Medes, Me’dia (middle land). Media lay northwest of Persia proper, south and southwest of the Caspian Sea, east of Armenia and Assyria, west and northwest of the great salt desert of Iram. Its greatest length was from north to south, and in this direction it extended from the 32nd to the 40th parallel, a distance of 550 miles. In width it reached from about long. 45° to 53°; but its average breadth was not more than from 250 to 300 miles. The division of Media commonly recognized by the Greeks and Romans was that into Media Magna and Media Atropatene.
1. Media Atropatene corresponded nearly to the modern Azerbijan, being the tract situated between the Caspian and the mountains which run north from Zagros. 2. Media Magna lay south and east of Atropatene. It contained great part of Kurdistan and Luristan, with all Ardelan and Arak Ajemi. It is indicative of the division that there were two Ecbatanas, respectively the capitals of the two districts. The Medes were a nation of very high antiquity; we find a notice of them in the primitive Babylonian history of Berosus, who says that the Medes conquered Babylon at a very remote period (cir. b.c. 2458), and that eight Median monarchs reigned there consecutively, over a space of 224 years. The deepest obscurity hangs, however, over the whole history of the Medes from the time of their bearing sway in Babylonia, b.c. 2458–2234, to their first appearance in the cuneiform inscriptions among the enemies of Assyria, about b.c. 880. Near the middle of the seventh century b.c. the Median kingdom was consolidated, and became formidable to its neighbors; but previous to this time it was not under the dominion of a single powerful monarch, but was ruled by a vast number of petty chieftains. Cyaxares, the third Median monarch, took Nineveh and conquered Assyria b.c. 625. The limits of the Median empire cannot be definitely fixed. From north to south it was certainly confined between the Persian Gulf and the Euphrates on the one side, the Black and Caspian Seas on the other. From east to west it had, however, a wide expansion, since it reached from the Halys at least as far as the Caspian Gates, and possibly farther. It was separated from Babylonia either by the Tigris or more probably by a line running about halfway between that river and the Euphrates. Its greatest length may be reckoned at 1500 miles from northwest to southeast, and its average breadth at 400 or 450 miles. Its area would thus be about 600,000 square miles, or somewhat greater than that of modern Persia. Of all the ancient Oriental monarchies the Median was the shortest in duration. It was overthrown by the Persians under Cyrus, b.c. 558, who captured its king, Astyages. The treatment of the Medes by the victorious Persians was not that of an ordinary conquered nation. Medes were appointed to stations of high honor and importance under Cyrus and his successors. The two nations seem blended into one, and we often find reference to this kingdom as that of the “Medes and Persians.” Dan. 5:28; 6:8, 12, 15. The references to the Medes in the canonical Scriptures are not very numerous, but they are striking. We first hear of certain “cities of the Medes,” in which the captive Israelites were placed by “the king of Assyria” on the destruction of Samaria, b.c. 721. 2 Kings 17:6; 18:11. Soon afterward Isaiah prophesies the part which the Medes shall take in the destruction of Babylon, Isa. 13:17; 21:2; which is again still more distinctly declared by Jeremiah, Jer. 51:11, 28, who sufficiently indicates the independence of Media in his day. ch. 25:25. Daniel relates the fact of the Medo-Persic conquest, Dan. 5:28, 31, giving an account of the reign of Darius the Mede, who appears to have been made viceroy by Cyrus. Dan. 6:1-28. In Ezra we have a mention of Achmetha (Ecbatana), “the palace in the province of the Medes,” where the decree of Cyrus was found, Ezra 6:2-5—a notice which accords with the known facts that the Median capital was the seat of government under Cyrus, but a royal residence only, and not the seat of government, under Darius Hystaspis. Finally, in Esther the high rank of Media under the Persian kings, yet at the same time its subordinate position, is marked by the frequent combination of the two names in phrases of honor, the precedency being in every case assigned to the Persians.