Media (Old Pers. Mada; Heb. Madai). an ancient country of Asia, bounded N. by Armenia, from which it was partly separated by the A raws (Aras) river and the Caspian sea, E. by Hyrcania, Parthia, and the desert of Aria, S. by Persia, S. W. by Susiana, and W. by Assyria and Armenia. It thus corresponded nearly to the modern Persian province of Irak-Ajemi. It formed the westernmost part of the table land of Iran, being for the most part fertile, and producing wine, figs, and oranges, and an excellent breed of horses. The most important mountain range in the interior was the Caspian (now Elburz) mountains, the territory between which and the Caspian sea was inhabited by independent tribes. Media was well peopled, originally by Turanian Scyths. In the time of Herodotus, and according to his statement, it was occupied by six tribes, who are said to have been a kindred race to the Persians, that is, a branch of the great Aryan family. In the time of the Persian power they, or at least a large part of them, spoke the same language as the dominant race, and had the same laws, manners, and religion.
But there is great difficulty in determining when the supremacy of the Aryan element over the original Turanian or Scythic began, how far the two were blended together, and what relation they occupied to each other during the period of special Median history. According to Ctesias, the Medes revolted from the Assyrians and became independent under Arbaces about 875 B. C.; but his whole story about the fall of that empire and the death of its king Sardanapalus is now discredited. About the same period the Medes first appear in real history, occupying the region S. of the Caspian, when the Assyrian monarch whose expeditions are recorded on the black obelisk in the British museum made the earliest authentic assault on their independence. The list of eight successors to Arbaces on the throne of Media given by Ctesias can find no credit, as his names and dates are at variance with those given by Herodotus. According to the latter, Media, having been for centuries under the sway of the Assyrian monarchs, afforded the first example of a successful revolt to the nations suffering under the same yoke, apparently in the latter half of the 8th century.
The people, however, having elected no common chief, suffered greatly from anarchy until Deioces, a popular judge, secured by stratagem his appointment as ruler of the united state (about 708), by common consent of the Medes, when he founded a fortified capital, Ecbatana. He was succeeded by his son Phraortes, who, says Herodotus, " not being satisfied with a dominion which did not extend beyond the single people of the Medes," attacked and subdued the Persians, and with the united forces of these two nations engaged in war with the Assyrians, but perished with the greater part of his army about 633. The authenticity of this account of the first two Median reigns is rejected by Rawlinson as inconsistent with the monuments; but it seems probable that the principal facts of Herodotus can be reconciled with the monumental history, by supposing his Deioces and Phraortes to have been either half independent viceroys of the Assyrian monarchs, or rulers in parts of Media which succeeded in conquering and maintaining their independence.
According to Rawlinson, the Median kingdom was probably first established about 633 by Cyaxares, the third king of Herodotus. At all events, it was probably that monarch, generally regarded by Greeks and Asians as the founder of a dynasty, who made the Aryan element paramount in the kingdom, after a hard struggle against native and foreign Turanian tribes. The Aryan emigration from the east had for centuries been pressing upon the Turanian populations of the regions E. and S. of the Caspian, and under Cyaxares a violent struggle of the two races was after many years decided in favor of the former. This struggle Herodotus brings in connection with the invasion of Asia by the Cimmerians, relating that the Scyths, their pursuers, interrupted the successes of Cyaxares, the conqueror of Nineveh in alliance with Babylonia, and spread the terror of their arms as far as the confines of Egypt, holding sway over Asia for 28 years. A treacherous massacre is said to have terminated this sway, when Media, which under Cyaxares also waged war against Alyattes of Lydia, became the first among the nations of Asia, another empire being simultaneously founded by its Babylonian ally.
The reign of Astyages, the son of Cyaxares, which lasted 35 years, was peaceful, but ended (about 558) with a catastrophe, which changed the united kingdom of "Media and Persia," as it is called in Scripture, into another styled Persia and Media, in which the people of the conqueror, Cyrus, became the predominant race. The difficulty, however, which arises from the fact of a Darius the Mede being represented in the book of Daniel as king of Babylon, has induced some critics to accept the relation of Xeno-phon, strengthened by that of Josephus, concerning the reign of a Cyaxares II., son and successor of Astyages, for whom Cyrus, his nephew, conquered Babylon, in preference to the detailed story of Herodotus; while others find Darius the Mede, not in a Cyaxares II., but in Astyages, who may have maintained a shadow of royalty under his grandson, Cyrus. (See Darius.) Both Media as a province, and its undoubtedly mixed population, continued prominent in the history of the new Aryan empire, though two great struggles for the recovery of independence, under Darius Hystas-pis and Darius Nothus, failed.
Many of the highest offices in the state were held by Medes; and the Scythic inscriptions on the Persian monuments prove the importance which was attached to the populations of the ancient Median provinces. The relation of the influential caste of the Magi to the Median tribe of the same name, as well as of the Scythic element of the Medo-Persian religion to the Aryan, is not yet satisfactorily cleared up. The Median religion appears to have been Magism, while that of the Persians was Mazdeism. Desirous of conciliating the religious notions of the Turanian people who formed a large element in the population of Media, the Magi, the great ones, or priests, combined the worship of Ormuzd with that of Ahriman, whom they identified with the Turanian Afrasiab. (See Ormuzd, and Zoroaster.) Semitic races formed also a constituent part of the population of Media, and hence the Magi introduced also the worship of the gods of Assyria and Elam. It seems that the Magi also practised sorcery and incantations, which pure Zoroastrianism expressly forbids. Otherwise but little is known of the state of Median civilization, arts, and religion.
Median architecture, according to Rawlinson, appears to have possessed a barbaric magnificence, but not much of either grandeur or beauty. - After the Macedonian conquest, and the death of Alexander, a governor of the latter, Atropates, made himself independent in the N. W. part of Media, hence called Atropatene, which continued to exist as a kingdom down to the time of Augustus, while Great Media was under the successive rule of the Seleueidaa and Parthians. Both parts of ancient Media were again united under the Neo-Persian kings, and its subsequent history is blended with that of Persia. - See George Rawlinson, "The Five Great Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World " (London, 1862-'8); Lenormant, Manuel dliistoire an-cienne de l'Orient (Paris, 1868-'9); Spiegel, Erdnische Alterthumsfcunde" (Leipsic, 1871 - '3); and Duncker, Geschichte des Altcrthums (4th ed., Leipsic, 1874 et seq.).