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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Medes were people who lived in the western and north-western portion of present-day Iran. During the 8th century BC they were dominated by the nomadic group of the Scythians. By the 6th century BC (prior to the Persian invasion) the Medes were able to establish an empire which stretched from Aran (the modern-day Republic of Azerbaijan) to Central Asia and Afghanistan.

The people of the Mada, Medes (the Greek form "Μηδοί" is Ionian for Madot) appear in history first in 836 BC, when the Assyrian conqueror Shalmaneser II. in his wars against the tribes of the Zagros received the tribute of the Amadai (this form, with prosthetic a-, which occurs only here, has many analogies in the names of Iranian tribes). His successors undertook many expeditions against the Medes (Madai). Sargon in 715 BC and 713 BC subjected them "to the far mountain Bikni," i.e. the Elburz (Demavend) and the borders of the desert. They were divided into many districts and towns, under petty local chieftains; from the names which the Assyrian inscriptions mention, we learn that they were an Iranian tribe and that they had already adopted the religion of Zoroaster. In spite of different attempts by some chieftains to shake off the Assyrian yoke (cf. the information obtained from prayers to the Sun-god for oracles against these rebels: Knudtzon, Assyrische Gebete an den Sonnengotl), Media remained tributary to Assyria under Sargon's successors, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Assur-bani-pal.

Herodotus, i. 101, gives a list of six Median tribes (ytvta), among them the Paraetaceni, the inhabitants of the mountainous highland of Paraetacene, the district of Isfahan, and the Magoi, i.e. the Magians, the hereditary caste of the priests. The names in the Assyrian inscriptions prove that the tribes in the Zagros and the northern parts of Media were not Iranians nor Indo-Europeans, but an aboriginal population, like the early inhabitants of Armenia, perhaps connected with the numerous tribes of the Caucasus. Many historians agree the majority of the population of Media was composed of Scythians and other proto-Turkic peoples.

Josephus relates the Medes to the biblical character, Madai, son of Japheth. "Now as to Javan and Madai, the sons of Japhet; from Madai came the Madeans, who are called Medes, by the Greeks" Antiquities of the Jews, I:6

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