Written by Strabo circa 7 BC
Media is divided into two parts, one of which is called Greater Media. Its capital is Ecbatana1, a large city containing the royal seat of the Median empire. This palace the Parthians continue to occupy even at this time. Here their kings pass the summer, for the air of Media is cool. Their winter residence is at Seleucia2, on the Tigris, near Babylon.
The other division is Atropatian Media3. It had its name from Atropatus, a chief who prevented this country, which is a part of Greater Media, from being subjected to the dominion of the Macedonians. When he was made king he established the independence of this country; his successors continue to the present day, and have at different times contracted marriages with the kings of Armenia, Syria, and Parthia.
Atropatian Media borders upon Armenia and Matiane towards the east, towards the west on the Greater Media, and on both towards the north; towards the south it is contiguous to the people living about the recess of the Hyrcanian Sea, and to Matiane. According to Apollonides its strength is not inconsiderable, since it can furnish 10,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry.
It contains a lake called Spauta4, in which salt effloresces, and is consolidated. The salt occasions itching and pain, but oil is a cure for both, and sweet water restores the color of clothes, which have the appearance of being burnt, when they have been immersed in the lake by ignorant persons for the purpose of washing them.
They have powerful neighbors in the Armenians and Parthians, by whom they are frequently plundered; they resist however, and recover what has been taken away, as they recovered Symbace5 from the Armenians, who were defeated by the Romans, and they themselves became the friends of Cæsar. They at the same time endeavor to conciliate the Parthians.
The summer palace is at Gazaka6, situated in a plain; the winter palace is in Vera, a strong fortress which Antony besieged in his expedition against the Parthians. The last is distant from the Araxes, which separates Armenia and Atropatene, 2,400 stadia, according to Dellius, the friend of Antony, who wrote an account of the expedition of Antony against the Parthians, which he himself accompanied, and in which he held a command.
The other parts of this country are fertile, but that towards the north is mountainous, rugged, and cold, the abode of the mountain tribes of Cadusii, Amardi, Tapur, Curtii, and other similar nations, who are migratory, and robbers. These people are scattered over the Zagros and Niphates. The Curtii in Persia, and Mardi (for so they call the Amardi), and those in Armenia, and who bear the same name at present, have the same kind of character.
The Cadusii have an army of foot soldiers not inferior in number to that of the Ariani. They are experts at throwing the javelin. In the rocky places the soldiers engage in battle on foot, instead of on their horses. The expedition of Antony was harassing to the army, not by the nature of the country, but by the conduct of their guide, Artavasdes II, king of the Armenians, whom Antony rashly made his adviser, and master of his intentions respecting the war, when at the same time that prince was contriving a plan for his destruction. Antony punished Artavasdes, but too late; the latter had been the cause of many calamities to the Romans, in conjunction with another person; he made the march from the Zeugma on the Euphrates to the borders of Atropatene to exceed 8,000 stadia, or double the distance of the direct course, [by leading the army] over mountains, and places where there were no roads, and by a circuitous route.
Greater Media anciently governed the whole of Asia, after the overthrow of the Syrian empire: but afterwards, in the time of Astyages, the Medes were deprived of this extensive sovereignty by Cyrus and the Persians, yet they retained much of their ancient importance. Ecbatana was the winter residence of the Persian kings, as it was of the Macedonian princes, who overthrew the Persian empire, and got possession of Syria. It still continues to serve the same purpose, and affords security to the kings of Parthia.
Media is bounded on the east by Parthia, and by the mountains of the Cossæi, a predatory tribe. They once furnished the Elymæi, whose allies they were in the war against the Susii7 and Babylonians, with 13,000 archers. Nearchus says that there were four robber tribes; the Mardi, who were contiguous to the Persians; the Uxii and Elymæi, who were on the borders of the Persians and Susii; and the Cossæi, on those of the Medes; that all of them exacted tribute from the kings; that the Cossæi received presents, when the king, having passed his summer at Ecbatana went down to Babylonia; that Alexander attacked them in the winter time, and repressed their excessive insolence. Media is bounded on the east by these nations, and by the Parætaceni, who are contiguous to the Persians, and are mountaineers, and robbers; on the north by the Cadusii, who live above the Hyrcanian Sea, and by other nations, whom we have just enumerated; on the south by the Apolloniatis, which the ancients called Sitacene, and by the Zagros, along which lies Massabatica, which belongs to Media, but according to others, to Elymæa; on the west by the Atropatii, and by some tribes of the Armenians.
There are also Greek cities in Media, founded by Macedonians, as Laodiceia, Apameia, Heracleia near Rhagæ, and Rhaga8 itself, founded by Nicator9, who called it Europus, and the Parthians Arsacia, situated about 5,00 stadia to the south of the Caspian Gates, according to Apollodorus of Artemita.
The greater part of Media consists of high ground, and is cold; such are the mountains above Ecbatana, and the places about Rhagæ and the Caspian Gates, and the northern parts in general extending thence as far as Matiane and Armenia.
The country below the Caspian Gates consists of flat grounds and valleys. It is very fertile, and produces everything except the olive, or if it grows anywhere it does not yield oil, and is dry. The country is peculiarly adapted, as well as Armenia, for breeding horses. There is a meadow tract called Hippobotus, which is traversed by travelers on their way from Persia and Babylonia to the Caspian Gates. Here, it is said, fifty thousand mares were pastured in the time of the Persians, and were the king’s stud. The Nesæan horses, the best and largest in the king’s province, were of this breed, according to some writers, but according to others they came from Armenia. Their shape is peculiar, as is that of the Parthian horses, compared with those of Greece and others in our country.
The herbage which constitutes the chief food of the horses we call peculiarly by the name of Medic, from its growing in Media in great abundance. The country produces Silphium, from which is obtained the Medic juice, much inferior to the Cyrenaic, but sometimes it excels the latter, which may be accounted for by the difference of places, or from a change the plant may undergo, or from the mode of extracting and preparing the juice so as to continue good when laid by for use.
Such then is the nature of the country with respect to magnitude; its length and breadth are nearly equal. The greatest breadth however seems to be that reckoned from the pass across the Zagros, which is called the Median Gate, to the Caspian Gates, through the country of Sigriana, 4,100 stadia. The account of the tribute paid agrees with the extent and wealth of the country. Cappadocia paid to the Persians yearly, in addition to a tribute in silver, 1500 horses, 2000 mules, and 50,000 sheep, and the Medes contributed nearly double this amount.
Many of their customs are the same as those of the Armenians, from the similarity of the countries which they inhabit. The Medes however were the first to communicate them to the Armenians, and also, still earlier, to the Persians, who were their masters, and successors in the empire of Asia.
The Persian stole, as it is now called, the pursuit of archery and horsemanship, the court paid to their kings, their attire, and veneration fitting for gods paid by the subjects to the prince—these the Persians derived from the Medes. That this is the fact appears chiefly from their dress. A tiara, a citaris, a hat, tunics with sleeves reaching to the hands, and trousers, are proper to be worn in cold and northerly places, such as those in Media, but they are not by any means adapted to inhabitants of the south. The Persians had their principal settlements on the Gulf of Persia, being situated more to the south than the Babylonians and the Susii. But after the overthrow of the Medes they gained possession of some tracts of country contiguous to Media. The custom however of the vanquished appeared to the conquerors to be so noble, and appropriate to royal state, that instead of nakedness or scanty clothing, they endured the use of the feminine stole, and were entirely covered with dress to the feet.
Some writers say that Medea10, when with Jason she ruled in these countries, introduced this kind of dress, and concealed her countenance as often as she appeared in public in place of the king; that the memorials of Jason are, the Jasonian heroa11, held in great reverence by the Barbarians, (besides a great mountain above the Caspian Gates on the left hand, called Jasonium) and that the memorials of Medea are the kind of dress, and the name of the country. Medus, her son, is said to have been her successor in the kingdom, and the country to have been called after his name. In agreement with this are the Jasonia in Armenia, the name of the country, and many other circumstances which we shall mention.
It is a Median custom to elect the bravest person as king, but this does not generally prevail, being confined to the mountain tribes. The custom for the kings to have many wives is more general, it is found among all the mountaineers also, but they are not permitted to have less than five. In the same manner the women think it honorable for husbands to have as many wives as possible, and esteem it a misfortune if they have less than five.
While the rest of Media is very fertile, the northern and mountainous part is barren. The people subsist upon the produce of trees. They make cakes of apples, sliced and dried, and bread of roasted almonds; they express a wine from some kind of roots. They eat the flesh of wild animals, and do not breed any tame animals. So much then respecting the Medes. As to the laws and customs in common use throughout the whole of Media, as they are the same as those of the Persians in consequence of the establishment of the Persian empire, I shall speak of them when I give an account of the latter nation.
- Ecbatana is currently located in northwest Iran.
- Seleucia is located in the present day Governorate of Baghdad, Iraq.
- Atropatian Media, also known as Media Atropatene, or Atropatene.
- A reference to modern Lake Urmia.
- A possible reference to Smbataberd in modern-Armenia.
- Also known as Ganzak, located in northwestern Iran, near Lake Urmia.
- This is a reference to the Cissians.
- Rhaga corresponds to Rey in modern Iran.
- Seleucus I Nicator was a general of Alexander the Great.
- This refers to Medea, the sorceress of Greek mythology.
- The heroic monuments of Jason.