Astyages, Last King of the Medes – Part 2/2 (ca. 585 – 550 BC)

By: The Scribe on Friday, August 24, 2007

Artist’s conception of Cyrus II.After Cyrus II came of age, Harpagus convinced the young man that the Medes were ready and willing to revolt against their now despotic king, Astyages. Cyrus then organized a federation consisting of 10 Persian tribes, and attacked his father… though for some reason – or as Herodotus claims, “blinded by divine reason” – Astyages appointed Harpagus as the leader of his army. Naturally, Harpagus was not eager to fight for the man who had killed his son, and instead marched on the Median capital with Cyrus, both Persian and Median armies in tow, and took Astyages captive.

Although the details of Herodotus’ tale are more likely based around fairy tale than fact, the end of the story has been confirmed by another ancient document called the Chronicle of Nabonidus. The document explains that in the 6th year of the reign of King Nabonidus of Babylon,

“king Astyages called up his troops and marched against Cyrus,
king of Ansan [Persia], in order to meet him in battle. The
army of Astyages revolted against him and in fetters they
delivered him to Cyrus. Cyrus marched agast the country
Ecbatana; the royal residence he seized; silver, gold, other
valuables of the country Ecbatana he took as booty and brought
to Ansan.”

The Nabonidus Chronicle!

At the very least – whether Harpagus was involved with the army’s defection or not – the details in the Chronicle of Nabonidus imply that after three years of fighting, king Astyages’ troops mutinied and handed him over to Cyrus. Unfortunately for Cyrus, Astyages’ allies did not take the capture of the allied king so well – shortly after the capture, King Croesus of Lydia attacked Cyrus II to avenge Astyages. With Harpagus at his side – for which there are confirmed records – Cyrus defeated Croesus’ advances and ended up overthrowing Lydia as well.

What happened to Astyages after his capture remains unknown. Although the ancient sources agree that he was treated with mercy and leniency not typically given to captive kings, the details of how this occurred differ. While Herodotus claims that the king was left imprisoned for the rest of his life, other sources suggest that Astyages was reinstated as a governor in Parthia, and later met his death at the hands of a political rival. Which version of the tale is actually true is likely to remain unknown indefinitely.

Want to read more?

Tomorrow: Ancient Sugar-Free Gum!


Did you enjoy this post?

If so, get more emailed to you daily by clicking here or Subscribe to RSS

No comments yet

Leave a reply