In the last post we talked about the common identifications of Darius the Mede. Although the previous post discussed the popular interpretations of Darius, as stated in that post, I think there are some problems with those identifications. Further, as I have been introduced to the work of Steven Anderson (through Todd Bolen), I have become convinced that Darius the Mede can be identified with Cyaxares II, the last king of Media.
Identifying Darius the Mede as Cyaxares II has been most recently (and most thoroughly) proposed by Steven Anderson in his 2014 dissertation. However, this viewpoint is not new, and was the standard Jewish and Christian interpretation from Josephus and Jerome, until the 1870s. However, scholarship of the last 150 years has cast doubt on this viewpoint.
As charted out last time, many scholars identify Astyages as the last king of the Median dynasty. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, Astyages waged war against Cyrus but was betrayed by his army and delivered over to Cyrus in the year 550 BC. Thus, according to the Nabonidus Chronicle, Cyrus took control of Media in 550 BC. This narrative is largely supported by Herodotus, the ancient Greek historian.
However, if we consult Xenophon, a Greek historian just after Herodotus, we are told a different history—a history of Cyrus ruling Persia while in a strong alliance with Cyaxares II, the son of Astyages. According to Xenophon, the Median dynasty extended past Astyages through Cyaxares II, and when Cyaxares II died (2 years after Babylon fell), the Median kingdom peacefully passed to Cyrus (537 BC).
The Median Dynasty (with Cyaxares II)
|Scythian Rule||624–597 BC|
|Cyaxares II||549–537 BC|
Although you can read Stephen Anderson’s post for a thorough discussion of this position, for the sake of brevity, I will summarize four of Anderson’s arguments.
- The Behistun inscription states that two men of Median descent launched separate rebellions during the time of Darius the Great, falsely claiming to be of the lineage of Cyaxares. This would only make sense if Cyaxares were the last Median king. Otherwise, the claim would likely relate to being descendants of Astyages (if he was indeed the last king).
- Herodotus and Xenophon agree that the daughter of Astyages, Mandane, was the mother of Cyrus, an obvious marriage alliance between Persia and Media. This is strong evidence for viewing Persia and Media as being in some sort of strong alliance during the time of Cyrus.
- The Harran Stele mentions a “king in the land of the Medes” during Nabonidus’ 10th year (546/5 BC). This mention of a king of the Medes along with the king of Egypt provides a date for the continuation of the Median empire after the time of Cyrus’ supposed conquest as described by Herodotus and the Nabonidus Chronicle.
- A Greek playwright, Aeschylus, who dates prior to Herodotus, describes two kings who preceded Cyrus as rulers of Medo-Persia. Although he does not name them, he describes the first as the one who founded the dynasty, and the second as being in power when Babylon fell (539 BC). Aeschylus lists Cyrus as the successor of the second king. So, for Aeschylus, Cyrus takes over the Medo-Persian empire after Babylon falls.
In summary, I think there is strong evidence for Darius the Mede to be Cyaxares II, the last king of the Median empire. As such, Cyaxares II and Cyrus form a unified alliance against their enemies (including Babylon) until Cyaxares dies in peace in 537 BC. After that time, Cyrus takes over sole rule of the empire.
One of the main issues is which historical records do we view superior on this issue: Herodotus and the Nabonidus Chronicle, or the record of Xenophon. I think Stephen Anderson has done a fabulous job defending the historicity of Xenophon and showing how Cyaxares II is the most likely candidate for being Darius the Mede. Not only does it account for much of the historical evidence, it also avoids many of the problems of the other views.