The Medes (Greek Μῆδοι, from an Old Persian Mādai; Assyrian Mādāyu) were an ancient Iranian people who lived in the northwestern portions of present-day Iran. This area is known as Media (also Medea; Greek Μηδία, Old Persian Māda; the English adjective is Median, antiquated also Medean). They entered this region with the first wave of Iranian tribes, in the late second millennium BC (the Bronze Age collapse). By the 6th century BC, after having together with the Babylonians defeated the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Medes were able to establish their own empire, the largest of its day, lasting for about sixty years, from the sack of Nineveh in 612 BC until 549 BC when Cyrus the Great established the Achaemenid Empire by defeating his overlord and grandfather, Astyages, king of Media.
The Medes during the Hellenistic period
Alexander the Great occupied the satrapy of Media in the summer of 330 BC. In 328 he appointed as satrap a former general of Darius called Atropates (Atrupat), whose daughter was married to Perdiccas in 324, according to Arrian. In the partition of his empire, southern Media was given to the Macedonian Peithon; but the north, far off and of little importance to the generals squabbling over Alexander’s inheritance, was left to Atropates.
While southern Media, with Ecbatana, passed to the rule of Antigonus, and afterwards (about 310 BC) to Seleucus I, Atropates maintained himself in his own satrapy and succeeded in founding an independent kingdom. Thus the partition of the country, that Persia had introduced, became lasting; the north was named Atropatene (in Pliny, Atrapatene; in Ptolemy, Tropatene), after the founder of the dynasty, a name still said to be preserved in the modern form ‘Azerbaijan‘.
The capital of Atropatene was Gazaca in the central plain, and the castle Phraaspa, discovered on the Araz river by archaeologists in April 2005. 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 BC to conclude a disadvantageous treaty (Polyb. v. 55), and in later times, the rulers became dependent in turn upon the Parthians, upon Tigranes of Armenia, and in the time of Pompey who defeated their king Darius (Appian, Mithr. 108), upon Antonius (who invaded Atropatene) and upon Augustus of Rome. In the time of Strabo (AD 17), the dynasty still existed; later, the country seems to have become a Parthian province.
Atropatene is that country of western Asia which was least of all other countries influenced by Hellenism; there exists not even a single coin of its rulers. Southern Media remained a province of the Seleucid Empire for a century and a half, and Hellenism was introduced everywhere. Media was surrounded everywhere by Greek towns, in pursuance of Alexander’s plan to protect it from neighboring barbarians, according to Polybius (x. 27). Only Ecbatana retained its old character. But Rhagae became the Greek town Europus; and with it Strabo (xi. 524) names Laodicea, Apamea Heraclea or Achais. Most of them were founded by Seleucus I and his son Antiochus I
Peithon or Pithon (Greek: Πείθων or Πίθων, about 355 – 314 BC)
Peithon was named one of the seven (later eight) Somatophylakes “bodyguards” of Alexander in 325 BC. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC Peithon was made the satrap of Media, the strategically important region that controlled all roads between east and west. Actually, the satrapy was too large for one man: Peithon would be a very powerful man, and could destabilize the entire empire. Therefore, he had to give up the northern part, which was given to Atropates, from then known as Media Atropatene.
The soldiers who remained in the eastern part of Alexander’s realm after his death, grew agitated by their lengthy stay abroad, and began spontaneous revolts. The regent Perdiccassent Peithon to subdue the revolters. He was given a contingent of Macedonians. Peithon easily defeated his opponents and accepted their capitulation. His men, however, having hoped to plunder, massacred their opponents.
In the summer of 320 BC Peithon, Seleucus, and Antigenes murdered Perdiccas and started negotiating with their opponents. Ptolemy suggested that Peithon be made the new Regent, but the other diadochi would not accept this. Therefore Antipater was chosen to be the new Regent.
After the death of Antipater, Peithon expanded his realm. He invaded the satrapy of Parthia and made his brother Eudemus the new satrap. From 317 BC however the other eastern satraps united against Peithon and drove him out. The armies of the eastern satrapies, including contingents from Indian sent by another Peithon, son of Agenor, the satrap of the Indus, were joined by Eumenes who had been appointed by the new regent Polyperchon to subdue Antigonus. Peithon was saved by Antigonus who beat both Eumenes and his new allies at a battle near Susa. Following the Second War of the Diadochi Peithon was among the most powerful diadochi in the eastern part of the Empire and started to rebuild his realm. Antigonus didn’t like his new rival and tricked Peithon to come to his court, where he had him executed.
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