at this time, and that Medes could be found over a wide area. It is likely that Iranian groups became increasingly important during the first half of the 1st millennium.

The Mede language

The origin and characteristics of the Mede language are still the subject of debate. Few certainties exist in the absence of texts found in this language, and with only a few words, toponyms and anthroponyms attributed to the Mede language, its grammar cannot be reconstructed. It is clear, however, that this is an Iranian language, close to Old Persian and presented as a potential ancestor of modern Northwest Iranian languages. Some passages by Greek authors feature words attributed to Mede: for example, comparing the Mede and Persian languages, Herodotus mentions the word spaka ("dog", still present in today's Iranian languages such as Kurdish and Talysh, and different from Persian). There have also been attempts to identify certain Old Persian words as borrowings from Mede, particularly those concerning politics, war or religion; for example: xšayaθia "king", uvaspa- "with good horses", zūra "evil". The term "satrape" may have been taken over by the Greeks from its Mede form (* xšaθra-pā) and not its Old Persian form (xšaça). Proposals have been made to reconstitute Mede roots from Old Persian words supposedly borrowed from Mede. The differences between Old Persian and Mede are in any case poorly established: the former is known from royal inscriptions, which may have used a language different from that spoken by the Persians of the time, and is perhaps marked by significant borrowings from Mede.

Mede archaeological sites

The material culture of the Medes is a little better identified than their language, although here too there are still many grey areas and, above all, many doubts. The "gray ware" found at sites in the Gorgan region and at Tepe Sialk at the end of the 2nd millennium has sometimes been seen as a mark of the "Proto-Iranians", or even the "Proto-medes" who arrived in the region at this time. In fact, the attribution of a ceramic type to an ethnic group remains open to question. For the Mede period proper, from the 9th to the 7th centuries, there is still much debate as to the material traits of this people's culture. In 1962, R. D. Barnett attempted to identify objects representative of "Mede art". It turned out that none of the objects had a definite archaeological context and could therefore not be taken into account as artistic testimony to the culture of the Medes.

Archaeological explorations of sites in the region where the Medes flourished have added further elements to the discussion, but have by no means resolved it, since there is never any certainty that an excavated site was actually inhabited by the Medes, except in the case of Ecbatane, where no Medes-period level has yet been unearthed. This is further complicated by the fact that the various peoples of north-western Iran during this period showed a certain artistic and architectural homogeneity, which sometimes makes it uncertain and even improbable that a certain type of object or construction can be attributed to a specific people. It is therefore impossible to speak of "Mede art" with any certainty.

This generally leads to the attribution of excavated sites to the Medes for the period and region they are known from Assyrian sources to have populated. The sites commonly considered to be representative of the Medes and their culture are all located in the region of Hamadan, the ancient Ecbatane, i.e. in the area that various sources agree was the center of Mede settlement: Godin Tepe, Nush-i Jân, Baba Jân and Tepe Ozbaki, to which can be added Gunespan, more recently unearthed. These small fortresses bear witness to common architectural practices, strongly inspired by those of Anatolia or Urartu and prefiguring Achaemenid architecture, already attested in north-western Iran at the large site of Hasanlu (generally attributed to the Manneans, a neighbouring people of the Medes, at this time) and also showing affinities with Tell Gubbah in the Iraqi Zagros and even Ulug Depe in Turkmenistan. The status of Kerkenes Dagh, located in Turkey's Yozgat province, is a matter of debate: some see it as the Pteria fortress mentioned by Herodotus, controlled by the Mede kingdom following its conquests in eastern Anatolia, an opinion far from unanimous.

Godin Tepe, located near Hamadan, was inhabited from the end of the Neolithic, and developed through trade with Elam. After a phase of abandonment between the end of the 2nd millennium and the beginning of the 1st millennium, it was populated again by Iranian populations around 750 A.D. They then built a fortress on high ground. A powerful rampart protected the citadel on its northern side. To the east was an arsenal. In the center, a gallery with two rows of columns was built, leading to the kitchens, and a building that may have been a fire temple. The west side contains the main part of the fortress, the palace. This is a large hypostyle hall, housing the throne of the lord of the manor. Later, a second, smaller columned hall was built to the west. The site was probably then the residence of a Mede kinglet. It was abandoned in the middle of the 6th century.

Tepe Nush-i Jân is located to the north of Hamadan. It is built high on a hill. The fortress is divided into four zones. A "fort" is located to the west. The lower floor of this building, which included warehouses, has been found. A staircase testifies to the presence of an upper floor. At the other end, a fire temple was built, before being partly covered by a columned edifice. Between the columned hall and the fort, a second fire temple was erected (see below). In the 7th century, the site's inhabitants covered the edifices with stone, no doubt to preserve them for repair. But the site was then abandoned.

Baba Jân, located near Nurabad (Lorestan), is a very old site, which experienced a new boom from the end of the 9th century, at the beginning of period III. It acquired monumental architecture in the next period III: its main building is a "manor house", 33 × 35 meters on each side, protected by corner towers. In the 7th century, the site was burnt down, then restored shortly afterwards (last phases of Period III). It's possible that the inhabitants who moved in at this time were Medes, unless they had already arrived by the end of the 9th century.

The Mede religion

The religion of the Medes is known through archaeology. The site of Nush-i Jân was the best example of a fire temple, typical of a Mazdean religion. It is a cruciform tower measuring 14.5 × 16 meters. An antechamber opens onto a vaulted room covering an altar and a basin. From here, a staircase leads to an upper floor, or to the cella housing the fire altar. An earlier temple had been built at the other end of the site, and another may have stood at Godin Tepe, as mentioned above.

The only written source on the religion of the Medes is Herodotus, whose testimony is not a reliable indicator of reality. According to what he reports, the Medes had a priestly caste, the Magi, who were one of the six tribes of this people. In particular, they acted as soothsayers, interpreting the dreams of King Astyages concerning the future takeover of Cyrus II. In reality, magicians are also to be found among the priests attested in Persia, and there is nothing to show that they are specifically Medes.

On the basis of this meagre information, the question arose as to whether or not the Medes were Zoroastrians, as claimed by classical authors. While it seems likely that the inhabitants of Media practiced a Mazdean-type religion in the two centuries preceding the Achaemenid period, the available documentation does not allow us to assert that they followed the religion reformed by Zarathustra, or even that this trend spread during the period of the Mede kingdom.

The practice of a Mazdean-type religion in Media during the Achaemenid, Hellenistic and Parthian periods is at least confirmed by Greek accounts. A temple dedicated to the great Iranian goddess Anahita at Ecbatane is mentioned by Berossus, who reports that it was built by the Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II, and it is mentioned again in the Parthian period by Polybius and Isidore de Charax. The latter mentions another great temple of this goddess (whom he equates with the Greek Artemis) in Media, at Kangavar, whose ruins have been excavated (see Temple of Anahita).

Early evidence of Assyrian expansion in the Zagros

The ancestors of the Medes probably arrived in north-west Iran at the end of the 2nd millennium, or much later, around the beginning of the 1st millennium. Traces of these migrations can be found at sites such as Tepe Sialk (levels V and VI), but the material culture of these "Proto-Medes" is not easy to identify, if it is possible to associate a material culture with an ethnic group.

The Medes appear with certainty in the annals of the Assyrian king Salmanazar III (859-824), who led a campaign in the western Zagros region in the 24th year of his reign (835). He subdued thirty-six Mede "kings", who should be considered as tribal chiefs. His successor, Shamshi-Adad V (824-811), took the Mede city of Sagbitu, defeating its chief, Khanesiruka, in 815. Other Assyrian kings subsequently fought against Mede groups: Adad-nerari III (811-783) on six occasions, Teglath-Phalasar III (745-727), who deported 65,000 inhabitants of the Zagros, and Sargon II (722-705) on four occasions, notably during his eighth campaign in 714. The latter settled deportees near the border with the Medes. His son Sennacherib (704-681) confronted the king of Ellipi, a non-medic kingdom located around Luristan, and then clashed with several Mede groups. These two Assyrian rulers created three provinces to support their control over the western Zagros region: Parshuash, Kisheshin (renamed Kar-Ninurta) and Kharkhar (renamed Kar-Sharruken). The exact location of the confrontations between Assyrians and Medes is imprecise, although it is generally agreed that the heart of the region inhabited by the Medes lay around Mount Alwand, where Godin Tepe, Nush-i Jân and Ecbatane are located. Mount Bikni is a recurring location in Assyrian sources concerning the Mede country, and its location is still debated: is it Mount Alwand, or Damavand further east? Generally speaking, the information provided by the Assyrians on the Medes is very vague and difficult to analyze.

The warriors of this people were often fighting at the same time as other peoples: the Manneans, evolving in the region of Lake Orumieh, and the Persians, found in the same place around the 9th century, before migrating south-east towards the future Persia. From an ethnic point of view, the Iranian element seems to have progressed steadily during the period of struggle against Assyria. The "tributes" that the Assyrians claimed to collect in this region, and which were sometimes also the result of simple commercial exchanges, were essentially made up of livestock, especially horses, in the breeding of which the Medes were specialized, as well as lapis lazuli, produced in Afghanistan (a region accessible by trade routes passing through Med country), and copper.

The creation of Assyrian provinces on the bangs of the Zagros, with the establishment of fortresses, does not necessarily show that Assyria perceived this region as a potential threat to be controlled; it could only indicate a desire to obtain more horses and military means to face the more certain threats represented by Urartu and Elam. Whatever the case, the 7th century seems to see the Mede country organized into increasingly strong political entities, as evidenced by archaeological sites, which bear witness to increasingly powerful local powers, referred to in Assyrian texts as "city chiefs" (bēl āli). In 676, Assarhaddon (680-669) led an expedition to the Zagros, which took him to the land of Patusharri, at the foot of Mount Bikni, home to what he called the "distant Medes". Two years later, three Mede chiefs asked him for military assistance: Uppis of Partakka, Zanasama of Partukka and Ramateia of Urukazabarra. He granted their requests in exchange for their submission and the payment of tribute. This undoubtedly reflected dissension among the Mede chiefs over the right attitude to adopt towards the Assyrians. The Med chiefs allied to Assarhaddon then swore loyalty oaths (adû) to him, the interpretation of which is debated: traditionally, they are seen as vassalage treaties involving all their subjects, but it could be a question of pledging the loyalty of the soldiers these Med chiefs sent to the Assyrian court to form a guard serving the king and his son and designated successor, Assurbanipal (668-627), a role reminiscent of that of the "Barbarians" in the service of the Roman emperors. Once on the throne, Assurbanipal led a campaign in Mede country, which had still not been pacified. Nevertheless, there is every indication that the Assyrians were gradually losing control over the provinces of Parshuash, Kisheshin and Kharkhar, while their offensives still undermined several political entities in the region, notably the Manneans and Ellipi. This may have helped to make way for the development of a unified Mede kingdom, which is however never mentioned in Assyrian sources, which do not document this region for the years that would be those of Cyaxare's assertion of power.

The elusive Mede kingdom

The exact conditions under which the Mede kingdom was founded remain inaccessible in the current state of documentation available on the subject. According to the tradition recounted in Book I of Herodotus' Histories, it was a man named Dejoces who used cunning to proclaim himself king of his people, and founded a large, organized kingdom with Ecbatane as its capital. He is said to have ruled over the various united Mede tribes: the Buses, Paretacenians, Struchates, Arizantians, Budians and Magi. None of this is indicated in the textual sources of the time, nor in archaeological finds; as the Mede levels of Ecbatane have not been excavated, it is impossible to identify a state-building process in the Mede capital. An Iranian kinglet named Daiukku is attested in Assyrian war narratives from the time of Sargon II, but he is probably not the Mede king mentioned by Herodotus, since the events mentioned would have taken place around Lake Orumieh and not in Mede country. The story told by Herodotus is clearly a myth, intended to present an image of a model king.

According to tradition, the second Mede king was Phraortes, son of Dejoces, who subdued the Persians and died fighting an Assyrian king identified as Assarhaddon. His existence is no more certain than that of his supposed father. For these periods, Assyrian sources relating to the Medes only mention a loosely defined group, led by several kinglets as we have seen above, instead of the constitution of a powerful kingdom. Herodotus' account of the Mede kingdom therefore seems too simplistic, even if the names he gives are indeed Medes.

Cyaxare, on the other hand, is well attested in Babylonian historical sources, notably the Chronicle of the Fall of Nineveh, which recounts the demise of Assyria. According to Greek authors, Cyaxare planned to avenge his father Phraortes by raising a large army to defeat the Assyrians, but was defeated by the Scythians, who then dominated the Medes for twenty-six years. Near-Eastern sources do indeed mention a Scythian invasion in this part of the world during this period, making it possible to envisage the submission of the Medes to this people. Cyaxare is said to have succeeded in driving off the invaders before building up a powerful army. Babylonian sources present him as the leader of a powerful army, but they do not dwell on his territorial base. The years of his supposed rise to power are barely documented by Assyrian sources, which have only ever left the image of a politically fragmented Mede country. Archaeological findings, for their part, contradict the idea of the construction of a Mede kingdom, since the period assumed for this phenomenon is, on the contrary, marked by the (apparently peaceful) abandonment of sites attributed to the Medes. It therefore remains difficult to postulate the constitution of a powerful, structured Mede kingdom by Cyaxare, who would have confined himself to gathering a powerful army around him, taking advantage of the Assyrian withdrawal from the Zagros.

The only thing we know for sure about Cyaxare, thanks to the combination of Herodotus' account and Babylonian sources, is that he was a major player in the fall of Assyria. From 615-614, he came to the aid of King Nabopolassar of Babylon in his decade-long struggle against the Assyrian Empire. Although the Assyrians had been driven out of Babylonia, the Babylonian army was still unable to attack them right into the heart of their country. It was then that the Mede troops entered the scene and tipped the balance against the Assyrians. They took several of their capitals: Ashur in 614, then Nineveh in 612 with Babylonian troops. Finally, in 609, the allies subdued the last Assyrian holdouts at Harran.

Why the Medes came to Assyria remains a matter of debate. Were they out to conquer, or simply to plunder? They are increasingly portrayed above all as destroyers, having played a major role in the sacking of the great Assyrian capitals, but with little desire to stay put and let the Babylonians annex the ancient heartland of Assyria. It has to be said that almost nothing is known of a division of this region between the two conquerors, and that only scant traces of Babylonian presence are attested. The role of the Mede mercenaries present in Assyria for several decades in the fall of their former master is also difficult to determine: they may have been a destabilizing element in the Assyrian army, creating a kind of internal revolt (without necessarily having received significant support from Medes from Media?).

According to the story told by Herodotus, the Medes and Babylonians became close allies, and Berossus, a Babylonian priest writing in Greek, reports the marriage of Nebuchadnezzar II, son of Nabopolassar, to Amytis, daughter of Cyaxare, who is said to have been responsible for the construction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The situation may in fact have become tense between the two victors, who were now facing each other, even though Babylonian sources of the time show merchants from this region owning a trading post in Ecbatane. The relationship between the two nations remains poorly understood, as the Medes are hardly mentioned in contemporary Babylonian sources. According to Herodotus, Cyaxare continued his conquests, subduing eastern Anatolia (which implies that he completed what was left of the kingdom of Urartu), before confronting Lydia's king Alyattes II in 585. The battle remained indecisive, and an eclipse of the sun frightened the belligerents. They then made peace, with Nebuchadnezzar as intermediary, and established their border on the river Halys, today's Kızılırmak. In fact, the westward expansion of the Medes remains debated, in the absence of concrete evidence. Cyaxare died shortly afterwards, and was succeeded by his son Astyages, the last known Mede king.

The Mede "empire" is therefore a political entity that remains elusive, so much so that the reality of its existence is being denied by some specialists, and increasingly so, even though traditional positions closer to Herodotus' account still have supporters. Nothing is known about the organization of this political entity. It has often been assumed that the structures of the Mede kingdom were largely taken over by their Persian successors, but this remains highly speculative, and the Elamite legacy is now considered more decisive in the formation of the Persian empire. The absence of royal inscriptions from the Medes, as well as the absence to date of any archaeological evidence of a significant state in Media during this period, all suggest that the Mede kingdom was a relatively undeveloped political construct. The most radical and minimalist view is that the Medes never formed a solid kingdom, but always remained divided, with incursions into Assyria nothing more than raids carried out largely by Mede mercenaries forming part of the Assyrian army and united for the occasion. Others maintain the image of a powerful, structured Mede kingdom, which would have had an influence on the Persian empire and its culture, not least because of the importance the Medes seem to have held in the Achaemenid empire.

The Medes under Achaemenid rule

Between 553 and 549, the Persian king Cyrus II rose up against the Medes and succeeded in defeating Astyages. This event is recounted by Babylonian sources, notably the Chronicle of Nabonides, and by Greek authors such as Herodotus and Ctesias, who present different versions of the story, although it is often stressed that the victory was a difficult one, aided by the betrayal of part of the Mede army (by Harpage in Greek sources). This conflict is said to have been a revolt, since Greek authors make Cyrus Astyages' vassal and even grandson. Both these aspects are called into question by current researchers; given the uncertainties surrounding the nature of the Mede kingdom and its eastern extension, this question cannot be settled. In any case, this victory was a stepping stone to glory for Cyrus, who followed up with a series of victories to build the powerful Achaemenid empire.

Persian rule in Media was shaken by a major revolt at the beginning of the reign of Darius I, one of a series of rebellions that took place during this king's violent takeover of power. According to accounts left by the latter, notably on the Behistun inscription in Media, a certain Phraortes, who claimed to be a descendant of Cyaxare, sought to re-establish Mede independence and succeeded in seizing Ecbatane in 522. The Persian victory would have been particularly difficult: according to the numbers given in the inscriptions of Darius, between 40,000 and 50,000 people would have died during this conflict - figures that are apparently excessive, but may reveal a bitter conflict. In particular, Phraortes had succeeded in rallying Parthian troops. Despite his initial successes, he was defeated, tortured and executed at Ecbatane. Media subsequently rose up against the Persians once again, in 409-407.

After the Persian conquest and pacification, Media became a province of the new empire, a satrapy, of which Ecbatane remained the center. According to Greek authors, Ecbatane even remained a royal city. According to Strabo, it was their summer residence. A number of finds from this period were made during excavations at the site, including various inscriptions attesting to the activity of Persian kings in the city. It is certain that Artaxerxes II erected a palace here, but another had probably existed before. An important royal treasure was located here. Greek accounts of the Macedonian conquest of the Persian Empire, particularly those of Polybius, present Media as a rich and important region for this state. Horse breeding was one of the region's strong points, as it had already been in Assyrian times, and royal stud farms of prime importance had been established there. Media is one of the central regions of the Persian Empire, along with Persia and Susiana, and the Medes seem to have a privileged position among the other subjugated peoples, as they are Iranian (of Aryan stock), like the masters of the empire. They appear among the peoples contributing to the construction of the great palaces of the Persian capitals, notably in Susa, where it is said that they participated in the creation of the bas-reliefs and brought gold. Herodotus' account of the Median Wars features Mede troops in the forefront of elite units, alongside Persian contingents.

Media from the Hellenistic era to the Arab conquest

After the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, sources tend to refer to Media as a region rather than the Medes as a people. While the region was still largely occupied by Iranians, they were no longer referred to as Medes, but rather spoke a Persian dialect, or even an ancestor of Kurdish.

During the events leading up to the fall of the Persian Empire to the troops of Alexander the Great, Media witnessed several crucial events. After his defeat at Gaugamela in autumn 331, the Persian king Darius III took refuge in Ecbatane as the Macedonian army headed for Babylon. He counted on the resources of the treasury of Ecbatane and Media to mobilize the provinces still loyal to him, making up the eastern part of his empire. He failed due to the betrayal of the satraps of the eastern provinces, and it was from Ecbatane that Alexander organized his victory over them, mobilizing in particular the resources of the city's treasury and the royal stud farms of Media. After Alexander's death in 323, his generals, the Diadochi, fought over the spoils of his empire. Antigonus the One-Eyed established in Ecbatane one of his loyal followers, the strategist Nikânor, who was then entrusted with the direction of the eastern provinces of the former Persian Empire, which began to be referred to as the "High Satrapies" (in particular Media, Bactria and Sogdiana). Nikanor was dislodged by Seleucus between 311 and 310, who then took control of Media and the High Satrapies. During these conflicts, the northern part of the Persian satrapy of Media had been entrusted to Atropates, a Persian. He succeeded in making it independent of the Diadochi, and founded the kingdom of the region which then took his name, Atropatene Media.

Under the Seleucid dynasty, Media remained a satrapy of the first rank, its satrape also being the "strategist of the High Satrapies", with responsibility for the eastern part of the kingdom. Media's rich stud farms are praised by several Greek authors, continuing to play an important role for those who dominated the region. Several Greek colonies were founded in Media, such as Laodicea of Media, today's Nehavend, or Kermanshah (ancient name unknown), and Ecbatane, already a leading monetary workshop, became a colony under Antiochos IV Epiphanes, who gave it its name, Epiphaneia. However, Media remained largely un-Hellenized. Its wealth and distance from the successive centers of the Seleucid Empire (Babylonia, then Syria), as well as the difficulties encountered by its kings, undoubtedly strengthened the power of the Median satraps, whose powers were already considerable. In 222, one of them, Môlon, took advantage of the unrest caused by the assassination of Seleucus II to revolt, dragging with him several eastern provinces, including Persia, whose satrap was his own brother, and even Atropatene Media. He was soundly defeated by the troops of Antiochus III, who in the process succeeded in making the king of Atropatene his vassal. In 162, the satrap Timarchus tried to secede, proclaiming himself "King of Media", and succeeded in temporarily invading Babylonia, before being defeated by the army of Demetrios I in 160.

The revolts that shook the Seleucid kingdom around 150 benefited the Parthian king Mithridates I, who seized Media and Atropatene around 148.

During the conflicts marking the end of the Parthian Empire, Media served as a base for Artaban V against his brother Vologesis VI, but does not seem to have offered any resistance to the Persian Ardachîr when he eliminated the Parthian dynasty in 226 AD to found the Sassanid dynasty. Nevertheless, an inscription by the next king, Shapur I, refers to the suppression of a revolt by the "mountain Medes", apparently in Atropatene. The province of Media (Mād) was then divided into several districts, notably those organized around Ecbatane

The Mede language is traditionally classified by linguists in the group of northwestern Iranian languages, which also includes Parthian, followed by more recent languages such as Kurdish, Zazaki, Baluchi, Gilaki, etc., a model that is currently under discussion. According to H. Borjian, "the linguistic interpretation of Old Mede (already with numerous dialects) can be broadened by considering it as an ancestor of Parthian and all the other Northwest Iranian languages, including the central dialects, the Tatian and Caspian groups, Gorani-awromani and Zaza".

Present-day languages classified in the north-western group of Iranian languages are referred to by some researchers as "Mede" (or "New Mede"), primarily on geographical grounds, because the region corresponding to ancient Media does not seem to have undergone any major waves of migration, and can therefore be assumed to have linguistic continuity. The fact that the ancient Median language is not well known, however, makes it difficult to reconstruct the links between these languages. Thus, according to G. Windfuhr, "the modern languages of Azerbaijan and central Iran, located in ancient Media atropatene and Media proper, can be considered 'Mede' dialects, even if Old Mede is mainly known through Old Persian medisms". This is the case, for example, of the "Mede" dialects still spoken today in the Kashan region, albeit in sharp decline compared to Persian.

Kurds in particular often claim the Medes as their ancestors. Wadie Jwaideh, professor of history at the University of California, states that "the Mede Empire, one of the well-known ancestors of the Kurdish people, was the only great national state that can be said to have been founded by the Kurds". According to G. Astarian: "The view of the Kurds' Medes origins has been an important element of Kurdish social and political discourse since their national awakening. The genetic affiliation between the Kurds and their language and the ancient Medes has always been considered an absolute and indisputable truth by most Kurdish authors". The main historical argument in this direction is the fact that in late medieval Armenian sources, the Kurds are sometimes referred to as "Medes" (markʿ) or "a tribe of the Medes" (azgn maracʿ), which is seen in academic circles rather as a further manifestation of the habit of medieval authors to refer to peoples contemporary with them by the name of ancient peoples who lived in roughly the same place. A linguistic filiation has been put forward by V. Minorsky. From the point of view of recent linguistic research, there is no reason to consider that there are any particular affinities between the Mede language and Kurdish within the group of north-western Iranian languages to which the two languages are attached, the ancient history of the Kurdish language remaining obscure and the subject of debate.


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  6. E. E. Kuzʹmina, J. P. Mallory (2007), The origin of the Indo-Iranians. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands. ISBN 978-90-474-2071-2.
  7. Edward S. Ellis, Charles F. Horne, The World's Famous Events, Francis R. Niglutsch, New York, 1913, p. 258 e.v.
  8. In recent years, a number of scholars have cast considerable doubt on the historicity of a Median empire as presented in Classical sources, particularly Herodotus. They have emphasized the absence of any archaeological evidence for the Herodotean account of Media, and a perceived lack of consistency between this account and contemporary treatments of the Medes in Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian documentary sources. A conference held in Padua in 2001 provided the opportunity for a comprehensive review of the sources on which modern reconstructions of the Median kingdom have been based. In their summing up of the proceedings, the editors (Lanfranchi et al., 2003: 397—406) noted that recent re-examinations of the sources relating to Media have led to a radical reduction of the extent of the 'Median empire' before it was incorporated into the Persian empire. But they observed that opinions still vary between two extremes — a 'maximalist' and a 'minimalist' view. The former 'might extend Median power from the west of the former kingdom of Urartu to the borders of Fars and from the western outliers of the Zagros mountains on the plains of eastern Assyria to the fringes of the central Iranian desert beyond Rayy', while the latter 'would abandon the whole of the north, east and central western Iran to bands of nomads roaming freely over an extensive territory, and consider Median influence to be negligible'. The 'truth', the editors say, may well lie between these extremes. Bryce (2009)
  9. 1 2 Дьяконов, 1956
  10. Мидяне // Мерави — Момоты. — М. : Советская энциклопедия, 1938. — (Большая советская энциклопедия : [в 66 т.] / гл. ред. О. Ю. Шмидт ; 1926—1947, т. 39).
  11. Геродот. История, I, 101
  12. Страбон. География. XI, 13, 1
  13. Страбон. География. XI, 13, 9

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