Cyaxares (Median: 𐎢𐎺𐎧𐏁𐎫𐎼 Huvaxštra;[4][5][6][7] Akkadian: Assyrian cuneiform U12079 MesZL 748 and MesZL 749.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12311 MesZL 490.svgAssyrian cuneiform U1201D MesZL 127.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12293 MesZL 172.svgAssyrian cuneiform U122EB MesZL 248.svgAssyrian cuneiform U12148 MesZL 726.svg Úaksatar;[4] Old Phrygian: Ksuwaksaros;[4] Ancient Greek: Κυαξάρης Kuaxárēs;[4] Latin: Cyaxares; r. 625–585 BC), also called Astibaras (Median: *R̥štibara; Ancient Greek: Ἀστιβάρας Astibáras; Latin: Astibaras)[8] was the third king of the Medes.

Qyzqapan tomb relief.jpg
Likely relief of Cyaxares (right), Qyzqapan tomb, Sulaymaniyah. Iraqi Kurdistan.[1]
King of the Median Empire
Reign625 – 585 BC
Died585 BC
Syromedia (present-day Qyzqapan)[3]
SpouseDaughter (or granddaughter) of Nabopolassar
DynastyMedian dynasty
ReligionAncient Iranian religion

Cyaxares collaborated with the Babylonians to destroy the Assyrian Empire, and united most of the Iranian tribes of ancient Iran, thereby transforming Media into a regional power.[9][10]


The name Cyaxares is the Latinised form of the Greek Kuaxárēs (Κυαξάρης), which was itself the Hellenisation of the Median name Huvaxštra (𐎢𐎺𐎧𐏁𐎫𐎼), meaning "good ruler."[4][7]

The Greek author Diodorus Siculus named Cyaxares as Astibáras (Ἀστιβάρας),[8] which is the Hellenisation of the Median name *R̥štibara, meaning "spear bearer."[11][12] This name is similar to the Median form of his son Astyages's name, *R̥štivaigah, meaning "spear thrower."[13][14]

Life and reignEdit

Cyaxares' Media at the time of its maximum expansion.

According to Herodotus, Cyaxares was the son of the Median king Phraortes. In the middle of the 7th century BCE, Phraortes led the Medes in a revolt against Assyria and was killed in battle, either against the Assyrians under their king Ashurbanipal, or against the Assyrians' Scythian allies, whose king Madyes invaded the Medes and imposed Scythian hegemony over them for twenty-eight years on behalf of the Assyrians, thus starting a period which Herodotus called the "Scythian rule over Asia".[15][16]

Revolt against the ScythiansEdit

By the 620s BCE, the Assyrian Empire began unravelling after the death of Ashurbanipal. In addition to internal instability within Assyria itself, Babylon revolted against the Assyrians in 626 BCE.[17] The next year, in 625 BCE, Cyaxares overthrew the Scythian yoke over the Medes by inviting the Scythian rulers to a banquet, getting them drunk, and then murdering them all, including possibly Madyes himself.[4][17][16]

After freeing the Medes from the Scythian yoke, Cyaxares reorganised the Median armed forces in preparation for a war with Assyria: whereas the Medes previously fought as tribal militias divided into kinship groups and each warrior used whatever weapons they were the most skilled at, Cyaxares instituted a regular army modelled on the Assyrian and Urartian armies, fully equipped by the state and divided into strategic and tactical units.[18] Cyaxares might also have forced the Scythians into an alliance with the Medes after overthrowing their rule, since from 615 BCE onwards the Babylonian records mention the Scythians as the allies of the Medes.[19]

War in ParthiaEdit

At some point during his reign, Cyaxares conquered the countries Hyrcania and Parthia, which were located to the immediate east of Media.[20]

According to Diodorus Siculus, at one point the Parthians revolted against Cyaxares and entrusted their country and their capital city to the Sacae[8] or the Dahae,[21] after which a war broke out between the Medes and the Saka, led by their queen Zarinaia, who founded multiple cities.[8] According to Diodorus, Zarinaia was the sister of the Saka king Cydraeus and initially his wife, but after his death she married the Parthian king Marmares. During the war against the Medes, Zarinaia was wounded in battle and captured by Cyaxares's son-in-law Stryngaeus, who listened to her pleas and spared her life; when Marmares later captured Stryngaeus, Zarinaia killed Marmares, and rescued Stryngaeus.[22] At the end of this war, the Parthians accepted Median rule,[8] and peace was made between the Medes and the Saka.[23]

Diodorus's account suggests that the region of Parthia was influenced by both the Medes to their west, and by the Saka nomads of the region of the Caspian and Aral Seas.[8]

War against AssyriaEdit

Following the defeat of a joint Assyrian-Mannaean force at Gablinu by the new Babylonian rebel king and founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, Nabopolassar, the next year Cyaxares conquered Mannae, which brought the Median armies to the frontiers of Assyria.[4] In November 615 BCE, six months after Nabopolassar had failed to seize the important Assyrian centre of Aššur, Cyaxares crossed the Zagros mountains and occupied the city of Arrapha. The next year, in July and August of 614 BCE, the Median armies performed a distractive manoeuvre by ostensibly marching on the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, which prompted the Assyrian king Sin-šar-iškun to go defend the city, after which the Medes marched north along the Tigris and seized Tarbiṣu, following which they crossed the river and marched down its right bank to Aššur, and thereby cut the Assyrian centres of Nineveh and Kalhu from outside help. The end result of this Median attack was the sacking of Aššur, during which the Medes' forces massacred the city's inhabitants, destroyed its temples, and seized its treasures.[24]

Shortly after the fall of Aššur, the Babylonian king Nabopolassar met Cyaxares at the ruins of the city, and they concluded an alliance against Assyria which was sealed by diplomatic marriages, with Nabopolassar's son Nebuchadnezzar marrying Cyaxares's daughter Amytis,[25] and Cyaxares marrying a daughter or granddaughter of Nabopolassar.[4]

Once the alliance between Cyaxares and Nabopolassar had been concluded, the Median and Babylonian forces acted in concert with each other in the war against Assyria. In 612 BCE, the Median and Babylonian armies together crossed the ʿAdhaim river at its mouth and marched on the Assyrian capital city, Nineveh, which was taken and sacked by the joint Medo-Babylonian forces after three months of siege. The Assyrian king Sin-šar-iškun likely died during the fall of Nineveh.[26]

After the death of Sin-šar-iškun, an Assyrian leader who might have been his son, Aššur-uballiṭ II, proclaimed himself the new Assyrian king in Harran, where he ruled with the support of the remnant of the Assyrian army. In 610 BCE, the pro-Assyrian Egyptian pharaoh Necho II intervened in the Levant in support of the Assyrians, and went to Harran to support Aššur-uballiṭ. In 610 BCE, Cyaxares and Nabopolassar seized Harran from the Assyro-Egyptian force, which retreated to Carchemish on the west bank of the Euphrates.[26]

Conquest of UrartuEdit

In 609 BCE, the Medes attacked the capital of the kingdom of Urartu in the Armenian Highlands. The attack on Urartu might have been carried out in alliance with the Babylonians, since Babylonian records mention a joint Medo-Babylonian attack on Bit Hanunia in Urartu in 608 BCE,[27] and a splinter Scythian group likely joined the Medes and participated in their conquest of Urartu.[28] This invasion did not result in the destruction of Urartu, but in it becoming a subject kingdom of the new Median state.[26] Median contingents might have helped the final Babylonian victory against the joint Assyrian-Egyptian force at Carchemish in 605 BCE, at which point the Medes' military collaboration with the Babylonian campaigns ended, and Median forces did not participate in any of the consequent Babylonian campaigns in Syria and Palestine.[27]

Extent of the Median KingdomEdit

According to older interpretations of the destruction of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, its territory was partitioned between the Babylonians and the Medes, the latter of whom obtained a territory which included Assyria proper and had a southern border which started at Carchemish and passed south of Harran and along the Jabal Sinjār till the Tigris to the south of Aššur, and then along the Jabāl Hamrīn and across the Diyala River valley until the northwestern borders of Elam.[27] However, according to more recent research, the Neo-Babylonian Empire obtained all of the former territories of the Assyrian Empire except for those on the Zagros mountains which the Assyrians had already lost to the Medes in earlier times, and the role of the Medes in the war against the Assyrians was largely to act as the main fighting force which handed over territory to the Babylonians and returned to Media once these military activities were completed.[29]

Qyzqapan tomb, likely relief of Cyaxares (detail).[1]
Herodotus reported the wars of Cyaxares in The Histories

War against the LydiansEdit

Following the destruction of the Assyrian Empire, the relations between the Medes and the Babylonians soon temporarily deteriorated in the 590s, but no hostilities erupted between the two.[27] Instead, the majority of the Scythians were expelled out of Western Asia and into the Pontic Steppe during that decade,[19] and a war broke out between Media and another group of Scythians, probably members of a splinter group who had formed a kingdom in what is now Azerbaijan. These Scythians left Median-ruled Transcaucasia and fled into the kingdom of Lydia, which had been allied to the Scythians. After the Lydian king Alyattes refused to accede to Cyaxares's demands that these Scythian refugees be handed to him, a war broke out between Media and the Lydian Empire in 590 BCE. This war lasted five years, until a solar eclipse occurred in 585 BCE during a battle (hence called the Battle of the Eclipse) opposing the Lydian and Median armies, which both sides interpreted as an omen to end the war. The kings of Babylon and Cilicia acted as mediators in the ensuing peace treaty, which was sealed by the marriage of Cyaxares's son Astyages with Alyattes's daughter Aryenis. The border between Lydia and Media was fixed at a yet undetermined location in eastern Anatolia; the Graeco-Roman historians' traditional account of the Halys River as having been set as the border between the two kingdoms appears to have been a retroactive narrative construction based on symbolic role assigned by Greeks to the Halys as the separation between Lower Asia and Upper Asia as well as on the Halys being a later provincial border within the Achaemenid Empire.[30][31][32][33]


Cyaxares died shortly after the Battle of the Eclipse, in 585 BCE itself, and was succeeded by his son Astyages. According to the Russian historian Igor Diakonoff, the tomb of Cyaxares is located at the place now called Qyzqapan, in the mountains of present-day Iraqi Kurdistan in Sulaymaniyah.[26]


After Darius I seized power in the Achaemenid Empire, rebellions erupted claiming Cyaxares's legacy. After these were defeated, Darius noted two in the Behistun Inscription: "Another was Phraortes, the Mede; he lied, saying: 'I am Khshathrita, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Media to revolt. Another was Tritantaechmes, the Sagartian ; he lied, saying: 'I am king in Sagartia, of the dynasty of Cyaxares.' He made Sagartia to revolt."

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Gershevitch, I.; Fisher, William Bayne; Avery, Peter; Boyle, John Andrew; Frye, Richard Nelson; Yarshater, Ehsan; Jackson, Peter; Melville, Charles Peter; Lockhart, Laurence; Hambly, Gavin (1985). The Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge University Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780521200912.
  2. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 139.
  3. ^ according to Igor Diakonoff[2]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Diakonoff 1993.
  5. ^ Akbarzadeh, D.; A. Yahyanezhad (2006). The Behistun Inscriptions (Old Persian Texts) (in Persian). Khaneye-Farhikhtagan-e Honarhaye Sonati. p. 87. ISBN 964-8499-05-5.
  6. ^ Kent, Ronald Grubb (1953). Old Persian: Grammar, Text, Glossary. pp. 177.
  7. ^ a b Schmitt 2011, p. 216-218.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Olbrycht, Marek Jan (2021). Early Arsakid Parthia (ca. 250-165 B.C.): At the Crossroads of Iranian, Hellenistic, and Central Asian History. Leiden, Netherlands ; Boston, United States: Brill. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-9-004-46076-8.
  9. ^ Cyaxares (
  10. ^
  11. ^ Hinz, p. 207.
  12. ^ Schmitt 2011, p. 139-140.
  13. ^ Schmitt, Rüdiger (1987). "ASTYAGES". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  14. ^ Hinz 1975, p. 208.
  15. ^ Phiillips, E. D. (1972). "The Scythian Domination in Western Asia: Its Record in History, Scripture and Archaeology". World Archaeology. 4 (2): 129–138. doi:10.1080/00438243.1972.9979527. JSTOR 123971. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  16. ^ a b Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 565.
  17. ^ a b Diakonoff 1985, p. 119.
  18. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 121-122.
  19. ^ a b Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 567.
  20. ^ Dandamayev, M. A. (1994). "Media and Achaemenid Iran". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan; Harmatta, János; Puri, Baij Nath; Etemadi, G. F.; Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (eds.). History of Civilizations of Central Asia. Paris, France: UNESCO. pp. 35–64. ISBN 978-9-231-02846-5. Judging by later indirect evidence, Cyaxares also succeeded in taking Parthia, Hyrcania to the east of the Caspian Sea, and Armenia.
  21. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 132.
  22. ^ Schmitt, Rüdiger (2000). "ZARINAIA". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  23. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2014). The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton, United States: Princeton University Press. pp. 379–381. ISBN 978-0-691-14720-8.
  24. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 122-123.
  25. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 123.
  26. ^ a b c d Diakonoff 1985, p. 124.
  27. ^ a b c d Diakonoff 1985, p. 124-125.
  28. ^ Sulimirski & Taylor 1991, p. 568.
  29. ^ Liverani, Mario (2003). "The Rise and Fall of Media" (PDF). In Lanfranchi, Giovanni B.; Roaf, Michael; Rollinger, Robert (eds.). Continuity of Empire (?) Assyria, Media, Persia. Padua: S.a.r.g.o.n. Editrice e Libreria. pp. 1–12. ISBN 978-9-990-93968-2.
  30. ^ Diakonoff 1985, p. 125-126.
  31. ^ Leloux, Kevin (December 2016). "The Battle of the Eclipse". Polemos: Journal of Interdisciplinary Research on War and Peace. Polemos. 19 (2). hdl:2268/207259. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  32. ^ Rollinger, Robert (2003). "The Western Expansion of the Median 'Empire': A Re-Examination". In Lanfranchi, Giovanni B.; Roaf, Michael; Rollinger, Robert (eds.). Continuity of Empire (?) Assyria, Media, Persia. Padua: S.a.r.g.o.n. Editrice e Libreria. pp. 1–12. ISBN 978-9-990-93968-2.
  33. ^ Leloux, Kevin (2018). La Lydie d'Alyatte et Crésus: Un royaume à la croisée des cités grecques et des monarchies orientales. Recherches sur son organisation interne et sa politique extérieure (PDF) (PhD). Vol. 2. University of Liège. Retrieved 1 May 2022.


External linksEdit

Preceded by King of Media
c. 625–585 BC
Succeeded by