George Rawlinson.

The Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 3. (of 7): Media The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthia, And Sassanian or New Persia online

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Online LibraryGeorge RawlinsonThe Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 3. (of 7): Media The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthia, And Sassanian or New Persia → online text (page 1 of 12)
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[Illustration: MAP]


Along the eastern flank of the great Mesopotamian lowland, curving
round it on the north, and stretching beyond it to the south and the
south-east, lies a vast elevated region, or highland, no portion of
which appears to be less than 3000 feet above the sea-level. This
region may be divided, broadly, into two tracts, one consisting of lofty
mountainous ridges, which form its outskirts on the north and on the
west; the other, in the main a high flat table-land, extending from the
foot of the mountain chains, southward to the Indian Ocean, and eastward
to the country of the Afghans. The western mountain-country consists,
as has been already observed, of six or seven parallel ridges, having
a direction nearly from the north-west to the south-east, enclosing
between them, valleys of great fertility, and well watered by a large
number of plentiful and refreshing streams. This district was known to
the ancients as Zagros, while in modern geography it bears the names of
Kurdistan and Luristan. It has always been inhabited by a multitude of
warlike tribes, and has rarely formed for any long period a portion
of any settled monarchy. Full of torrents, of deep ravines, or rocky
summits, abrupt and almost inaccessible; containing but few passes, and
those narrow and easily defensible; secure, moreover, owing to the rigor
of its climate, from hostile invasion during more than half the year;
it has defied all attempts to effect its permanent subjugation, whether
made by Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Parthians, or Turks, and remains
to this day as independent of the great powers in its neighborhood as it
was when the Assyrian armies first penetrated its recesses. Nature seems
to have constructed it to be a nursery of hardy and vigorous men, a
stumbling-block to conquerors, a thorn in the side of every powerful
empire which arises in this part of the great eastern continent.

The northern mountain country - known to modern geographers as Eiburz - is
a tract of far less importance. It is not composed, like Zagros, of
a number of parallel chains, but consists of a single lofty ridge,
furrowed by ravines and valleys, from which spurs are thrown
out, running in general at right angles to its axis. Its width is
comparatively slight; and instead of giving birth to numerous large
rivers, it forms only a small number of insignificant streams, often dry
in summer, which have short courses, being soon absorbed either by the
Caspian or the Desert. Its most striking feature is the snowy peak of
Demavend, which impends over Teheran, and appears to be the highest
summit in the part of Asia west of the Himalayas.

The elevated plateau which stretches from the foot of those two mountain
regions to the south and east is, for the most part, a flat sandy
desert, incapable of sustaining more than a sparse and scanty
population. The northern and western portions are, however, less arid
than the east and south, being watered to some distance by the streams
that descend from Zagros and Elburz, and deriving fertility also from
the spring rains. Some of the rivers which flow from Zagros on this side
are large and strong. One, the Kizil-Uzen, reaches the Caspian. Another,
the Zenderud, fertilizes a large district near Isfahan. A third, the
Bendamir, flows by Persepolis and terminates in a sheet of water of
some size - lake Bakhtigan. A tract thus intervenes between the mountain
regions and the desert which, though it cannot be called fertile, is
fairly productive, and can support a large settled population. This
forms the chief portion of the region which the ancients called Media,
as being the country inhabited by the race on whose history we are about
to enter.

Media, however, included, besides this, another tract of considerable
size and importance. At the north-western angle of the region above
described, in the corner whence the two great chains branch out to
the south and to the east, is a tract composed almost entirely of
mountains, which the Greeks called Atropatene, and which is now known
as Azerbijan. This district lies further to the north than the rest of
Media, being in the same parallels with the lower part of the Caspian
Sea. It comprises the entire basin of Lake Urumiyeh, together with the
country intervening between that basin and the high mountain chain which
curves round the south-western corner of the Caspian, It is a region
generally somewhat sterile, but containing a certain quantity of very,
fertile territory, more particularly in the Urumiyeh basin, and towards
the mouth of the river Araxes.

The boundaries of Media are given somewhat differently by different
writers, and no doubt they actually varied at different periods; but the
variations were not great, and the natural limits, on three sides at any
rate, may be laid down with tolerable precision. Towards the north the
boundary was at first the mountain chain closing in on that side the
Urumiyeh basin, after which it seems to have been held that the true
limit was the Araxes, to its entrance on the low country, and then the
mountain chain west and south of the Caspian. Westward, the line of
demarcation may be best regarded as, towards the south, running along
the centre of the Zagros region; and, above this, as formed by that
continuation of the Zagros chain which separates the Urumiyeh from
the Van basin. Eastward, the boundary was marked by the spur from the
Elburz, across which lay the pass known as the Pylse Caspise, and below
this by the great salt desert, whose western limit is nearly in the
same longitude. Towards the south there was no marked line or natural
boundary; and it is difficult to say with any exactness how much of the
great plateau belonged to Media and how much to Persia. Having regard,
however, to the situation of Hamadan, which, as the capital, should have
been tolerably central, and to the general account which historians and
geographers give of the size of Media, we may place the southern limit
with much probability about the line of the thirty-second parallel,
which is nearly the present boundary between Irak and Fars.

The shape of Media has been called a square; but it is rather a
long parallelogram, whose two principal sides face respectively the
north-east and the south-west, while the ends or shorter sides front to
the south-east and to the northwest. Its length in its greater direction
is about 600 miles, and its width about 250 miles. It must thus contain
nearly 150,000 square miles, an area considerably larger than that of
Assyria and Chaldaea put together, and quite sufficient to constitute a
state of the first class, even according to the ideas of modern Europe.
It is nearly one-fifth more than the area of the British Islands, and
half as much again as that of Prussia, or of peninsular Italy. It equals
three fourths of France, or three fifths of Germany. It has, moreover,
the great advantage of compactness, forming a single solid mass, with no
straggling or outlying portions; and it is strongly defended on almost
every side by natural barriers offering great difficulties to an

In comparison with the countries which formed the seats of the two
monarchies already described, the general character of the Median
territory is undoubtedly one of sterility. The high table-land is
everywhere intersected by rocky ranges, spurs from Zagros, which have
a general direction from west to east, and separate the country into a
number of parallel broad valleys, or long plains, opening out into the
desert. The appearance of these ranges is almost everywhere bare, arid,
and forbidding. Above, they present to the eye huge masses of gray rock
piled one upon another; below, a slope of detritus, destitute of trees
or shrubs, and only occasionally nourishing a dry and scanty herbage.
The appearance of the plains is little superior; they are flat and
without undulations, composed in general of gravel or hard clay, and
rarely enlivened by any show of water; except for two months in
the spring, they exhibit to the eye a uniform brown expanse, almost
treeless, which impresses the traveller with a feeling of sadness and
weariness. Even in Azerbijan, which is one of the least arid portions
of the territory, vast tracks consist of open undulating downs, desolate
and sterile, bearing only a coarse withered grass and a few stunted

Still there are considerable exceptions to this general aspect of
desolation. In the worst parts of the region there is a time after
the spring rains when nature puts on a holiday dress, and the country
becomes gay and cheerful. The slopes at the base of the rocky ranges are
tinged with an emerald green: a richer vegetation springs up over the
plains, which are covered with a fine herbage or with a variety of
crops; the fruit trees which surround the villages burst out into the
most luxuriant blossom; the roses come into bloom, and their perfume
everywhere fills the air. For the two months of April and May the
whole face of the country is changed, and a lovely verdure replaces the
ordinary dull sterility.

In a certain number of more favored spots beauty and fertility are
found during nearly the whole of the year. All round the shores of Lake
Urumiyeh, more especially in the rich plain of Miyandab at its southern
extremity, along the valleys of the Aras, the Kizil-uzen, and the
Jaghetu, in the great valley of Linjan, fertilized by irrigation from
the Zenderud, in the Zagros valleys, and in various other places,
there is an excellent soil which produces abundantly with very slight

The general sterility of Media arises from the scantiness of the water
supply. It has but few rivers, and the streams that it possesses run for
the most part in deep and narrow valleys sunk below the general level of
the country, so that they cannot be applied at all widely to purposes of
irrigation. Moreover, some of them are, unfortunately, impregnated
with salt to such an extent that they are altogether useless for
this purpose; and indeed, instead of fertilizing, spread around
them desolation and barrenness. The only Median streams which are
of sufficient importance to require description are the Aras, the
Kizil-Uzen, the Jaghetu, the Aji-Su and the Zenderud, or river of

The Aras is only very partially a Median stream. It rises from several
sources in the mountain tract between Kars and Erzeroum, and runs with
a generally eastern direction through Armenia to the longitude of Mount
Ararat, where it crosses the fortieth parallel and begins to trend
southward, flowing along the eastern side of Ararat in a south-easterly
direction, nearly to the Julfa ferry on the high road from Erivan to
Tabriz. From this point it runs only a little south of east to long.
46° 30' E. from Greenwich, when it makes almost a right angle and runs
directly north-east to its junction with the Kur at Djavat. Soon after
this it curves to the south, and enters the Caspian by several mouths in
lat. 39° 10' nearly. The Aras is a considerable stream almost from its
source. At Hassan-Kaleh, less than twenty miles from Erzeroum, where
the river is forded in several branches, the water reaches to the
saddle-girths. At Keupri-Kieui, not much lower, the stream is crossed
by a bridge of seven arches. At the Julfa ferry it is fifty yards wide,
and runs with a strong current. At Megree, thirty miles further down,
its width is eighty yards. In spring and early summer the stream
receives enormous accessions from the spring rains and the melting of
the snows, which produce floods that often cause great damage to the
lands and villages along the valley. Hence the difficulty of maintaining
bridges over the Aras, which was noted as early as the time of Augustus,
and is attested by the ruins of many such structures remaining along its
course. Still, there are at the present day at least three bridges over
the stream - one, which has been already mentioned, at Keupri-Kieui,
another a little above Nakshivan, and the third at Khudoperinski,
a little below Megree. The length of the Aras, including only main
windings, is 500 miles.

The Kizil-Uzen, or (as it is called in the lower part of its course) the
Sefid-Rud, is a stream of less size than the Aras, but more important
to Media, within which lies almost the whole of its basin. It drains a
tract of 180 miles long by 150 broad before bursting through the Elburz
mountain chain, and descending upon the low country which skirts the
Caspian. Rising in Persian Kurdistan almost from the foot of Zagros,
it runs in a meandering course with a general direction of north-east
through that province into the district of Khamseh, where it suddenly
sweeps round and flows in a bold curve at the foot of lofty and
precipitous rocks, first northwest and then north, nearly to Miana, when
it doubles back upon itself, and turning the flank of the Zenjan range
runs with a course nearly south-east to Menjil, after which it resumes
its original direction of north-east, and, rushing down the pass of
Budbar, crosses Ghilan to the Caspian. Though its source is in direct
distance no more than 320 miles from its mouth, its entire length, owing
to its numerous curves and meanders, is estimated at 490 miles. It is a
considerable stream, forded with difficulty, even in the dry season, as
high up as Karagul, and crossed by a bridge of three wide arches before
its junction with the Garongu river near Miana. In spring and early
summer it is an impetuous torrent, and can only be forded within a short
distance of its source.

The Jaghetu and the Aji-Su are the two chief rivers of the Urumiyeh
basin. The Jaghetu rises from the foot of the Zagros chain, at a very
little distance from the source of the Kizil-Uzen. It collects the
streams from the range of hills which divides the Kizil-Uzen basin from
that of Lake Urumiyeh, and flows in a tolerably straight course first
north and then north-west to the south-eastern shore of the lake. Side
by side with it for some distance flows the smaller stream of the Tatau,
formed by torrents from Zagros; and between them, towards their mouths,
is the rich plain of Miyandab, easily irrigated from the two streams,
the level of whose beds is above that of the plain, and abundantly
productive even under the present system of cultivation. The Aji-Su
reaches the lake from the north-east. It rises from Mount Sevilan,
within sixty miles of the Caspian, and flows with a course which is at
first nearly due south, then north-west, and finally south-west, past
the city of Tabriz, to the eastern shore of the lake, which it enters in
lat. 37° 50'. The waters of the Aji-Su are, unfortunately, salt, and it
is therefore valueless for purposes of irrigation.

The Zenderud or river of Isfahan rises from the eastern flank of the
Kuh-i-Zerd (Yellow Mountain), a portion of the Bakhti-yari chain, and,
receiving a number of tributaries from the same mountain district, flows
with a course which is generally east or somewhat north of east, past
the great city of Isfahan - so long the capital of Persia - into the
desert country beyond, where it is absorbed in irrigation. Its entire
course is perhaps not more than 120 or 130 miles; but running chiefly
through a plain region, and being naturally a stream of large size,
it is among the most valuable of the Median rivers, its waters being
capable of spreading fertility, by means of a proper arrangement of
canals, over a vast extent of country, and giving to this part of Iran a
sylvan character, scarcely found elsewhere on the plateau.

It will be observed that of these streams there is not one which reaches
the ocean. All the rivers of the great Iranic plateau terminate in lakes
or inland seas, or else lose themselves in the desert. In general the
thirsty sand absorbs, within a short distance of their source, the
various brooks and streams which flow south and east into the desert
from the northern and western mountain chains, without allowing them to
collect into rivers or to carry fertility far into the plain region. The
the river of Isfahan forms the only exception to this rule within the
limits of the ancient Media. All its other important streams, as has
been seen, flow either into the Caspian or into the great lake of

That lake itself now requires our attention. It is an oblong basin,
stretching in its greater direction from N.N.W. to S.S. E., a distance
of above eighty miles, with an average width of about twenty-five miles.
On its eastern side a remarkable peninsula, projecting far into its
waters, divides it into two portions of very unequal size - a northern
and a southern.

The southern one, which is the largest of the two, is diversified
towards its centre by a group of islands, some of which are of a
considerable size. The lake, like others in this part of Asia, is
several thousand feet above the sea level. Its waters are heavily
impregnated with salt, resembling those of the Dead Sea. No fish can
live in them. When a storm sweeps over their surface it only raises the
waves a few feet; and no sooner is it passed than they rapidly subside
again into a deep, heavy, death-like sleep. The lake is shallow, nowhere
exceeding four fathoms, and averaging about two fathoms - a depth which,
however, is rarely attained within two miles of the land. The water is
pellucid. To the eye it has the deep blue color of some of the northern
Italian lakes, whence it was called by the Armenians the Kapotan Zow or
"Blue Sea."

According to the Armenian geography, Media contained eleven districts;
Ptolemy makes the number eight; but the classical geographers in
general are contented with the twofold division already indicated,
and recognized at the constituent parts of Media only Atropatene (now
Azerbijan) and Media Magna, a tract which nearly corresponds with the
two provinces of Irak Ajemj and Ardelan. Of the minor subdivisions there
are but two or three which seem to deserve any special notice. One of
these is Ehagiana, or the tract skirting the Elburz Mountains from the
vicinity of the Kizil-Uzen (or Sefid-Eud) to the Caspian Gates, a long
and narrow slip, fairly productive, but excessively hot in summer, which
took its name from the important city of Rhages. Another is Nissea, a
name which the Medes seem to have carried with them from their early
eastern abodes, and to have applied to some high upland plains west
of the main chain of Zagros, which were peculiarly favorable to the
breeding of horses. As Alexander visited these pastures on his way from
Susa to Ecbatana, they must necessarily have lain to the south of the
latter city. Most probably they are to be identified with the modern
plains of Kbawah and Alishtar, between Behistun and Khorramabad, which
are even now considered to afford the best summer pasturage in Persia.

It is uncertain whether any of these divisions were known in the time of
the great Median Empire. They are not constituted in any case by marked
natural lines or features. On the whole it is perhaps most probable
that the main division - that into Media Magna and Media Atropatene - was
ancient, Astro-patene being the old home of the Medes, and Media Magna a
later conquest; but the early political geography of the country is too
obscure to justify us in laying down even this as certain. The minor
political divisions are still less distinguishable in the darkness of
those ancient times.

From the consideration of the districts which composed the Median
territory, we may pass to that of their principal cities, some of which
deservedly obtained a very great celebrity. Tho most important of all
were the two Ecbatanas - the northern and the southern - which seem to
have stood respectively in the position of metropolis to the northern
and the southern province. Next to these may be named Rhages, which was
probably from early times a very considerable place; while in the
third rank may be mentioned Bagistan - rather perhaps a palace than
a town - Concobar, Adrapan, Aspadan, Charax, Kudrus, Hyspaostes,
Urakagabarna, etc.

The southern Ecbatana or Agbatana - which the Medes and Persians
themselves knew as Hagmatan - was situated, as we learn from Polybius and
Diodorus, on a plan at the foot of Mont Orontes, a little to the east of
the Zagros range. The notices of these authors, combined with those of
Eratosthenes, Isidore, Pliny, Arrian, and others, render it as nearly
certain as possible that the site was that of the modern town of
Hamadan, the name of which is clearly but a slight corruption of the
true ancient appellation. [PLATE I., Fig. 2.] Mount Orontes is to
be recognized in the modern Elwend or Erwend - a word etymologically
identical with _Oront-es_ - which is a long and lofty mountains standing
out like a buttress from the Zagros range, with which it is connected
towards the north-west, while on every other side it stands isolated,
sweeping boldly down upon the flat country at its base. Copious streams
descend from the mountain on every side, more particularly to the
north-east, where the plain is covered with a carpet of the most
luxuriant verdure, diversified with rills, and ornamented with numerous
groves of large and handsome forest trees. It is here, on ground sloping
slightly away from the roots of the mountain, that the modern town,
which lies directly at its foot, is built. The ancient city, if we may
believe Diodorus, did not approach the mountain within a mile or a mile
and a half. At any rate, if it began where Hamadan now stands, it most
certainly extended very much further into the plain. We need not suppose
indeed that it had the circumference, or even half the circumference,
which the Sicilian romancer assigns to it, since his two hundred and
fifty stades would give a probable area of fifty square miles, more than
double that of London! Ecbatana is not likely to have been at its most
flourishing period a larger city than Nineveh; and we have already seen
that Nineveh covered a space, within the walls, of not more than 1800
English acres.

[Illustration: PLATE I.]

The character of the city and of its chief edifices has, unfortunately,
to be gathered almost entirely from unsatisfactory authorities. Hitherto
it has been found possible in these volumes to check and correct the
statements of ancient writers, which are almost always exaggerated,
by an appeal to the incontrovertible evidence of modern surveys
and explorations. But the Median capital has never yet attracted a
scientific expedition. The travellers by whom it has been visited have
reported so unfavorably of its character as a field of antiquarian
research that scarcely a spadeful of soil has been dug, either in the
city or in its vicinity, with a view to recover traces of the ancient
buildings. Scarcely any remains of antiquity are apparent. As the site
has never been deserted, and the town has thus been subjected for nearly
twenty-two centuries to the destructive ravages of foreign conquerors,
and the still more injurious plunderings of native builders, anxious
to obtain materials for new edifices at the least possible cost and
trouble, the ancient structures have everywhere disappeared from sight,
and are not even indicated by mounds of a sufficient size to attract the
attention of common observers. Scientific explorers have consequently
been deterred from turning their energies in this direction; more
promising sites have offered and still offer themselves; and it is as
yet uncertain whether the plan of the old town might not be traced
and the position of its chief edifices fixed by the means of careful
researches conducted by fully competent persons. In this dearth of
modern materials we have to depend entirely upon the classical writers,
who are rarely trustworthy in their descriptions or measurements, and
who, in this instance, labor under the peculiar disadvantage of being
mere reporters of the accounts given by others.

Ecbatana was chiefly celebrated for the magnificence of its palace,
a structure ascribed by Diodorus to Semiramis, but most probably
constructed originally by Cyaxares, and improved, enlarged, and

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Online LibraryGeorge RawlinsonThe Seven Great Monarchies Of The Ancient Eastern World, Vol 3. (of 7): Media The History, Geography, And Antiquities Of Chaldaea, Assyria, Babylon, Media, Persia, Parthia, And Sassanian or New Persia → online text (page 1 of 12)