Medes

MEDES, MEDIA (mēdz, mē'dĭ-a, Heb. mādhî, mādhay). The inhabitants of the land of Media. The boundaries of this land have varied from time to time, but generally it was regarded as that land to the west and south of the Caspian Sea. It was bounded on the west by the Zagros Mountains, on the north by the Araxes and Cyrus rivers, on the east by Hyrcania and the great Salt Desert, and on the south by Susiana or Elam. Josephus feels its name was derived from Madai, the son of Japhet. It is shaped like a parallelogram with its longest portion extending 600 miles (1,000 km.) and its greatest width about 250 miles (417 km.), thus making it a territory of some 150,000 square miles (384,615 sq. km.). It had many natural barriers, making its defense easy. Its water supply was scant, thus making much of the land arid and sterile, though some of its valleys were abundantly productive. Irrigation for the most part was impractical, for some of its rivers were salty while others had worn such deep canyons as to make their waters useless for this purpose. Its few towns were scattered, since its people preferred to live in small groups. Its climate was varied, with some extreme temperatures in both directions. Minerals were many and animals and birds were plentiful. Eventually these factors led to luxurious living, spelling the downfall of the empire. It became famous for its horses, and at one time paid yearly tribute of 3,000 horses, plus 4,000 mules and almost 100,000 sheep.

The people of Media were warlike and skilled in their use of the bow. They were linked very closely in their background, linguistically and religiously, to the Persians, whom they antedate by several centuries and with whom they eventually united. While their early worship was polytheistic, there were some monotheistic leanings that were very significant. Their worship was conducted by priests and consisted of hymns, sacrifices—bloody and unbloody—and a ceremony in which the priests offer an intoxicating liquor to the gods and then consume it until they are drunken. Their religion was a revolt against the nature worship about them. They believed in real spiritual intelligence divided into good and bad. At the head of the good beings was one supreme intelligence who was worshiped as supreme creator, preserver, and governor of the universe. He was called Ahura-Mazda and was the source of all good. Later, along with Zoroastrian dualism, there developed a worship of heavenly bodies.

The people were for a long period a strong power. Shalmaneser plundered several of their more important cities, evidently with the sole purpose of exacting tribute. They continued strong and were a menace to Assyria’s last king, Ashurbanipal, after whose death the Median king Cyaxares carried on an extensive campaign.

The more than twenty references to these people or their land in the Scriptures show their importance. Their cities are referred to in 2Kgs.17.8; 2Kgs.18.11. Esther tells of the binding character of their laws (Esth.1.19); Isaiah and Daniel speak of their power against Babylon (Isa.13.17; Dan.5.28). The last scriptural reference to them is in Acts.2.9, where representatives are in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost.——HZC

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


Herodotus says that Deiokes was succeeded by Phraortes (Fravartish) his son, Phraortes by his son Kyaxares; and the latter in turn left his kingdom to his son Astyages whose daughter Mandane married Cambyses, father of the great Cyrus. Yet there was no Median empire (such as he describes) then, or at least it did not embrace all the Aryan tribes of Western Asia, as we see from the inscriptions that in 606 BC, and even later, many of them were under kings and princes of their own (compare Jer 25:25; 51:11). Herodotus tells us they were divided into six tribes, of whom the Magi were one (Herod. i.101). Kyaxares warred for 5 years (590-585 BC) with the Lydians, the struggle being ended in May, 585, by the total eclipse of the sun foretold by Thales (Herodotus i.74).

The alliance between the Medes and the Babylonians ended with Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. His successor Nabu-nahid (555 BC) says that in that year the Medes under Astyages (Ishtuwegu) entered Mesopotamia and besieged Haran. Soon after, however, that dynasty was overthrown; for Cyrus the Persian, whom Nabu-nahid the first time he mentions him styles Astyages’ "youthful slave" (ardusu cachru), but who was even then king of Anshan (Anzan), attacked and in 549 BC captured Astyages, plundered Ecbatana, and became king of the Medes. Though of Persian descent, Cyrus did not, apparently, begin to reign in Persia till 546 BC. Henceforth there was no Median empire distinguished from the Persian (nor is any such mentioned in Daniel, in spite of modern fancies). As the Medes were further advanced in civilization and preceded the Persians in sovereignty, the Greek historians generally called the whole nation "the Medes" long after Cyrus’ time. Only much later are the Persians spoken of as the predominant partners. Hence, it is a sign of early date that Daniel (8:20) speaks of "Media and Persia," whereas later the Book of Esther reverses the order ("Persia and Media," Es 1:3,14,18,19; 10:2), as in the inscriptions of Darius at Behistun. Under Darius I, Phraortes (Fravartish) rebelled, claiming the throne of Media as a descendant of Kyaxares. His cause was so powerfully supported among the Medes that the rebellion was not suppressed till after a fierce struggle. He was finally taken prisoner at Raga (Rai, near Tehran), brutally mutilated, and finally impaled st Ecbatana. After that Median history merges into that of Persia. The history of the Jews in Media is referred to in Daniel and Esther. 1 Maccabees tells something of Media under the Syrian (6:56) and Parthian dominion (14:1-3; compare Josephus, Ant, XX, iii). Medes are last mentioned in Ac 2:9. They are remarkable as the first leaders of the Aryan race in its struggle with the Semites for freedom and supremacy.

W. St. Clair Tisdall

See also

  • Media