Appendix 4. The Medo-Persian Empire

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The Medo-Persian Empire at the time of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC)
The Medo-Persian Empire at the time of Cyrus the Great (559-530 BC) (larger map)

The massive Medo-Persian Empire is a major empire on the world stage. While the Neo-Babylonian Empire consisted of what we call the Fertile Crescent -- along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the eastern coast of the Mediterranean -- the Medo-Persian Empire extended north to the Black and Caspian Seas, as far east as the Indus River and as far west as part of Asia Minor.

As the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911 to 609 BC) went into decline, vassal states such as Media and Babylon, stopped paying tribute to the Assyrians, and in 612 BC, the Medes and their allies captured the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. Free of Assyrian domination, the Medes grew their empire from their capital in Ecbatana, and extended it from northeastern Iran to the Halys River (Kizilirmak River) in Asia Minor (present-day north-central Turkey). Media was considered one of four major powers of the ancient Near East, along with Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt.

According to the kings lists compiled from Herodotus and the Babylonian Chronicle (cuneiform tablets), Cyaxares reigned 624-585 BC. He developed the united Median state by bringing together the Iranian tribes and conquering territory. He formed an alliance with Neo-Babylonia against the Assyrians, sealed by the marriage of his daughter to Nebuchadnezzar II. The Medes were instrumental, along with Babylon and its allies, for the fall of the Assyrian Empire. Cyaxares was followed by his son Astyages as King of the Medes, reigning from 585 to 549 BC.

During this time the Persians were one of six Iranian tribes that made up the united Median state (others included the Medes, Scythians, and Parthians). In 553 BC, Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, rebelled against his grandfather, Astyages, King of the Medes, and won a decisive victory over him in 550 BC. After this, the Medes were now subject to their close kin, the Persians, who now ruled over -- and expanded -- the Medo-Persian Empire. When Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the Medes and the Persians took over the territory of Neo-Babylonia and ruled over the largest empire so far known in the West.

The Persian Empire continued until it was conquered by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great about 330 BC, when it was subsumed into the Greek Empire, which then fell to the Romans Empire about 146 BC.

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