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Ecbatana (Achmetha)

ECBATANA (ACHMETHA) ĕk băt’ ə nə (Aram. אַחְמְתָא, H10020, LXX ̓Αμαθα, Xenophon, al. ̓Εκβάτανα, meaning uncertain; citadel, fortress, place of gathering have been suggested). KJV ACHMETHA.

Ecbatana was the Gr. name of the capital of the empire of the Medes, and later one of the capitals of the Persian and Parthian empires, the Old Persian name of which was Hangmátana, “the place of assembly.” The city is mentioned several times in the apocryphal books. In Tobit it was the home of Reguel and Sara his daughter (Tobit 3:7; 7:1; 14:13). It was fortified by the Median king Arphaxad in his war against “King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria” (Judg 1:1, 2, 14), and to it Antiochus Epiphanes IV fled shortly before his death (2 Macc 9:1-3). The site is occupied today by Hamadan, Iran, on the plain near the northeastern foot of Mt. Alvand, c. 175 m. SW of Teheran. The city owed its importance to its strategic location on the caravan route from Mesopotamia to the Pers. plateau. The pleasant summer climate accounts for its popularity as a resort city.

According to the Greeks (Herodotus i. 96; c. 450 b.c.), Ecbatana was founded by the halflegendary Deioces the Mede c. 678 b.c., who also established the Median dynasty, but scholars question the accuracy of this tradition. The Median empire may have been established by Phraortes, the son of Deioces, who built Ecbatana to check the advance of the Assyrians. A description of the city is given by Herodotus and Polybius (x. 27). It was surrounded by seven concentric walls, the inner walls rising above the outer, since the city was on a hill. Each wall was of a different color. The citadel was also a treasure house, the city famous for its luxury and splendor. Ecbatana was captured by Cyrus the Great of Persia from Astyages in 550 b.c., and he made it his summer residence. According to Ezra 6:2, the imperial records of the time of Cyrus were kept here, and here Darius found the decree of Cyrus authorizing the rebuilding of Jerusalem. It was taken from the last Achaemenid by Alexander the Great in 330 b.c. He destroyed the walls and looted the palaces.

Ecbatana became the summer capital of the Parthian kings, maintaining its traditional reputation, but under the Sassanids it declined. After the Islamic conquest, the modern city of Hamadan took its place. The ruins of the ancient citadel of Ecbatana lie outside of the present city, and on the slope of Mt. Alvand are Achaemenid inscrs. Modern Hamadan stands on most of the ancient city which prevents extensive archeological excavations of the site. In 1923, two foundation plaques of silver and gold were found, inscribed with the name of Darius I, and also column bases of Artaxerxes II. These indicate that Darius I and Artaxerxes II built palaces in Ecbatana. The so-called tomb of Esther and Mordecai shown today in Hamadan is prob. the tomb of the wife of the Sassanid king, Yazdegird (a.d. 399-420).

Bibliography

A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (1948), 29, 30, 37, 38, 162; A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), 134, 394; C. H. Gordon, The Ancient Near East (1965), 255, 281, 282.