Ancient MedesThe Medes - When discussing the early period of the Persian Empire, it is frequently referred to as the "Medo-Persian" Empire. That's because it consisted of two Iranian tribes, with the Medes being the more dominant initially. Herodotus, who wrote about the famous Persian Wars, prefaced the conflict by outlining the origins of the Greeks' adversaries. He identifies the first Median king as a man named Deioces. Under his rule, the Medes organized more quickly and the Persians were reduced to a client state. They established a capital at Ecbatana (modern-day Hamadan), which means "place of assembly". The growth of the Median kingdom continued under Deioces' successors, Phraortes and Cyaxares. By the reign of Cyaxares, the Medes were strong enough to challenge the superpower of the day, Assyria. They conquered Ashur, Assyria's "second city", in 614 B.C., and then allied with Babylon to finish off Nineveh in 612.


For the next half-century, the Medes controlled most of the Iranian Plateau, and took the Assyrian city of Harran as a trophy of their conquest. But with their common enemy out of the way, Media and Babylon had no reason to remain allies. Nabonidus, who became king of Babylon in 555 B.C. was anxious to bring Harran under Babylonian control. There is no definitive record, but it's likely that Nabonidus provided assistance to Cyrus, king of Persia when he revolted against Astyages, king of Media in 553 B.C. (which would prove to be a mistake later). In 550, Cyrus won a decisive victory over Astyages and the Medo-Persian Empire became just the Persian Empire. But that was not the end of the Medes. It was more akin to a change in dynasties than the conquest of a civilization. Ecbatana was not sacked and, in fact, became one of Persia's capitals. Most Median officials in power retained their posts. And to their foreign neighbors, no significant change had occurred. This was evident by the Greeks use of the term Medism, which referred to Greek colonies breaking ranks with Greece and joining Persia during the Persian Wars, an act of treason. Today the Kurdish people claim the Medes as their ancestors.