Assyrian Soldier Left, Median Soldier Right


According to Herodotus, Cyaxares saw that defeat was certain so long as he had nothing but these ill-assorted masses to match against the regular forces of Assyria: he therefore broke up the tribal contingents and rearranged the units of which they were composed according to their natural affinities, grouping horsemen with horsemen, archers with archers, and pikemen with pikemen, taking the Assyrian cavalry and infantry as his models.


The foot-soldiers wore a high felt cap known as a tiara; they had long tunics with wide sleeves, tied in at the waist by a belt, and sometimes reinforced by iron plates or scales, as well as gaiters, buskins of soft leather, and large wickerwork shields covered with ox-hide, which they bore in front of them like a movable bulwark; their weapons consisted of a short sword, which depended from the belt and lay along the thigh, one or two light javelins, a bow with a strongly pronounced curve, and a quiver full of arrows made from reeds.


Assyrian cavalry


Their horsemen, like those of other warlike nations of the East, used neither saddle nor stirrups, and though they could make skilful use of lance and sword, their favourite weapon was the bow .  Accustomed from their earliest childhood to all kinds of equestrian exercises, they seemed to sit their horses as though they actually formed part of the animal.


The horsemen seldom fought in line, but, from the very beginning of an action, hung like a dense cloud on the front and flanks of the enemy, and riddled them with missiles, without, however, coming to close quarters. Like the Parthians of a later epoch, they waited until they had bewildered and reduced the foe by their ceaseless evolutions before giving the final charge which was to rout them completely.




Cyaxares attacks Nineveh



Only two or three weeks' steady marching would bring Cyaxares from his capital of Ecbatana to the ramparts of Nineveh. Cyaxares won a victory over Ashurbanipal's generals, and for the first time in over a hundred years Assyria proper suffered the ignominy of foreign invasion.


The various works constructed by twenty generations of kings had gradually transformed the triangle enclosed between the Upper Zab, the Tigris, and the Khosr into a regular fortified camp. It was necessary for an enemy to break through this complex defensive zone, and even after this had been successfully accomplished and the walls of the capital had been reached, the sight which would meet the eye was well calculated to dismay even the most resolute invader.



Viewed as a whole, Nineveh appeared as an irregular quadrilateral figure, no two sides of which were parallel, lying on the left bank of the Tigris. .Cyaxares might well have lost heart in the face of so many difficulties, but his cupidity, inflamed by reports of the almost fabulous wealth of the city, impelled him to attack it with extraordinary determination: the spoils of Susa, Babylon, and Thebes, in fact, of the whole of Western Asia and Ethiopia, were, he felt, almost within his reach, and would inevitably fall into his hands provided his courage and perseverance did not fail him.



 Nineveh in 3D

After shutting up the remnant of the Assyrian army inside Nineveh he laid patient siege to the city, and the fame of his victories being noised abroad on all sides, it awoke among the subject races that longing for revenge which at one time appeared to have been sent to sleep for ever. It almost seemed as though the moment was approaching when the city of blood should bleed in its turn, when its kings should at length undergo the fate which they had so long imposed on other monarchs. On this occasion Nineveh escaped the fate with which the prophet had threatened it, but its safety was dearly bought.


Scythian warriors


Scythians save Nineveh

According to the tradition accepted in Asia Minor two hundred years later, a horde of Scythians under King Madyes, son of Protothyes, setting out from the Bussian steppes in pursuit of the Cimmerians ( A horse riding nomadic peoples who lived north of the Caucasus and the Black Sea ), made their appearance on the scene in the nick of time. We are told that they flung themselves through the Caspian Gates into the basin of the Kur, and came into contact with the Medes at the foot of Mount Caucasus. The defeat of the Medes here would necessarily compel them to raise the siege of Nineveh. This crisis in the history of Asia was certainly not determined by chance. For eighty years Assyria had been in contact with the Scythians, and the Assyrian kings had never ceased to keep an eye upon their movements, or lose sight of the advantage to which their bellicose temper might be turned in circumstances like the present.



 Scythians documentary

They had pitted them against the Cimmerians, then against the Medes, . From the very beginning of his reign Assurbanipal had shown them the utmost consideration, and when King Madyes, son of his ally Bartatua, intervened thus opportunely in the struggle, he did so, not by mere chance, as tradition would have us believe, but at the urgent request of Assyria. He attacked Media in the rear, and Cyaxares, compelled to raise the siege of Nineveh, hastened to join battle with him and defeated the Medes.


Cyaxares deals with the Scythians

The supremacy of the Scythians was of short duration, Herodotus writes of the period of Scythian domination between the reigns of Deioces and Cyaxares around the years  653 to 625 B.C. . According to  Herodotus, Cyaxares held a banquet for the Scythian chiefs and had them slain after they became drunk . ( Some historians dispute this version of the ending of the Scythian domination . ) The Scythians made a brave resistance, in spite of the treason which had deprived them of their leaders: they yielded only after a long and bloody campaign.


Cyaxares, relieved from the pressure put upon him by the Scythians, immediately resumed his efforts against Assyria, and was henceforward able to carry his plans to completion without encountering any serious obstacle.




Assurbanipal died about the year 625 B.C., after a reign of forty-two years, and his son Ashur-etil-ilani had assumed the double crown of Assyria and Babylon without opposition. Nineveh had been saved from pillage by the strength of her ramparts, but the other fortresses, Assur, Nimrud, and Dur-Sharrukin had been destroyed during the late troubles; the enemy, whether Medes or Scythians, had taken them by storm or reduced them by famine, and they were now mere heaps of ruin, deserted save for a few wretched remnants of their population.



 The beginning of the Median Empire


 Cyrus and the Median empire