Deiokes; Rise of the Medes; Ancient Empires

As we have already seen, Sennacherib reigned for eight years after his triumph; eight years of tranquility at home, and of peace with all his neighbours abroad. If we examine the contemporary monuments or the documents of a later period, and attempt to glean from them some details concerning the close of his career, we find that there is a complete absence of any record of national movement on the part of either Elam, Urartu, or Egypt.

The only event of which any definite mention is made is a raid across the north of Arabia, in the course of which Hazael, King of Adumu, and chief among the princes of Kedar, was despoiled of the images of his gods. The older states of the Oriental world had, as we have pointed out, grown weary of warfare which brought them nothing but loss of men and treasure; but behind these states, on the distant horizon to the east and north-west, were rising up new nations whose growth and erratic movements assumed an importance that became daily more and more alarming. On the east, the Medes, till lately undistinguishable from the other tribes occupying the western corner of the Iranian table-land, had recently broken away from the main body, and, rallying round a single leader, already gave promise of establishing an empire formidable alike by the energy of its people and the extent of its domain. A tradition afterwards accepted by them attributed their earlier successes to a certain Deiokes, son of Phraortes, a man wiser than his fellows, who first set himself to deal out justice in his own household. The men of his village, observing his merits, chose him to be the arbiter of all their disputes, and, being secretly ambitious of sovereign power, he did his best to settle their differences on lines of the strictest equity and justice.

By these means he gained such credit with his fellow-citizens as to attract the attention of those who lived in the neighbouring villages, who had suffered from unjust judgments, so that when they heard of the singular uprightness of Deiokes and of the equity of his decisions they joyfully had recourse to him until at last they came to put confidence in no one else. The number of complaints brought before him continually increasing as people learnt more and more the justice of his judgments, Deiokes, finding himself now all-important, announced that he did not intend any longer to hear causes, and appeared no more in the seat in which he had been accustomed to sit and administer justice. “‘It was not to his advantage,’ he said, ‘to spend the whole day in regulating other men’s affairs to the neglect of his own.’ Hereupon robbery and lawlessness broke out afresh and prevailed throughout the country even more than heretofore; wherefore the Medes assembled from all quarters and held a consultation on the state of affairs. The speakers, as I think, were chiefly friends of Deiokes. ‘We cannot possibly,’ they said, ‘go on living in this country if things continue as they now are; let us, therefore, set a king over us, so that the land may be well governed, and we ourselves may be able to attend to our own affairs, and not be forced to quit our country on account of anarchy.’ After speaking thus, they persuaded themselves that they desired a king, and forthwith debated whom they should choose. Deiokes was proposed and warmly praised by all, so they agreed to elect him.”

Whereupon Deiokes had a great palace built, and enrolled a bodyguard to attend upon him. He next called upon his subjects to leave their villages, and “the Medes, obedient to his orders, built the city now called Ecbatana, the walls of which are of great size and strength, rising in circles one within the other. The walls are concentric, and so arranged that they rise one above the other by the height of their battlements. The nature of the ground, which is a gentle hill, favoured this arrangement. The number of the circles is seven, the royal palace and the treasuries standing within the last. The circuit of the outer wall is very nearly the same as that of Athens. Of this wall the battlements are white, of the next black, of the third scarlet, of the fourth blue, of the fifth orange. The two last have their battlements coated respectively with silver and gold. All these fortifications Deiokes caused to be raised for himself and his own palace; the people he required to dwell outside the citadel. When the town was finished, he established a rule that no one should have direct access to the king, but that all communications should pass through the hands of messengers. 

It was declared to be unseemly for any one to see the king face to face, or to laugh or spit in his presence. This ceremonial Deiokes established for his own security, fearing lest his compeers who had been brought up with him, and were of as good family and parts as he, should be vexed at the sight of him and conspire against him: he thought that by rendering himself invisible to his vassals they would in time come to regard him as quite a different sort of being from themselves.”

Two or three facts stand out from this legendary background. It is probable that Deiokes was an actual person; that the empire of the Medes first took shape under his auspices; that he formed an important kingdom at the foot of Mount Elvend, and founded Ecbatana the Great, or, at at any rate, helped to raise it to the rank of a capital.

[The existence of Deiokes has been called in question by Grote and by the Rawlinsons. Most recent historians, however, accept the story of this personage as true in its main facts; some believe him to have been merely the ancestor of the royal house which later on founded the united kingdom of the Medes. Its site was happily chosen, in a rich and fertile valley, close to where the roads emerge which cross the Zagros chain of mountains and connect Iran with the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, almost on the border of the salt desert which forms and renders sterile the central regions of the plateau. Mount Elvend shelters it, and feeds with its snows the streams that irrigate it, whose waters transform the whole country round into one vast orchard. The modern town has, as it were, swallowed up all traces of its predecessor; a stone lion, overthrown and mutilated, marks the site of the royal palace.]

The chronological reckoning of the native annalists, as handed down to us by Herodotus, credits Deiokes with a reign of fifty-three years, which occupied almost the whole of the first half of the seventh century, i.e. from 709 to 656, or from 700 to 647 B.C.

[Herodotus expressly attributes a reign of fifty-three years to his Deiokes, and the total of a hundred and fifty years which we obtain by adding together the number of years assigned by him to the four Median kings (53 + 22 + 40 + 35) brings us back to 709-708, if we admit, as he does, that the year of the proclamation by Cyrus as King of Persia     (559-558) was that in which Astyages was overthrown; we get 700-699 as the date of Deiokes’ accession, if we separate the two facts, as the monuments compel us to do, and reckon the hundred and fifty years of the Median empire from the fall of Astyages in 550-549.]

The records of Nineveh mention a certain Dayaukku who was governor of the Mannai, and an ally of the Assyrians in the days of Sargon, and was afterwards deported with his family to Hamath in 715; two years later reference is made to an expedition across the territory of Bit-Dayaukku, which is described as lying between Ellipi and Karalla, thus corresponding to the modern province of Hamadan. It is quite within the bounds of possibility that the Dayaukku who gave his name to this district was identical with the Deiokes of later writers.

[The form Deiokes, in place of Daiokes, is due to the Ionic dialect employed by Herodotus. Justi regards the name as an abbreviated form of the ancient Persian “Dahyaupati”–“the master of a province,” with the suffix “-ha”.]

He was the official ancestor of a royal house, a fact proved by the way in which his conqueror uses the name to distinguish the country over which he had ruled; moreover, the epoch assigned to him by contemporary chroniclers coincides closely enough with that indicated by tradition in the case of Deiokes. He was never the august sovereign that posterity afterwards made him out to be, and his territory included barely half of what constituted the province of Media in classical times; he contrived, however–and it was this that gained him universal renown in later days–to create a central rallying-point for the Median tribes around which they henceforth grouped themselves. The work of concentration was merely in its initial stage during the lifetime of Sennacherib, and little or nothing was felt of its effects outside its immediate area of influence, but the pacific character ascribed to the worthy Deiokes by popular legends, is to a certain extent confirmed by the testimony of the monuments: they record only one expedition, in 702, against Ellipi and the neighbouring tribes, in the course of which some portions of the newly acquired territory were annexed to the province of Kharkhar, and after mentioning this the annals have nothing further to relate during the rest of the reign. Sennacherib was too much taken up with his retaliatory measures against Babylon, or his disputes with Blam, to think of venturing on expeditions such as those which had brought Tiglath-pileser III. or Sargon within sight of Mount Bikni; while the Medes, on their part, had suffered so many reverses under these two monarchs that they probably thought twice before attacking any of the outposts scattered along the Assyrian frontier: nothing occurred to disturb their tranquillity during the early years of the seventh century, and this peaceful interval probably enabled Deiokes to consolidate, if not to extend, his growing authority.

But if matters were quiet, at all events on the surface, in this direction, the nations on the north and north-west had for some time past begun to adopt a more threatening attitude. That migration of races between Europe and Asia, which had been in such active progress about the middle of the second millennium before our era, had increased twofold in intensity after the rise of the XXth Egyptian dynasty, and from thenceforward a wave of new races had gradually spread over the whole of Asia Minor, and had either driven the older peoples into the less fertile or more inaccessible districts, or else had overrun and absorbed them.

Many of the nations that had fought against Ramses II. and Ramses III., such as the Uashasha, the Shagalasha, the Zakkali, the Danauna, and the Tursha, had disappeared, but the Thracians, whose appearance on the scene caused such consternation in days gone by, had taken root in the very heart of the peninsula, and had, in the course of three or four generations, succeeded in establishing a thriving state. The legend which traced the descent of the royal line back to the fabulous hero Ascanius proves that at the outset the haughty tribe of the Ascanians must have taken precedence over their fellows; it soon degenerated, however, and before long the Phrygian tribe gained the upper hand and gave its name to the whole nation.

[The name of this tribe was retained by a district afterwards included in the province of Bithynia, viz. Ascania, on the shores of the Ascanian lake: the distribution of place and personal names over the face of the country makes it seem extremely probable that Ascania and the early Ascanians occupied the whole of the region bounded on the north by the Propontis; in other words, the very country in which, according to Xanthus of Lydia, the Phrygians first established themselves after their arrival in Asia.]

Phrygia proper, the country first colonised by them, lay between Mount Dindymus and the river Halys, in the valley of the Upper Sangarios and its affluents: it was there that the towns and strongholds of their most venerated leaders, such as Midaion, Dorylaion, Gordiaion, Tataion, and many others stood close together, perpetuating the memory of Midas, Dorylas, Gordios, and Tatas. Its climate was severe and liable to great extremes of temperature, being bitterly cold in winter and almost tropical during the summer months; forests of oak and pine, however, and fields of corn flourished, while the mountain slopes favoured the growth of the vine; it was, in short, an excellent and fertile country, well fitted for the development of a nation of vinedressers and tillers of the soil. The slaying of an ox or the destruction of an agricultural implement was punishable by death, and legend relates that Gordios, the first Phrygian king, was a peasant by birth. His sole patrimony consisted of a single pair of oxen, and the waggon used by him in bringing home his sheaves after the harvest was afterwards placed as an offering in the temple of Cybele at Ancyra by his son Midas; there was a local tradition according to which the welfare of all Asia depended on the knot which bound the yoke to the pole being preserved intact.

Midas did not imitate his father’s simple habits, and the poets, after crediting him with fabulous wealth, tried also to make out that he was a conqueror. The kingdom expanded in all directions, and soon included the upper valley of the Masander, with its primeval sanctuaries, Kydrara, Colossae, and Kylsenae, founded wherever exhalations of steam and boiling springs betrayed the presence of some supernatural power. The southern shores of the Hellespont, which formed part of the Troad, and was the former territory of the Ascania, belonged to it, as did also the majority of the peoples scattered along the coast of the Euxine between the mouth of the Sangarios and that of the Halys; those portions of the central steppe which border on Lake Tatta were also for a time subject to it, Lydia was under its influence, and it is no exaggeration to say that in the tenth and eleventh centuries before our era there was a regular Phrygian empire which held sway, almost without a rival, over the western half of Asia Minor.

It has left behind it so few relics of its existence, that we can only guess at what it must have been in the days of its prosperity. Three or four ruined fortresses, a few votive stelae, and a dozen bas-reliefs cut on the faces of cliffs in a style which at first recalls the Hittite and Asianic carvings of the preceding age, and afterwards, as we come down to later times, betrays the influence of early Greek art. In the midst of one of their cemeteries we come upon a monument resembling the façade of a house or temple cut out of the virgin rock; it consists of a low triangular pediment, surmounted by a double scroll, then a rectangle of greater length than height, framed between two pilasters and a horizontal string-course, the centre being decorated with a geometrical design of crosses in a way which suggests the pattern of a carpet; a recess is hollowed out on a level with the ground, and filled by a blind door with rebated doorposts. Is it a tomb? The inscription carefully engraved above one side of the pediment contains the name of Midas, and seems to show that we have before us a commemorative monument, piously dedicated by a certain Ates in honour of the Phrygian hero.

SOURCE: History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, Volume 8 (of 12), by G. Maspero/Translated by M. L. McClure

Ancient Empires; Greco-Mesopotamian (Part 1)

SENNACHERIB (705-681 B.C.): Power Of Assyria At Its Zenith; Esarhaddon And Assur-Bani-Pal


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