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Universal- und kulturhistorische Studien.

Studies in Universal and Cultural History

Robert Rollinger · Julian Degen

Michael Gehler Editors

Empires in
World History
Universal- und kulturhistorische Studien.
Studies in Universal and Cultural History

Series Editors
Alberto Bernabé Pajares, Madrid, Spain
Sebastian Fink, Innsbruck, Austria
Ann C. Gunter, Evanston, USA
Dan T. Potts, New York, USA
Robert Rollinger, Innsbruck, Austria
Kai Ruffing, Kassel, Germany
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Welt darstellt, von dem aus „Historie“ vermessen wird. Dieser universale Blick auf
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Robert Rollinger · Julian Degen · Michael Gehler

Short-term Empires in World

Robert Rollinger Julian Degen
University of Innsbruck University of Innsbruck
Innsbruck, Austria Innsbruck, Austria

Michael Gehler
Universität Hildesheim
Hildesheim, Germany

ISSN 2524-3780 ISSN 2524-3799  (electronic)

Universal- und kulturhistorische Studien. Studies in Universal and Cultural History
ISBN 978-3-658-29434-2 ISBN 978-3-658-29435-9  (eBook)

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, part of Springer Nature 2020

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This volume assembles the papers presented at the international conference

“short-term Empires in World History: Decapitated or Defective?” convened at
Blankenheim/Eifel, Germany, June 21–23, 2017. The meeting had the character of a
symposium that intended to focus on a very specific form of empire and its character-
istics. It is part of a larger project on the history of empire that tries to approach the
phenomenon of empire through the lens of ‘universal history’. Thereby, it intends to
overcome the simplistic and Eurocentric arrangement of world history into ‘pre-modern’
and ‘modern spheres’1. This multiperspective approach was and will be achieved on five
different levels2:

• In a chronologically broad and general way: the longue durée of Empires;

• Remembering forgotten Empires;
• Short-term Empires;
• Declining, eroding and imploding Empires;
• Restructuring and transforming Empires.

Apart from the conference at Blankenheim four international conferences have been
organized so far the results of which are either already published or are about to be
published soon3.
The meeting at Blanhenheim focused on a comparative level on a specific group of
states that can be characterized as “short-term empires” by adhering to a global and uni-
versal dimension in empire studies. Geographically it attempted to take into account the
entire globe, chronologically all epochs from antiquity through the very present time. This

1For a detailed discussion of the problems involved by such an artificial division see Gehler/
Rollinger (forthcoming 2020). See also Gehler/Rollinger 2014.
2For details see the next fn.

3Gehler/Rollinger (eds.) 2014; Gehler/Rollinger (eds.) (forthcoming 2020); Gehler/Rollinger/

Strobl (eds.) (forthcoming 2021). Nickel/Rollinger (eds.) (forthcoming 2021).

vi Preface

approach voices an explicit dissociation of any Eurocentric focus and includes a confes-
sion to place empire studies within a world history perspective. Within this perspective
the volume gathers 13 contributions. The papers express a broad chronological and geo-
graphical range that starts with examples of the ancient Near East and ends with two strik-
ing examples of 20th and 21st centuries European history. They cover various regions and
epochs from the western Mediterranean across the Black Sea through Iran and Central
Asia. The studies are supplemented by an introduction of the editors, which intends to
provide some general conclusions and observations that resulted from the conference.
As always, this conference would not have been possible without generous support
from different organizations and persons. Max Otte not only hosted the conference in
Blankenheim and provided an enjoyable and pleasant framework but also contributed
considerably to the general funding. This also applies to the University of Innsbruck
with a generous allowance by the Vice Rector of Research Ulrike Tanzer. Without this
assistance the conference would not have been possible and we are very grateful for this.
Finally, we hope that the contributions of this volume will meet many interesting readers
inside and outside the flourishing field of comparative empire studies.

Robert Rollinger*
Julian Degen
Michael Gehler
*Editing of this volume as well as writing of the two contributions
have been finalized during my stay at the Getty Villa as Getty Guest
Scholar for which I would like to express my gratitude.


Gehler, Michael, and Rollinger, Robert. 2014. Imperien und Reiche in der Weltgeschichte.
Epochenübergreifende und globalhistorische Vergleiche. In Imperien und Großreiche in der
Weltgeschichte, eds. M. Gehler, and R. Rollinger, 1–29. Vol. 1, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Gehler, Michael, and Robert Rollinger (Eds.) 2014. Imperien in der Weltgeschichte.
Epochenübergreifende und globalhistorische Vergleiche, 2 Vols. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
Gehler, Michael, and Robert Rollinger (Eds.). Forthcoming 2019. Empires to be Remembered.
Heidelberg: Springer.
Gehler, Michael, and Robert Rollinger. Forthcoming 2020., Imperial Turn. Challenges, Problems
and Questions of Empire History. In Empires to be Remembered, eds. M. Gehler, and R.
Rollinger, Heidelberg: Springer.
Gehler, Michael, Rollinger, Robert, and Strobl, Philipp (Eds.). Forthcoming 2021. Decline,
Erosion and Implosion of Empires. Heidelberg: Springer.
Nickel, Lukas, and Rollinger, Robert (Eds.). Forthcoming 2021. Chinese Walls around the World.
Heidelberg: Springer.

Approaching Short-Term Empires in World History, a First Attempt. . . . . . . . . 1

Robert Rollinger, Julian Degen and Michael Gehler
The European Union: A Short-Term Empire?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Michael Gehler
The Hunnic Empire of Attila. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Peter Heather
The Timurid Empire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Beatrice F. Manz
The Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204–1261): Rise and Fall of a
Short-Term State in the Romania. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103
Ekaterini Mitsiou
Mithradates VI and the Pontic Empire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Sabine Müller
The Ghaznavids of Eastern Iran, a Postcolonial Muslim Empire . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Lucian Reinfandt
Because Empire Means Forever: Babylon and Imperial Disposition . . . . . . . . . . 167
Seth Richardson
The Medes of the 7th and 6th c. BCE: A Short-Term Empire or Rather
a Short-Term Confederacy?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
Robert Rollinger
In a League of Its Own? Nāder Šāh and His Empire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
Giorgio Rota
The Barcids and Hannibal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
Kai Ruffing

viii Contents

Theoderic and the Ostrogoths—a Short-Term Empire? Decapitated

or Defective? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 245
Christoph Schäfer
The Rise of Hitler’s Empire and Its Apex (1933–1942). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263
Arnold Suppan
From Warlord to Emperor: The Careers of Shamshi-Adad
and Hammurabi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 307
Marc Van De Mieroop
The ‘Empire’ of the Hephthalites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 317
Josef Wiesehöfer und Robert Rollinger

Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 331
The Medes of the 7th and 6th c. BCE:
A Short-Term Empire or Rather a ­Short-
Term Confederacy?

Robert Rollinger

“The traditional view of the Median Empire, dependent primarily upon Herodotus’
account of the dynasty founded by Deioces (1.96–107), is a rear projection of Greek con-
ceptions, often stereotypical, of the Achaemenid Persian Empire at its height. In other
words, for Greeks writing in the fifth and fourth centuries, it was a reconstruction of the
past based on a (mis)understanding of the contemporary”.1
With these words Matthew Waters describes the deconstruction of the still prevalent
idea of a “Median Empire” in modern scholarship and I might be supposed to imme-
diately stop here with my contribution, since if there is no “empire” then a “short term
empire” appears also to be out of scope. However, things are not so easy, and this is also
acknowledged by Waters:
“The deconstruction of the Median ‘Empire’ has to reconciled not only with the
Medes’ prominent role in Assyria’s downfall but also with their function as a significant
power on Babylonia’s eastern frontier well into the sixth century—considered as such in
both Babylonian and Greek sources—as well as the Medes’ distinctive positions in the
military and administration of the Persian Empire subsequently”.2

1Waters 2011, 243.

2Waters 2011, 246. See already Waters 2005, 533.

I would like to dedicate this contribution to the memory of my dear father Adolf Friedrich
Rollinger (1938–2019) who always had a special interest in the worlds of ancient Iran.

R. Rollinger (*) 
University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, part of Springer Nature 2020 189

R. Rollinger et al. (eds.), Short-term Empires in World History, Universal-
und kulturhistorische Studien. Studies in Universal and Cultural History,
190 R. Rollinger

Hence, there is an issue about the role the Medes played for a certain and distinctive
period of time in the ancient Near East. What I am intending to do in the following is
firstly to give a short introduction on how modern scholarship views and conceptualizes
the role of the Medes from the end of the 7th to about the middle of the 6th c. BCE, sec-
ondly, to present a short overview on the available sources on the history of the Medes
from the very beginning through the crucial time period in question, and, finally, to out-
line an evaluation of the sources under the auspices of what “empire” and “short-term
empire” are supposed to be.3

1 Modern Scholarship and the Medes

As recently as the late 20th century, it was accepted historical knowledge that the fall of
the Assyrian Empire was followed by the rise of a Median ‘empire’ which ruled over vast
areas of the Ancient Near East for half a century, until Astyages, the last Median ruler,
was overthrown by one of his own vassals, namely Cyrus the Great. It was only rela-
tively late that the important works of Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg pointed out the many
difficulties and inadequacies of this view.4 Sancisi-Weerdenburg was particularly critical
of the alleged ‘imperial’ structure and character of Median rule and identified a num-
ber of striking dissimilarities with other imperial entities of the Ancient Near East. She
also emphasised the almost complete dependency of modern historiography on Classical
(i.e., Greek) sources, to the nearly complete disregard of Ancient Near Eastern sources.
Unfortunately, ­Sancisi-Weerdenburg’s work only found very little acceptance. Moreover,
her hypotheses and conclusions were ignored, and the problematic nature of previous
scholarship was marginalised.
An international symposium held in Padova in 2001 attempted to rigorously review
all available sources and to present a secure (as far as possible) narrative of Median his-
tory.5 While the participants were largely successful in their first aim, no consensus on
an accepted narrative could be reached instead due to the frustratingly incomplete and
fragmentary nature of the sources. Thus, “the ever-nagging elusiveness of the Medes his-
torically” and “the persistent paucity of first-hand evidence on how they identified and
represented themselves”6 is still a fundamental problem modern scholarship is facing.

3I have already dealt with many of the topics under different perspectives. For a very similar over-

view on the problem see Rollinger 2018; a short sketch of the relevant data: Rollinger 2004, for
the role of “Media” in the time of Darius I: Rollinger 2005; for Media and Urartu: Rollinger 2005,
Rollinger/Kellner 2019; for the Babylonian sources and Herodotus: Rollinger 2003a, 2010; for
Ctesias as a source for the Medes: Rollinger 2011; Waters 2017.
4Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1988, 1995; see also Kienast 1999.

5Lanfranchi/Roaf/Rollinger 2003. See also Waters 2005.

6See also Root 2002.

The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 191

There was, however, a general consensus that the existence of a Median ‘empire’ can-
not be conclusively proven and should not be treated differently from other hypothe-
ses. Opinions were divided on any further detailed characterisation of historical events:
While many of those present rigorously refused it or attempted to follow through on the
theses of Sancisi-Weerdenburg by questioning the geographic extent of Median influ-
ence,7 others still chose to accept the notion of a Median ‘empire’.8 The discussion has
continued up to the present,9 By taking a closer look at the diverting opinions expressed
on Median rule between ca. 610 and 550 BCE it becomes evident that one of the most
fundamental objectives against the notion of a Median “empire” is its obvious differ-
ence as compared to its predecessor and successor empires. This is a fact and cannot be
denied. For this reason, I argued for a Median “confederation”10 and Christopher Tuplin
for a Median “domination”,11 and Matthew Waters for a “Median king holding author-
ity over other regions without the structure of an organized empire”,12 whereas Lloyd
Llewellyn-Jones even went one step further and thought it is “probably more realistic
to think of the Medes as a tribal, semi-nomadic society that had the potential to pull
together under strong leadership [...] an effective fighting force; yet an empire vision
does not seem to have been part of their traditional ­culture”.13 If at all, the larger-scale
and transregional Median rule in the Near East is limited to a little bit more than half a
century. This chronological framework between 610 and 550 BCE14 is one of the few
facts we know for certain. Thus, we may consider to rate their presence as a “short-term
empire”, and subsequently to distinguish it from the ­Neo-Assyrian and Achaemenid
empires. What follows is an attempt to tackle this “Median dilemma”15 and to throw a
more general light on the Medes and their “history”, the available sources, the problems,
and what we can state with some certainty.

7Liverani 2003; Rollinger 2003a, b; Henkelman 2003; Jursa 2003.

8Roaf 2003.
9Tuplin 2005; Rollinger 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011; Rossi 2010, 2017; Waters 2011; Radner

2013; Zournatzi 2013; Lanfranchi 2020. Unfortunately, Parker 2019 cannot be taken as a serious
contribution to the topic since he is ignorant of the most seminal publications as well as of the rel-
evant discussions and argumentations on the problem.
10See especially Rollinger 2003a, 2010.

11Tuplin 2005, 242 f.; Waters 2011.

12Waters 2011, 250.

13Llewellyn-Jones 2016, 1401.

14Waters 2011, 243 has it appropriately as “the history of the critical, yet poorly understood, period

c. 650–550 BCE—from the denouement of the Assyrian Empire to the rise of the Persian Empire
under Cyrus, i.e. the apparent zenith of Median power”.
15It is interesting to note that some recent and very prominent handbooks on Iranian history

even appear reluctant to deal with the problem at all and do not include a chapter on the Medes:
Daryaee 2012; Potts 2013.
192 R. Rollinger

2 Sources and Pre-history

During the reign of the Neo-Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858–834 BCE), the
Medes (Madāya) are mentioned for the first time. In the following centuries, they
repeatedly appear in Neo-Assyrian sources, both in royal inscriptions and in archi-
val records, mainly as opponents encountered when the Assyrian armies campaign in
the central Zagros area—where they are primarily localized—but also as vassals of the
­Neo-Assyrian super power.16 Although the Assyrians’ perception of how far the Median
population stretched eastwards remains unclear, there is evidence that it was as far as the
region of the modern cities of Teheran and Rey,17 or even further to the east.18
Not only for the Neo-Assyrian era (9th through 7th centuries BCE), but also for the
following Neo-Babylonian and early Persian times (6th c. BCE) our sources exclusively
exhibit an external view of the Medes19. For there is not a single indigenous source
representing a ‘Median’ perspective on their matters, their history, or on their agenda.
Neither do we know whether there was a shared Median identity and whether the Medes
of our sources called themselves Medes.20 Sometimes the Neo-Assyrian sources refer
to “mighty Medes” and “distant Medes”. At least these qualifications look very much
like projections from outside in order to organize the expanding knowledge of an area
becoming increasingly well known by the Assyrians. Some of these “Medes” were local-
ized inside the Empire and some of them outside. From an Assyrian perspective, this
makes them a border population. The Medes within Assyrian reach were regarded as vas-
sals and had to swear the loyalty oath to the Assyrian heir apparent Esarhaddon (672
The origin of the term Madāya is unknown. Its specific trans-regional usage evidently
derives from Assyrian practice. Like in antiquity the ethnic term “German”, picked up
from a very local and indigenous usage and artificially spread over the entire population
east of the rhine River by Caesar,21 the Assyrians might have taken up a local designation
somewhere in the central Zagros area and transferred it to a far larger population cover-
ing the whole of the central Zagros and farther to the east.
Although the designation Madāya/Medes was the most popular one, it was not the
only one used for the population of the central Zagros area. In the second half of the 8th
c. BCE, the designation “Arabs of the east” appears.22 We do not know exactly what this

16Radner 2003, 2013.

17Rollinger 2007.
18Waters 2011; Alibaigi/Rezaei 2018.

19Liverani 2003.

20Lanfranchi 2003, 84.

21Pohl 2004a, b; Steinacher, forthcoming.

22Radner 2003, 55.

The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 193

actually means23 but it seems to reveal some kind of uncertainty about how to label the
peoples of the central Zagros regions. The term “Arab” that also appears in the inscrip-
tions of Shalmaneser III for the first time in world history may as well not represent an
ethnically or linguistically determined designation. Rather, it may refer to a specific mode
of living, where transhumance or trade with camels might have played a major role.24
In Neo-Babylonian and (retrospective) Persian sources the term Ummān-manda
appears for the Medes.25 This clearly is a designation deriving from outside and has a
pejorative connotation. Moreover, it is evident that the term Madāya and the Neo-
Assyrian concept attached to it—i.e., a rather homogeneous and substantial population of
the central Zagros area—became part of a tradition. It was adapted by contemporary and
later, adjacent and more distant languages and cultures, like the Urartians, Babylonians,
Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.
As we do not know whether these Madāya had a supra-regional Median identity, we
are also ignorant about whether they represent a homogenous linguistic group.26 Thanks
to the flourishing cuneiform and later especially Greek sources many “Median” proper
names are documented. They suggest a dominant Iranian background these people might
have had. One should, however, be cautious about claiming that this evidence definitely
proves a homogenous and well-defined Iranian language which could generally and sim-
plistically be labelled as “Median”.
Such a hypothesis, although very common and likewise broadly accepted as a fact,
does not rest on firm ground.27 It is highly probable that a much larger and more com-
plex diversity of local Iranian dialects/languages lurks behind these proper names.
Certainly, we have to reckon with a larger ethnic diversity in general in these areas where
Urartian, Elamite, Assyrian, Babylonian and other languages played a certain role.28
This is not only true for the Central Zagros area but also for the North-west around Lake
Urmia where a strong Hurrian presence becomes evident in Neo-Assyrian times and
Over the two hundred years of rather extensive Neo-Assyrian documentation there is
not a single piece of evidence for a unified political entity in the central Zagros region,
let alone for a Median ‘empire’. Instead, these sources depict a highly fragmented politi-
cal landscape in the Zagros mountain region, with no discernible tendencies towards
greater centralisation. The Assyrians encounter a plurality of small political units, whose

23One may take it as a reference to a specialization in desert trade in the interior of Iran (Radner
2013) or as an indication of a rather mobile lifestyle.
24Lanfranchi 2003.

25Adalı 2011.

26Rossi 2017.

27Schmitt 2003; Rossi 2010.

28Fuchs 2011.

29Radner 2012.
194 R. Rollinger

rulers they do not call “king” but “city lord” (bēl āli).30 Many of them, yet but by far
not all of them, are designated as being “Median”.31 It seems as if there is a dynastic
component connected to this title which indirectly implies interpersonal relationships
and coalescences between these “city lords”.32 Remarkably, their cities are heavily forti-
fied with sometimes more than two rings of walls33 At least after the middle of the first
millennium BCE, transhumance appears to have gained importance in these regions.34
Horse breeding and trade/robbery also played an important role since the Khorasan
road crossed the central Zagros area. It was the predecessor of the later Silk Roads
and linked the Iranian highland with Mesopotamia. Within and beyond Assyrian con-
trol, the (Median) city lords profited considerably from the transregional overland trade
and the taxes and tolls extracted, as the Assyrian provinces in this region were estab-
lished exactly along this seminal trading route. The Assyrian practice of renaming of
local ‘cities’ as “Trading quay of (a certain Assyrian god or king)” unfolds the impor-
tance of trading stations in this eastern border regions and the empire’s efforts for con-
trol and taxation.35 Thus, the Assyrian sources never describe the Medes as nomads but
always as a sedentary population. Intensive contact with the Assyrian super-power and
its gigantic economic space was highly influential in these regions, especially when the
Assyrians began with the reign of king Sargon II (721–705 BCE) to establish provinces.
These contacts certainly transformed local societies and may also have triggered devel-
opments towards political unification that can roughly be described as “secondary state
formation”.36 This process, however never became a supra-regional phenomenon. This
conclusion is confirmed by archaeological sources that, likewise, do not indicate the
existence of a unified Median state. Important sites like Nush-e Jan, Godin Tepe, Baba
Jan Tepe, Ozbaki Tepe, Gūnespān-e Pātappeh (and now maybe also Haj Khan Tappeh
(Tappeh Hajjiabad near Razqan) do not represent ‘imperial centres’ but rather seats of

30Lanfranchi 2003. Some of these “city lords” do not bear Iranian names (Waters 2011, 245).
31Radner 2003, 2013.
32Waters 2011, 245.

33Radner 2013, 444–447. See also Gunter 1982.

34Potts 2014, 47–156. This is at least true as far as ‘pure’ nomadic pastoralism is concerned. For

transhumance, agro-pastoralism and ‘tribal societies’ there is, however, emerging evidence in
Achaemenid sources: Henkelman 2011.
35Radner 2013, 449–451.

36Brown 1986. Term and concept are not without problems as, e.g., has clearly been outlined by Di

Cosmo 2002, 171–173, and Payne 2016, 10 f., 19. I take it roughly as a designation of those fun-
damental socio-political changes at imperial border zone societies that were considerably triggered
and stimulated by the empire’s presence and actions. See, however, also the important observations
by Honeychurch 2015, 47–78, concerning the contact between empire and ‘nomads’, highlighting
autonomous dynamics in the border-zones. He also emphasizes the important aspect that “pastoral
nomads commonly spend significant time engaged in non-pastoral activities” (Honeychurch 2015,
54). For state concepts in antiquity see in general Scheidel 2013.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 195

“city lords” with no more than a local reach.37 Previously identified seats of power of
an alleged Median ‘empire’ in western Iran, like Hamadan, or outside the proper cen-
tral Zagros area, like Kerkenes Dağı in Asia Minor, do not hold up to critical scrutiny
and have been revealed as optimistic academic mirages, constructed to fit preconceived
notions of imperial Media.38
By about the middle of the 7th c. BCE, Assyrian sources on the Medes become
scanty. They reappear on the political stage during the last third of the 7th c. BCE
when the Assyrian Empire fights a final struggle for existence.39 Our main source for
these events is a Babylonian Chronicle, the so-called “Fall of Nineveh Chronicle”.40
Although the Chronicle demonstrates a Babylonian perspective on the events, it does,
however, not deny that it was not only the Babylonian forces under their usurper king
Nabopolassar (626–605 BCE) that brought the Assyrian super power to an end but a coa-
lition of Medes and Babylonians. They even concluded a formal treaty of alliance.41 The
Medes are described as ­Ummān-manda and led by a certain Umakištar (>Cyaxares in
Greek).42 Obviously they “descend” to Assyria but the origin and reach of Umakištar’s
reign remain obscure. They destroy the city of Assur in 614 BCE and Nineveh in 612
together with the Babylonians. With this event Umakištar disappears from the historical
scene, although some Medes may have participated in the Neo-Babylonian campaign to
the last Neo-Assyrian residence Harran in order to finally stab the failing Assyrians in
their back.43
The Medes prominently reappear in the inscriptions of the last Neo-Babylonian king
Nabonidus (556–539 BCE).44 Three events shed light on the Medes through a Babylonian
perception. The first one is once more related to the city of Harran in Syria (Appendix,
Text 1). Nabonidus claims during the final struggles of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 609

37Liverani 2003; Stronach 2003; Gopnik 2011; Naseri/Malekzadeh/Naseri 2016. Cf. also
Alibaigi/Aminikhah/Fatahi 2016. For Haj Khan Tappeh, c. 60 km NE of Hamadan, exca-
vated by Esmail Hemmati Azandaryani in 2017 see the preliminary report at:
40c2-bab9-3a841658cf55 (2019). There it is stated, inter alia: “The salvaging project on Tappeh
Hajiabad (Hajiabad Hill) in Hamedan led to the discovery of a huge adobe structure dating back
to the Iron Age 3 (probably the Medians) with thick walls, fire platform and seating platforms with
dimensions bigger that the Noushijan Temple.” I owe this reference to Michael Roaf to whom I am
very grateful for this.
38Boucharlat 1998; Sarraf 2003; Rollinger 2003b; see now also Summers 2018.

39Fuchs 2014.

40Grayson 1975, 90–96.

41Rollinger 2003a, 2010.

42Tavernier 2007, 217 (4.2.873).

43Rollinger 2003a.

44Rollinger 2003, 2010. For the relevant texts see the appendix at the end of this contribution.
196 R. Rollinger

the Medes destroyed the temple Ehulhul dedicated to the moon god Sîn. The Babylonians
would have been unable to rebuild the temple for more than 50 years, since the Medes
were supposedly still “roaming around”. This is clearly an ideologically biased view
where an allegedly permanent Median presence in Syria during the first half of the 6th
c. BCE is made accountable for Babylonian inactivity to rebuild the temple. In the same
way, the Medes are presented as archetypical temple destroyers, an uncoordinated and
destructive mass of people, and thus as true barbarians. A similar perspective also applies
for the second event when Nabonidus looks back on the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire
and describes the Medes as a destructive flood that not only ruined Assyria but also
Mesopotamian cultic rites and cult centers (Appendix, text 2). The third event is contem-
poraneous to Nabonidus when he focuses on the end of Median dominance in the central
Zagros area (Appendix, texts 3–4). In this context another Median leader is introduced
60 years after Umakištar. His name is Ištumegu (>Astyages in Greek).45 The event in
question is also addressed by the so-called Nabonidus Chronicle originating in Persian
times although inscription and chronicle are not in accordance concerning the dating of
the event (553 vs. 550 BCE). Ištumegu seems to have ruled a political entity of medium
size around its center, Hagmatana (>Agbatana or Ekbatana in Greek; >Hamadan in mod-
ern times), which controlled a territory not larger than the central Zagros region. He is not
presented as a relative of the former Umakištar, and his political and especially military
instruments appear to have been much less developed than those of his former predeces-
sor. He is in control neither of north-western nor of south-western Iran. He is not charac-
terized as suzerain and superior of the king of Anshan, i.e., later Cyrus the Great. Rather,
it was the latter who took the initiative and campaigned against his northern neighbour
and rival whom he quickly overthrew and plundered Hagmatana.46
With this event the Medes do not disappear from cuneiform sources. Media has a
coda in Darius’ Bisitun inscription.47 It figures as a kind of s­ upra-regional entity reach-
ing from eastern Anatolia to central western Iran and farther to the east, and as far as
the southern Caspian Sea. At first glance, one may take this as evidence for the exten-
sion of a former Median ‘empire’. But a closer look reveals that this is still a politically
fragmentary and heterogeneous area, in which several individual uprisings with differ-
ent usurpers took place, only one claiming to be a descendant of the already legendary
Umakištar. This evidence is thus best explained as a reflection of the reach of a very
short-term confederacy that owes its brief existence mainly to the special historical cir-
cumstances around the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The persistence of local traditions in a politically still fragmented landscape in these
areas during early Persian times is also demonstrated by a much-disputed passage of the

45Tavernier 2007, 291 (4.2.1443).

46Rollinger 1999, 2010.
47Rollinger 2005.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 197

so-called Nabonidus Chronicle (ii 16).48 The passage deals with a campaign of Cyrus
the Great in 547 BCE (the 9th year of king Nabonidus) towards a land which cannot be
defined with absolute certainty because the text survives only partly. Only traces of the
first character of the country’s name are preserved rather badly, and it has been argued
for about a hundred years how to read this character.49 Such readings/interpretations have
nearly always been presented as a “fact”, the tablet’s bad state of preservation and the
many different readings put forward notwithstanding. From the very beginning there
was a mainstream opinion that the first character of the country’s name has to be read
as Lu-[xxx] and the country thus to be interpreted as Luddu, i.e., Lydia. This is the main
reason for dating Cyrus’ conquest of Lydia in 547 BCE. Divergent opinions concerning
the reading of the character have always been pushed aside, and this is also true in cur-
rent discussions.50 Astonishingly, it has been totally ignored that this discussion should
not solely be based on the reading of the character in question. Obviously, the many dif-
fering opinions expressed on this vexed problem in the last hundred years undoubtedly
demonstrate that the tablet’s state of preservation is simply not sufficient to claim that
the problem can be solved by presenting the one and only definite reading.51 Rather,
one has to contextualize the problem and look at the whole passage in question. There,
it is stated that “King Cyrus (II) of Parsu mustered his army and crossed the Tigris
downstream from Arbēla (Erbil) and, in the month of Iyyar, [march]ed to X [???]. /He
defeated its king (or: put its king to death), seized its possessions, [and] set up his own
garrison [there]. After that, the king and his garrison resided there” (Nabonidus
Chronicle ii 15–18).52
The document’s geographical perspective reveals an important dimension of argu-
mentation, although this crucial point is generally nearly totally ignored, for the
alleged statement that Cyrus crossed the Tigris and marched towards Lydia is very dif-
ficult to explain. According to Google maps, the distance between Erbil and Sardis is
1739 km, calculating the shortest route through upper Mesopotamia crossing the
Euphrates at Birecik and continuing via Gaziantep to the west. But, Cyrus could not have
taken this short route, for most of the area was, at least at that time, controlled by the
Babylonians.53 If the reading Lu-[???] is supposed to be correct, he must have taken a
route via eastern Anatolia that was about 2000 km in length. This is slightly less than the
distance between Cologne and Moscow (about 2300 km). From this perspective, such
an interpretation becomes hardly tenable. It is as if a 19th c. central European source on
Napoleon’s campaign against the Tsar had described the event as follows: “The French

48Rollinger 2009.
49Rollinger 1993, 188–197.
50Rollinger/Kellner 2019.

51Cf. van der Spek 2014, 256 n. 184; more cautiously: Payne/Wintjes 2016, 14 with n. 6.

52Grayson 2000, 107.

53Jursa 2003; Rollinger 2003a.

198 R. Rollinger

emperor crossed the river Rhine below Cologne and marched against Moscow”.54 Lydia
is therefore not really an option, whereas the reading Ú-[???] is still a very attractive one.
But even if this reading cannot be proven definitively,55 it is clear that Cyrus marched
against a still independent country in the immediate reach of a route along the Tigris,
and a region in eastern Anatolia is a very good candidate. Thus the chronicle becomes
an important testimony also for Median history, for it proves that Cyrus’ conquest of
Ekbatana did not imply that he was also in control of eastern Anatolia. Apparently, there
still existed an important political entity in this area that was only conquered by Cyrus in
547 BCE. There is further indirect evidence for this.
We know that Darius I and Xerxes set up inscriptions not only in their favourite
residences such as Persepolis and Susa, but also in residences of those former political
entities that were conquered by Cyrus and in which the early Achaemenids presented
themselves as true and legitimate successors of their Teispid predecessors.56 This is true
for Hamadan and Babylon, e.g., but also for Van. The inscription placed at a steep rocky
flank of the former Urartian capital was obviously tremendously important, for Xerxes
explicitly mentions that his father Darius already intended its construction, but only he
was able to achieve this. The inscription however, only makes sense if the choice of the
location commemorates the former capital of a substantial political entity that ended
through Teispid conquest. Together with the evidence from the Nabonidus Chronicle,
this means that in the first half of the 6th century BCE the Medes cannot have been in
permanent control of eastern Anatolia. Their power was mainly limited to the central
Zagros area.
Now, the Classical sources get important. There is, e.g., Herodotus’ testimony that
during an eclipse generally dated to 585 BCE, the Medes and the Lydians met at the
river Halys in central Anatolia to forge an alliance. Although many historians still treat
Herodotus as sourcebook, simply used like a quarry to rephrase history, it is increasingly
clear that he has to be dealt with as a literary work completed during the Peloponnesian
War, presenting a view of the past, first and foremost, through a Greek lens of around
420 BCE. In his Histories, he skilfully elaborates ancient Near Eastern history as a
sequence of empires. In this literary construction empire is modelled according to the
Persian-Achaemenid Empire of Herodotus’ own time.57 This is also the guiding prin-
ciple of Ctesias’ work, which survived only in fragments, developing Herodotus’ con-
cept of a Median ‘empire’ even further.58 It is Herodotus, and especially Ctesias, who

54Additionally,one hast to stress that the perception of space is not an absolute value. 2300 km was
a much larger distance in Cyrus’ times, when Lydia was perceived to be at the western fringes of
the world.
55Rollinger/Kellner 2019.

56Rollinger 2015, 118–120.

57Bichler 2000; Rollinger 2003c, 2014; Rollinger/Truschnegg/Bichler 2011; Dunsch/Ruffing 2013.

58Wiesehöfer/Rollinger/Lanfranchi 2011.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 199

formed the basis for later Classical sources that structured world history as a sequence
of empires—a view that was adopted by late antique Christianity and passed on through
the Middle Ages to modern times.59 It is mainly this reception history that saved the
Medes a prominent place in a Western view of world history canonized over a lengthy
period. Both Herodotus and Ctesias describe Median history as a succession of kings
ruling a united and far-reaching territory from the beginning to the very end.60 Apart
from the name of the last king Astyages, however, they completely disagree about the
number of these kings, their names, and the duration of the Median period. They only
share two facts with indigenous ancient Near Eastern sources: It was the Medes who
brought the Assyrian Empire to an end, and it was Cyrus who overcame the last Median
king Astyages. It was apparently the fall of the Assyrian Empire that directed historical
attention towards the Medes, yet without much further information on what these Medes
really were. Herodotus, moreover, reports a famous story about how the Medes estab-
lished monarchy. But this story has been decoded as a mix of Iranian mythology and
Greek sophistic theories of the end of the 5th c. BCE on how states come into being.61
Whereas Ctesias’ Medes control the entire Ancient Near East, those of Herodotus do
not. Their reach extends as far west as the river Halys (Kızılırmak) where they allegedly
share a border with the Lydians. This border, however, looks very much like a Greek
construction of the 5th c. to organize ancient Near Eastern history.62 In order to prove
such a construction it is connected with a legendary story. This is exactly the “historical”
context for localizing the Median-Lydian treaty at the river Halys and for the famous
story about the sage Thales who has predicted an eclipse of the sun that brought Median-
Lydian strife to an end. The Medes might have been roaming through Anatolia for a very
brief period of time, and they may indeed have concluded a treaty with the Lydians, but
there was no permanent Median control of eastern—let alone central—Anatolia in the
6th c. BCE.63
Finally, some additional evidence demonstrates that the claim for a Median
­‘short-term-empire’ is not without problems.64 There are no archaeological remains of
imperial centres, nor are there documentary archives surviving from a supposed Median
administration. Not a single document has come down to us from their supposed domain,

59Wiesehöfer 2003, 2005; Mari 2018; cf. also Mari 2016.

60Rollinger 2010, 2011.
61Panaino 2003; Meier/Patzek/Walter/Wiesehöfer 2004; see also Gufler 2016.

62Rollinger 2003a.

63The adoption of the term ‘Mede’ as general synonym for ‘Persian’ in Greek sources, attested

since the later 6th century BCE can be seen as evidence of an ephemeral contact between Medes
and Greeks in Asia Minor that originate in Median raids to central Anatolia.
64The alleged intermediary role in transmitting Neo-Assyrian artistic traditions with political

connotations subscribed to the Medes by modern scholars can be ascribed to Elam or the Neo-
Babylonian Empire (Seidl 1994; Liverani 2003; Waters 2005, 527; 2013; Tavernier 2018).
200 R. Rollinger

since multiple documents previously thought to have done so have been shown to be
untrustworthy. There is also no contemporary correspondence between foreign kings and
Median rulers, neither from Babylonia nor from any other country. In the entire 3000-
year history of the Ancient Near East, the Medes would thus have established the only
‘empire’ from which no kind of textual documentation, neither from inside nor from out-
side, has survived to this day.

3 Short-Term Empire or Short-Term Confederacy?

In addition to these negative findings, which result from careful re-evaluation of existing
evidence the model of a geographically and chronologically limited political ‘confeder-
acy’ dominated by Iranian peoples has been developed as an alternative to the notion of
a Median ‘empire’. In the short term, this confederacy likely played an important role in
the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. Of course, as we know
from comparative history confederacies can develop into imperial policies as well.65
But this never happened with the Medes where comparable imperial structures never
emerged. A prime motivation of the members of this ‘confederacy’ is said to have been
raids reaching as far as central Anatolia. There was no organised ‘rule’ as such, no stable
authority, as the ‘confederacy’ was in itself a short-lived collective brought together by
momentarily overlapping goals and ambitions. As such, it was more likely dominated by
short-term alliances and dependencies which would scarcely have endured beyond the
next raiding season. If any coherent order of rule developed at all, as this theory goes,
it could only have happened in the central Zagros region between the lake of Urmia
and Elam. Some kind of centralization or re-organization might have taken place there
since archaeologically evidenced ‘Median’ sites like Nush-e Jan, Godin Tepe, Baba Jan
Tepe, Gūnespān-e Pātappeh (and now maybe also Haj Khan Tappeh/Tappeh Hajjiabad
near Razqan) appear to have been abandoned in the second half of the 7th c. BCE.66
One may wonder whether this process reveals changes in the political organization of
the Central Zagros region, and if so, whether these emerged before or after the sack of
the Assyrian capitals. It is easy to imagine that the latter event resulted in a subsequent
social and political restructuring triggered by the immense amount of plunder and short-
lived wealth introduced into the region. However, the dimension of this supposed to be
‘centralisation’ is absolutely unclear. When Kuraš/Cyrus overcomes Astyages/Ištumegu
according to the Nabonidus Chronicle (Appendix, text 5) the latter appears to be a struc-
turally weak ruler with no real command over his army. Obviously, this takeover had
a trans-regional dimension, otherwise the Babylonian Chronicle would not have taken

65Cf, e.g., the ‘kinetic empire’ of the highly mobile Comanches: Hämäläinen 2008, 2013. See in

general also Gehler/Rollinger 2014; Gehler/Rollinger 2020.

66This is at least clear for Nush-e Jan and Godin Tepe.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 201

notice of the event. But this does not have to mean that Astyages/Ištumegu controlled a
gigantic area from Central Anatolia to Eastern Iran. Not at all, the event’s significance
for Babylonia was down to the fact that Astyages/Ištumegu controlled the region of
Hamadan and thus the central Zagros area. This was a node for any overland traffic to
the east, the entrance of the Khorasan Road, the later Silk Road that was of vivid inter-
est of any lowland ‘empire’, be it Babylonian or Assyrian. What we know much better
now than we did about a decade ago is that it was not only the ‘empires’ of the third
millennium like Agade and Ur III that were eager to supervise this seminal vital line of
economic and political power. From the very beginning of the second millennium BCE
Babylonian polities left their fingerprint in this region which sites like Chogha Gavaneh
clearly demonstrate.67 This continued all through the second half of the second mil-
lennium BCE when the Babylonian ‘imperial kingdoms’68 of the Kassites and Isin II
tried to control exactly that very region as far as Hamadan. Although they were again
and again challenged by Elam, on a long term perspective they were rather successful
in doing this.69 When the Neo-Assyrian Empire entered the scene in the 9th c. BCE, the
Assyrian kings were just continuing this political strategy manifesting Assyrian politi-
cal, cultural, and economic presence even far beyond the region of Hamadan.70 Seen
through this lens, the presence of a Median ‘local’ power in the central Zagros area and
its control of the gateway to the Iranian highland was of utmost Babylonian concern.
As it seems, this area slipped away from lowland control after the downfall of the Neo-
Assyrian Empire,71 although the Assyrian heartland itself appears to have been firmly
in Babylonian hands. Thus, when the Nabonidus Chronicle mentions that Kuraš/Cyrus
defeated Astyages’/Ištumegu’s there is no need to conclude that the latter must have
ruled over a vast empire. On the contrary, a closer look even highlights a somehow local
rule that was bound to Ekbatana, and, as already underlined, a rather week ruler, since
his troops refused to give him allegiance just before battle and defected (Appendix, text

67Abdi/Beckman 2007.
68Using this term, I am following a suggestion by Kulke 1986, 1–22, who developed this idea with
a view on the history of southeast Asia. ‘Imperial kingdom’ characterizes territorial states that have
an imperial claim without representing a ‘real’ empire. They are either neighbors of ‘real’ empires,
are competing for imperial primacy with other ‘imperial kingdoms’ or they are what has been
remained from former ‘real’ empires. Taken as such they represent a sort of a phenomenon that
may be dubbed as ‘imperial transformation’.
69Fuchs 2017. Potts 2017. Potts forthcoming b.

70Radner 2003, 2013; Fuchs 2011.

71This might also have had serious consequences for the Babylonian management of far-distance

trade. Examining the extant sources one has the impression that there is much more about f­ ar-distance
trade with the west than with the east. If eastern, i.e. Central-Asian and Indian, trading goods are con-
cerned the route via the Sealand and across the Persian Gulf appears to have played a major role in
Neo-Babylonian times. Cf. Kleber 2017, 1–29. See also in general Graslin-Thomé 2009.
202 R. Rollinger

5). That the Babylonians noticed even this detail is also revealing, for it threw some light
on the power of the new ruler who, obviously, was in a class by himself. This becomes
even more true if the Nabonidus Chronicle is a product of much later times that tele-
scopes on past events (Kuraš’s/Cyrus’s defeat of Astyages/Ištumegu) through an ex
eventu perspective (Kuraš’s/Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon, more than ten years later).72
Be that as it may, there is also no reason to doubt that Median rule was not any-
more organized around an urban center in the same way as it was the case during
Neo-Assyrian times. Hamadan/Ekbatana might have played an increasing role in this
context although we are still lacking archaeological evidence for this. In any case, the
Median core area is still inhabited by a (mainly) sedentary population. This is an impor-
tant observation, for there is a tendency in modern scholarship to qualify the Medes as
non-sedentary nomads.73 Although this has no basis in our available sources,74 it can-
not be excluded that there was also a pastoralist element tightly intertwined with
Median societies and that a ‘tribal’ element played some role in this context.75 However,
“true” nomadism, i.e. nomadism that goes beyond semi-nomadism and transhumance,
appears to emerge in Iran only around the middle of the first millennium BCE only.76
Evidence for nomadism in the geographical ranges of the Iranian highland is to a high
degree based on Classical sources,77 although there is now also increasing material from

72Waerzeggers 2015, 96, 115–116.

73Cf. above Llewellyn-Jones 2016, 1401.
74As Margaret Cool Root (Root, forthcoming) demonstrated convincingly the depiction of the

Median delegation at the Apadana of Persepolis represents, on the one hand, a notion of (non-Per-
sian) pan-Iranian connectivity, on the other hand, a concept of craft enterprise and fabrication that
does not really fit to a general idea of a pastoralist population on the move. Also in this context it
is much more appropriate to think of a mainly sedentary population where, however, horse-breed-
ing played a crucial economic role and where horse-riding became a distinctive marker of nobility
and social distinction. Moreover, Root considerably downgrades the purported prominent Median
role under the Achaemenids. This is also a crucial argument against the alleged significant Median
component of continuity between Assyria and the Achaemenids which has always been taken as a
‘major’ indication of the existence of a Median ‘empire’ (Roaf 2003).
75Cf. Waters 2005, 523–25.

76Potts 2014, 47–119. According to Di Cosmo 2002, 23–27 pastoral cultures appeared for the

first time in western Eurasian steppes in the 3rd millennium BCE which, in the course of the 2nd
millennium BCE developed into a form of Agro-Pastoralism. The transition to “actual pasto-
ral nomadism as practised by horseback riders” only emerged around the turn of the first millen-
nium BCE. Cf. also in general Honeychurch/Makarewicz 2016, and Khazanov 1994, 2015. For
the close relationship between pastoralists and sedentary societies and their intensive exchange
in Bronze Age Central Asia see Rouse/Cerasetti 2018. The same is true for Iron Age south-east-
ern Kazakhstan (Semirech’ye) where the idea of an entirely nomadic population of horse-riding
warriors turns out to be a trope (Chang 2018). What we find is a mixed agro-pastoral popula-
tion in a decentralized state of a larger sedentary population together with transhumant herders.
Nevertheless, it is these contexts, where, according to Chang a more far-reaching nomadic confed-
eracy evolved.
77Potts 2014, 88–119. See also Rapin 2007.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 203

Achaemenid sources themselves.78 This is obviously a highly problematical testimony. It

is true that horse-riding and horse-breeding start to play an increasing role in these times,
but even in the later Achaemenid period cavalry units, although important, make up only
a minor part of the Great King’s army.79 The short-term Median reach as far as central
Anatolia in the west and the area south of the Caspian Sea in the East should not be
explained by the mobility of a tribal army but by the capacities of traditional armies of
the first millennium BCE whose resources are based on urban structures. This, obviously,
also includes cavalry units.80
However, it is not only the Classical sources that obscure our perspective. Thus, the
inscriptions of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus carry clear connotations of dis-
order and chaos when dealing with the Medes. Their appearance is characterized as a
great flood and their military organisation is described as a loose bunch of people with
primitive hierarchies. The loose and mixed structure of Median rule as evidenced by this
wording only partly bears some truth. It reveals a confederacy revolving around a charis-
matic leader or warlord that is characterised by the formulation of “Kings who march at
his side”.81 Particular verses in the Book of Jeremiah paint a similar picture by describ-
ing Median kings (plural!) as part of a larger federation.82 However, these testimonies
also bear a connotation of barbarian non-sedentary hordes which is clearly ideologically
biased and constructed as opposed to Mesopotamian civilisation. All this characterizes
the ­short-term Median rule much more as a domination based on a confederal struc-
ture than as an empire. This may have implied, by all means, “a system of hierarchi-
cal, informal (but de facto) rule”83 that was, however, very short-lived. This rule never
included Mesopotamia properly, i.e. one of the core areas of its predecessor and succes-
sor empires. Moreover, it appears to have been based on very weak organizational struc-
tures. There is, however, one basic element Median rule shared with nearly all empires in
world history.84 This is its dominant position in later tradition where the Medes became
one of the basic empires in world history, i.e. a direct line of succeeding empires from
the Neo-Assyrian founder empire through the Roman epigone. This conception emerged

78Henkelman 2011. It is, e.g., interesting to note that only about 10% of the personal names of the

onomastikon of the Persepolis Fortification Archive are Elamite whereas about 50% of the herds-
men bear Elamite names (Henkelman 2011, 4 f.). This immediately makes clear that the popu-
lar view of a sedentary Elamite and a ­non-sedentary ‘Iranian’ population cannot withstand critical
79Tuplin 2010.

80For Medes as riders see Jacobs/MacDonald 2009; Potts forthcoming a. For problems inher-

ent with the depictions at the Apadana reliefs of Persepolis and their distinctive connotations of
“Medianess” see Root, forthcoming.
81Rollinger 2003a, 318.

82Liverani 2003, 8 f; Waters 2011.

83Waters 2011, 249.

84Gehler/Rollinger 2014; 2020.

204 R. Rollinger

from an external perspective, initiated by Greek historiography, and became part of a

Christian world view that guided perceptions of world history until the end of the 18th
CE and beyond into our days. Does this imply that we have to take Median rule over
the Near East as a rare example of an empire conceptualized by tradition only that is not
based on historical reality? Maybe this is a too strict and rigorous stance.
The fall of the Neo-Assyria Empire that is the superpower of its time, was a major
event for all contemporaries and the Medes were one of the main actors on this historical
stage. Median statehood and territorial organization was very much triggered not only by
its close contact with this empire but probably also by its proximity to other territorial
states that emerged in the Zagros region in the 7th c., such as Ellipi, Mannea, Hubuškia,
Muṣaṣir, Ukku and Šubria, including Elam and Urartu at its southern and northern
fringes. This scenario offered perfect opportunities of vast expansion since these terri-
tories were already organized and coherently administered. However far Median reach
went, it was primarily a reach along the Zagros to eastern and central Anatolia and prob-
ably also to areas to the south of the Caspian Sea. In contrast, the southern Zagros area
was out of this reach. There, another transregional power center emerged that indeed
became the core of a future empire. Media was too weak to resist the expansion of this
upcoming new policy and was both overthrown in one single campaign and its capital
was sacked. This, indeed, was somehow a decapitation, but hardly a decapitation of a
short-term empire. Like many other states of this time, Media was captured by Cyrus. It
had not really moved far towards imperial structures. If one still insists to assess Median
rule as “empire” it is at its best defined as a defected empire that, at least in the central
Zagros area, paved the way for the Achaemenid-Persian super-power that would rule the
world for the next 200 years.

Appendix: Babylonian Cuneiform Sources on the Medes85

Text 1: Nabonidus (556–539 BCE); Babylon-Stele x 1′–31′ (explaining why it had taken
so long to restore the Ehulhul, a temple to the lunar deity Sîn in Harrān)86

85Translations of the texts on the basis of the editions by Schaudig 2001 and Grayson 2000 for
detailed comments on texts 1–5 see Rollinger 2003a, 2010; on texts 3–5, see also Rollinger 1999.
86Babylon Stele X 1′–31′ (after Schaudig 2001, 521): […] 1′šá iš-[ša-al-lu] 2′i-ši-it-[ta-šu-un] 3′la

ir-mu-ú šu-bat-[su]-nu 4′dAMAR.UTU be-lí ia-ti 5′ú-qá-’a-an-ni-ma ­6′ú-te-ed-du-šú me-si DINGIR

7′ú-šá-áš-kin ŠU.MIN-ú-a 8′sú-ul-lu!(KU)-mu DINGIR.MEŠ ze-nu-tú 9′šu-ur-ma-a šu-bat-sú-

un 10′ina pi-i-šú el!(NIN9xMIN)-lu i-ta-me 11′a-na ­pa-le-e-a 12′[har]-ra-nuki É!.HÚL.HÚL 13′ša

in-na-du-u 54 MU.MEŠ 14′ina šal-pu-ut-ti ­ÉRIN-man-du 15′uš-tah-ri-bi eš-re-ti 16′i-te-ek-pu-uš
17′it-ti DINGIR.MEŠ 18′a-dan-nu sa-li-mu 19′54 MU.AN.NA.MEŠ 20′e-nu-ma d30 21′i-tu-ru áš-ru-

uš-šú 22′i-na-an-na 23′a-na aš-ri-šu 24′i-tu-ra-am-ma 25′d30 EN a-gi-i 26′ih-su-su šu-bat-sú 27′ṣir-ti
u DINGIR.MEŠ 28′ma-la it-ti-šú 29′ú-ṣu-ú!(AŠ) <ina > ku-um-mi-šú 30′dAMAR.UTU-ma LUGAL
DINGIR.MEŠ 31′iq-ta-bi pa-har-šú-un. Translation after Schaudig 2001, 528 with minor changes.
Cf. also Rollinger 2003, 297.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 205

[As to rebuild the temples of the gods] whose storehouses [were plundered] and
where they had not established their residence [since …], Marduk, my lord, waited for
me and entrusted me with the restoration of the divine cults. He decreed by his pure
utterance the appeasement of the angry gods and my (re)establishment of their dwellings
(as a duty) for my rule. (Concerning) Harran (and) the Ehulhul, which had been lying
in ruins for 54 years (whose) sanctuaries had been destroyed by the devastation of the
Ummān-Manda (and), to which the sign of the gods, the time for the reconciliation, had
now approached, (after) 54 years, when Sîn should have returned to his place. Now he
had returned to his place, and Sîn, the lord of the tiara, remembered his lofty seat, and
(as to) all the gods who left his chapel with him, it is Marduk, the king of the gods, who
ordered their gathering.

Text 2: Nabonidus (556–539 BCE); Babylon-Stele ii 1′–41′ (looking back on events

around the fall of Assyria)87
He (i.e. Marduk) gave him (i.e. Nabopolassar) a helper, he caused him to have a
friend. The king of the Ummān-manda who had no rival he caused to submit to his com-
mand. He caused him to go to his assistance. Above and below, to the right and to the left
he levelled like a flood. He took revenge, for Babylon he wrought retribution. The king
of the Ummān-manda who was impudent ruined the sanctuaries of the gods of the land
Subartu (i.e. Assyria)—all of them as well as the cities bordering to the land of Akkad
which had been hostile to the king of the land of Akkad and (which) had not gone to his
assistance. He ruined their cultic rites. None he did spare. He destroyed their cult centres.
He was outstanding like a flood. The king of Babylon, the creation of Marduk, he, to
whom nastiness is a taboo, he did not lay his hands on the cult of any god. He wore dirty
hair (and) he slept on the ground.

87Babylon Stele ii 1′–41′ (after Schaudig 2001, 516): ­1′re-ṣu id-din-[šum] 2′tap-pa-a ú-šar-ši-iš
3′LUGAL um-man-ma-an-da 4′šá ma-hi-ri la i-šu-u 5′ú-šak-ni-iš 6′qí-bi-tu-uš-šu 7′ú-šá-lik re-ṣu-ut-
su [e-li]-iš u šap-liš 9′[im-nu] ù ­šu-me-lu 10′[a-bu]-ba-niš is-pu-un 11′ú-tir gi-mil-lu 12′TIN.TIRki
13′i-ri-ba tuk-te-e 14′LUGAL um-man-ma-an-da 15′la a-di-ru 16′ú-šá-al-pi-it 17′eš-re-et-su-un 18′šá


19′ka-la-šu-nù 20′u URUmeš pa-aṭ KUR KI.URI 21′šá it-ti LUGAL KUR

KI.URI na-ak-ru-ma la il-li-ku 24′re-ṣut-sú 25′ú-šá-al-pi-it-ma 26′mé-e-si-šu-un 27′ma-na-ma

22′ 23′

la i-zib 28′ú-šah-ri-ib 29′ma-ha-zi-šu-un 30′ú-ša-ti-ir 31′a-bu-bi-iš 32′LUGAL TIN.TIRki 33′ ­ ši-pi-ir

dAMAR.UTU 34′ša ši-il-la-ti 35′ik-kib-šu 36′la ú-bil ŠUmin-šú 37′a-na pel-lu-de-e 38′DINGIRmeš ka-

la-ma 39′iš-ši ma-la-a 40′ma-a-a-al qaq-qar 41′i-na-al. Translation after Schaudig 2001, 523 with
minor changes. Cf. also Rollinger 2003, 301–303.
206 R. Rollinger

Text 3: Nabonidus (556–539 BCE); Ehulhul Cylinder i 15–29 (relating the divine
appearance of Marduk and Sîn in a dream and their exhortation to rebuild the temple)88
In the beginning of my everlasting reign they (Marduk and Sîn) caused me to see a
dream. Marduk, the great lord, and Sîn, the luminary of heaven and the underworld, were
standing together. Marduk spoke to me: “Nabonidus, king of Babylon, carry bricks on
your horses, build the Ehulhul and establish the dwelling of Sîn, the great lord, in its
midst”. Reverently I spoke to the Enlil of the gods, Marduk: “(But) that temple which
you told (me) to build, the Ummān-Manda surrounds it, and his might is excessive”.
But Marduk spoke to me: “The Ummān-Manda whom you mentioned, he, his country
and the kings who march at his side will cease to exist”. (And indeed), when the third
year arrived, they (Marduk and Sîn) had Cyrus, king of Anšan, his young servant, arise
against him (the Ummān-Manda). He scattered the large (armies) of the Ummān-Manda
with his small army. He captured Astyages, the king of the Ummān-Manda, and took
him to his country as captive.

Text 4: Nabonidus (556–539 BCE); Harrān-Cylinder i′7′–17′ (relating the divine appear-
ance of Marduk and Sîn in a dream and their exhortation to rebuild the temple)89
(Then Marduk spoke to me): “The Ehulhul build [quickly] and let them (i.e. Sîn,
Ningal, Nusku and Sadarnunna) have their seat therein!” [Rev]erently I spoke to the
Enlil of the gods, Marduk: “[Lord of the] lords, compassionate Marduk! But, the city and
that temple whose [erect]ing you told (me), (whose erecting) was put in your mouth –
[the Ummān-Mand]a surrounds it, and his might is excessive, [… ] … a rival he does not
have! How [… A]styages, king of the Ummān-Manda. Can I build the temple (and) have
[the gods of Ha]rran dwell ther[ein]? [… wi]th me the for[ces of … ”] (break)

88Ehulhul Cylinder i 15–29 (lines are counted according to ‘text 1’ of Schaudig 2001, 416 f.): 15i-na
re-eš LUGAL-ú-ti-ia da-rí-ti ú-šab-ru-’i-in-ni šu-ut-ti 16dAMAR.UTU EN GAL ù d+EN.ZU na-an-
na-ri AN-e ù KI-tì 17iz-zi-zu ki-lal-la-an dAMAR.UTU i-ta-ma-a it-ti-ia 18dNÀ-NÍ.TUKU LUGAL
TIN.TIRki i-na ANŠE.KUR.RA ­ru-ku-bi-ka 19i-ši SIGhi.a 4 É.HUL.HUL e-pu-uš-ma d+EN.ZU EN
GAL-ú 20i-na qé-er-bi-šu šu-ur-ma-a šu-ba-at-su 21pa-al-hi-iš a-ta-ma-a a-na d+EN.LÍL DINGIR.
MEŠ dAMAR.UTU 22É šu-a-tì ša taq-bu-ú e-pe-šu 23lúÉRIN-man-da sa-hi-ir-šum-ma pu-ug-gu-lu
­e-mu-qá-a-šu 24dAMAR.UTU-ma i-ta-ma-a it-ti-ia lúÉRIN-man-da šá taq-bu-ú 25ša-a-šu ­KUR-šu
ù LUGAL.MEŠ a-lik i-di-šu ul i-ba-áš-ši 26i-na ša-lu-ul-ti MU.AN.NA i-na ka-šá-du 27ú-šat-bu-
niš-šum-ma Iku-ra-áš LUGAL kuran-za-an ÌR-su ṣa-ah-ri 28i-na um-ma-ni-šú i-ṣu-tu lúÉRIN-man-da
rap-šá-a-ti ú-sap-pi-ih 29Iiš-tu-me-gu LUGAL lúÉRIN-man-da ­iṣ-bat-ma ka-mu-ut-su a-na KUR-šu

89Harrān-Cylinder I´7´-17´ (after Schaudig 2001, 473): 7´É.HÚL.⌈HÚL⌉ 8´[ha-an-ṭiš] ⌈e!⌉-pu-

il-qé. Translation after Schaudig 2001, 436 f. with minor changes. Cf. also Rollinger 2010, 78 f.

uš-ma ina qer!-bi-šú ⌈šu-úr?(TU)-ma-a šu-bat-sú-un⌉ 9´[pal]-hi!?-iš a-ta-ma-a a-na dEN.LÍL

DINGIR.MEŠ ⌈dAMAR.UTU⌉ 10´[EN] EN EN r­eme!(ŠU)-nu-ú dAMAR.UTU ⌈um!⌉-ma URU u
⌈É! šú-a-tú⌉ 11´[šá e-p]eš-su taq-bu-ú iš-šak-nu ina pi-i-⌈ka!⌉ 12´[ÉRIN-man-d]a sa-hir-šum-ma pu-
ug-gu-lu ⌈e-mu-qa-a-šú⌉ 13´[x x x] ⌈­ x⌉-ma šá-ni-ni ul i-ši ki-ki-i 14´[ x x x Ii]š-tu-me-gi LUGAL
ÉRIN!-man-da ép-pu-šu* É 15´[DINGIR.MEŠ šu-ut uruha]r-⌈ra⌉-nu ú-šeš!-še-bu qé-r[eb-šú].
Translation with minor changes after Schaudig 2001, 473. Cf. also Rollinger 2003a, 298 n. 49.
The Medes of the 7th and 6th C. BCE: A Short-Term Empire … 207

Text 5: Nabonidus Chronicle (relating to Astyages’/Ištumegu’s defeat by Kuraš/Cyrus)90:

(Astyages) mustered (his army) and marched against Cyrus (II), king of Anshan, for con-
quest […] The army rebelled against Astyages and he was taken prisoner. Th[ey handed
him over] to Cyrus (II). ([…]) Cyrus (II) <marched> to Ecbatana, the royal city. The sil-
ver, gold, goods, property, […] which he carried off as booty (from) Ecbatana he took to
Anshan. The goods (and) property of the army of […]

Characterisation of Median rule in the Ehulhul and the Harrān Cylinder

(a) Kūraš (Cyrus) is described in text 3 l. i 27 as arassu ṣahru, “his lowly servant”;
this in all likelihood refers to Marduk, not Ištumegu. This assertion has implications
reaching beyond the contentious questions of Cyrus’ supposed feudal duties towards
Ištumegu. Indeed, it may serve to further elucidate our understanding of Median king-
ship. The “numerous Ummān-manda” (ummān-manda rapšāti), whose power is as
enormous (puggulu emūqāšu) as they are apparently invincible (šānini ul iši), must
be seen in this light: characterisations such as these serve primarily to mark them as
instruments of the divine will of Marduk. It is only because they act as his instru-
ment, that the “few soldiers” (ummānīšu iṣūtu) of Cyrus, servant of Marduk, are able
to overcome their enemies. But still, these texts too, utilise the apparently widespread
image of the Ummān-manda as a vast conglomerate of peoples.
(b) In text 3 and 4, Ištumegu (Astyages) appears as “King of the Ummān-manda” (šar
ummān-manda), but the ethnonym and, by implication, his kingship carries certain
pejorative connotations. The barbarous and inchoate nature of this ‘horde’ is exem-
plified by the striking image of their prowling around (sahiršūma: Ehulhul-Zylinder,
l. i 23; Harrān-Zylinder, l. iʹ 12ʹ) the temple for a number of years. But beyond this,
we find a striking comment of the nature of Ištumegu’s rule, as the fate decreed by
Marduk and Sîn affects not only him, but also “the kings, that are marching alongside
him” (šarrāni ālik idīšu: Ehulhul-Zylinder l 25). The precise wording of this passage
is mirrored not only in the Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, but also in several passages
from the Old Testament (Jer. 25,25 f.; 51,11; 27 f.). What we have here, is in fact an
important indication of how Ištumegu’s rule was seen from a contemporary perspec-
tive (or, at the very least, from a contemporary Babylonian point of view), namely as
a form of tribal confederacy.

90Nabonidus Chronicle ii 1–4 (according to Grayson 2000, 106): 1­ [id]-[ke]-e-ma ana UGU Iku-raš
LUGAL an-šá-an ana ka-š[á-di i]l-lik-ma […] 2Iiš-tu-me-gu ÉRIN-šú BAL-su-ma ina ŠUII ṣa-bít
a-na Iku-raš id-d[i-nu] 3Iku-raš a-na kura-gam-ta-nu URU LUGAL-ú-tu < il-lik-ma > KÙ.BABBAR
KÙ.SIG17 NÌ.ŠU NÌ.GUR11 […] 4šá ­kura-gam-ta-nu iš-lul-ú-ma a-na kuran-šá-an il-qé NÌ.ŠU
NÌ.GUR11 šá ERÍN […].
208 R. Rollinger


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