People > Cyaxares I

Cyaxares I


Cyaxares (625–585 BCE) was one of the most famous and powerful kings of Median Empire and responsible for helping to bring down the regional superpower Assyria. He is most well known for organizing all of the tribes of the Iranian Plateau and building the Median Empire. He was also the first known king to organize his army in terms of spearmen, archers and cavalry.

Early Life

Cyaxares was born in 625 BCE in the capital city of Ecbatana to his father named Phraortes. He was born at a very important time in history and he would soon be instrumental in shaping and developing the future. His father would be killed by the Assyrian leader named Ashurbanipal and this would result in the neighboring Scythians invading and conquering Media.

Cyaxares - Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE)

Assyrian Empire Map (750-625 BCE) - Historical Atlas (1923)

Cyaxares was going to have none of these and he went on a rampage and killed the Scythians and proclaimed himself the new king of the Median Empire. After beating back the invaders the Medes prepared for a full scale invasion of Assyria to get revenge. During the reign of Ashurbanipal's successors there was a series of civil wars that left it ripe for attack.

Conquering Assyria

Seizing this opportunity the various tribes of Media under the rule of Cyaxares launched their invasion of Assyria and began sacking cities such as Ashur. He would soon establish a diplomatic alliance with the Chaldean tribal leader named Nabopolassar who had allied many of the groups in Babylonia to accomplish the same task of bringing down the Neo-Assyrian Empire. The alliance was later cemented by the marriage of Amytis to the son of Nabopolassar named Nebuchadnezzar II who some believe was the inspiration for the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Cyaxares - Mesopotamian Empires Map (600 BCE)

Mesopotamian Empires 600 BCE - Historical Atlas (1923)

Conquering Lydia

Following his victory over the Assyrian Empire the Medes moved north to conquer Armenia and other parts of Anatolia. Cyaxares was able to push all the way to the Halys River which forms the natural border of the civilization of Lydia which had recently conquered neighboring Phrygia. The following conflict would became known as the Battle of Halys based on an eclipse on May 28, 585 BC..

The conflict between Lydia and the Medes was reported by Herodotus as follows:

"A horde of the nomad Scythians at feud with the rest withdrew and sought refuge in the land of the Medes: and at this time the ruler of the Medes was Cyaxares the son of Phraortes, the son of Deïokes, who at first dealt well with these Scythians, being suppliants for his protection; and esteeming them very highly he delivered boys to them to learn their speech and the art of shooting with the bow. Then time went by, and the Scythians used to go out continually to the chase and always brought back something; till once it happened that they took nothing, and when they returned with empty hands Cyaxares (being, as he showed on this occasion, not of an eminently good disposition) dealt with them very harshly and used insult towards them. And they, when they had received this treatment from Cyaxares, considering that they had suffered indignity, planned to kill and to cut up one of the boys who were being instructed among them, and having dressed his flesh as they had been wont to dress the wild animals, to bear it to Cyaxares and give it to him, pretending that it was game taken in hunting; and when they had given it, their design was to make their way as quickly as possible to Alyattes the son of Sadyattes at Sardis. This then was done; and Cyaxares with the guests who ate at his table tasted of that meat, and the Scythians having so done became suppliants for the protection of Alyattes."

"After this, since Alyattes would not give up the Scythians when Cyaxares demanded them, there had arisen war between the Lydians and the Medes lasting five years; in which years the Medes often discomfited the Lydians and the Lydians often discomfited the Medes (and among others they fought also a battle by night): and as they still carried on the war with equally balanced fortune, in the sixth year a battle took place in which it happened, when the fight had begun, that suddenly the day became night. And this change of the day Thales the Milesian had foretold to the Ionians laying down as a limit this very year in which the change took place. The Lydians however and the Medes, when they saw that it had become night instead of day, ceased from their fighting and were much more eager both of them that peace should be made between them. And they who brought about the peace between them were Syennesis the Kilikian and Labynetos the Babylonian: these were they who urged also the taking of the oath by them, and they brought about an interchange of marriages; for they decided that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages the son of Cyaxares, since without the compulsion of a strong tie agreements are apt not to hold strongly together."

Death & Legacy

Cyaxares would die shortly following the battle with Lydia and be succeeded by his son named Astyages who was the grandfather of Cyrus the Great with his wife Mandane. Cyrus would famously turn the Median Empire into the largest lasting empire in the ancient world known as the Achaemenid Empire. Cyaxares is believed by some to have been buried in a tomb named Qyzqapan and according to the modern day Kurdish national anthem Ey Reqîb he was their ancient ancestor.

When Darius I would seize the Achaemenid Empire following the death of Cambyses II there was much dispute over the lineage and rebellions occurred. Darius I was able to put down these rebellions in Sagartia and Media due to being the commander of the Immortals and married the daughter of Cyrus in order to establish his credibility and authority to the throne. Following these victories he wrote in the Behistun Inscription that he was the proper dynasty of Cyaxares and continued with the propaganda in order to establish the Persian Empire to some of its greatest heights.

Cyaxares - Achaemenid Empire 500 BCE

Achaemenid Empire (500 BCE) - Historical Atlas (1923)

Overall his biggest legacy being instrumental in bringing down the reigning superpower the Assyrian Empire which created a power vacuum in the Mesopotamia and Iranian Plateau region and allowed for the future developments of civilization to take place. The descendants of Cyaxares would go on to establish an empire which greatly influenced the development of western civilization through its serious impacts on Greece.

Without his help Nabopolassar and his Babylonians would not have been able to establish their regional independence as well. Through this diplomatic alliance both Cyaxares and Nabopolassar rewrote the boundaries of the ancient day and the impacts and influences of Cyaxares can be seen for several centuries after his death.

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