Lake Urmia is a salt lake in northwestern Iran near Iran’s border with Turkey. The lake is between the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea. It is the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest saltwater lake on earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 mi) length, 55 km (34 mi) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.
Along with Lake Sevan in today’s Armenia and Van in today’s Turkey, Lake Urmia was one of the three great lakes of the Armenian Kingdom, referred to as the seas of Armenia. It is named after the provincial capital city of Urmia, originally a Syriac name meaning city of water.
Lake Matianus, a name believed to be related to Mitanni, a mixed Indo-Aryan and Hurrian state some 800 years earlier, is an old name for Lake Urmia. Lake Urmia is from the Assyrian records from 9th century BCE. There, in the records of Shalmaneser III (reign 858–824 BCE), two names are mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia: Parsuwash and Matai.
It is not completely clear whether these referred to places or tribes, or whether the lake took its name from the people or the people from the lake, and what their relationship was to the subsequent list of personal names and “kings”, but the country came to be called Matiene or Matiane, and while the Matais were to become the Medes the linguistically name Parsuwash matches the Old Persian word pārsa, an Achaemenid ethnolinguistic designation.
The Medes (from Old Persian Māda-) lived in an area known as Media. They spoke a northwestern Iranian language referred to as the Median language. Their arrival to the region is associated with the first wave of Iranian tribes in the late 2nd millennium BCE (the Bronze Age collapse) through the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE.
From the 10th to late 7th centuries BCE, the Iranian Medes and Persians fell under the domination of the Neo-Assyrian Empire based in Mesopotamia, but an alliance with the Babylonians and the Scythians helped the Medes to capture Nineveh in 612 BCE which resulted in the collapse of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
The Medes were subsequently able to establish their Median kingdom beyond their original homeland (central-western Iran) and had eventually a territory stretching roughly from northeastern Iran to the Halys River in Anatolia.
In the years between 616 BCE and 605 BCE, a unified Median state was formed, which, together with Babylonia, Lydia, and Egypt became one of the four major powers of the ancient Near East, but the Median kingdom was conquered in 550 BCE by Cyrus the Great, who established the next Iranian dynasty – the Persian Achaemenid Empire.
Ecbatana (Hamadān or Hamedān, Old Persian: Haŋgmatana), the capital city of Hamadan Province of Iran, situated at the foot of Mount Alvand, is supposed to be the capital and royal centre of Astyages (585 BCE-550 BCE), the last king of the Median Empire, who was dethroned in 550 BCE by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great.
Under the Persian kings Ecbatana became a summer residence. Later, it became the capital of the Parthian kings, at which time it became their main mint, producing drachm, tetradrachm, and assorted bronze denominations.
The Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, states that it was the capital of the Medes, around 700 BCE. The Greeks thought Ecbatana to be the capital of Media, and ascribed its foundation to Deioces (the Daiukku of the cuneiform inscriptions). It is alleged that he surrounded his palace in Ecbatana with seven concentric walls of different colours. In the 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote of Ecbatana:
However, this association remains problematic. There is currently no evidence of Median existence in Hagmatana hill prior to the Parthian era afterwards. Similarly, Assyrian sources never mention Hagmatana/Ecbatana.
The Alans, or the Alani, occasionally termed Alauni or Halani, were a group of Sarmatian tribes, nomadic pastoralists of the 1st millennium AD who spoke an Eastern Iranian language which derived from Scytho-Sarmatian and which in turn evolved into modern Ossetian.
The various forms of Alan and Iron (a self-designation of the Alans’ modern Ossetian descendants, indicating early tribal self-designation) are Iranian dialectical forms of Aryan.
The Alans were also known over the course of their history by another group of related names including the variations Asi, As, and Os (Romanian Iasi, Bulgarian Uzi, Hungarian Jász, Russian Jasy, Georgian Osi). It is this name that is the root of the modern Ossetian.
These and other variants of Aryan (such as Iran), were common self-designations of the Indo-Iranians, the common ancestors of the Indo-Aryans and Iranian peoples to whom the Alans belonged.
Some scholars believe the problem can be resolved by identifying the Ecbatana/Hagmatana mentioned in later Greek and Achaemenid sources with the city Sagbita/Sagbat frequently mentioned in Assyrian texts, since the Indo-Iranian sound /s/ became /h/ in many Iranian languages. The Sagbita mentioned by Assyrian sources was located in the proximity of the cities Kishesim (Kar-Nergal) and Harhar (Kar-Sharrukin).
Parsua (earlier Parsuash, Parsumash) was an ancient land located near Lake Urmia between Zamua (formerly: Lullubi, a group of tribes during the 3rd millennium BC, from a region known as Lulubum, now the Sharazor plain of the Zagros Mountains of modern Iran) and Ellipi, in central Zagros to the southwest of Sanandaj, northwestern Iran. The name Parsua is from an old Iranian word *Parsava and it is presumed to mean border or borderland.
Parsua was distinct from Persis, another region to the southeast, now known as Fars province in Iran. Persian and Greek sources, including the Old Persian texts at Behistun, states that Teispes (675-640 BCE.), the son of Achaemenes, the eponymous ancestor of the Achaemenid Dynasty, led a migration of Persians from Parsua to Persis, formerly the Elamite state of Anshan (modern Tall-i Malyan) in the province of Fars in the Zagros mountains, southwestern Iran. After being freed from Median supremacy he expanded his small kingdom, an Elamite vassal state. Teispes’ great-grandson Cyrus conquered the Medes and established the Persian Empire.
There is evidence that Cyrus I, or Cyrus I of Anshan, king of Anshan in Persia from c. 600 to 580 BC or, according to others, from c. 652 to 600 BC., and Ariaramnes were both his sons. Cyrus I is the grandfather of Cyrus the Great, whereas Ariaramnes is great grandfather of Darius the Great. Teispes’ sons reportedly divided the kingdom among them after his death. Cyrus reigned as king of Anshan while his brother Ariaramnes was king of Parsa.
Anshan, one of the early capitals of Elam, from the 3rd millennium BC., was captured by Teispes (675–640 BC), who styled himself “King of the city of Anshan”, and fell under Persian Achaemenid rule. For another century during the period of Elamite decline, Anshan was a minor kingdom, until the Achaemenids in the 6th century BC embarked on a series of conquests from Anshan, which became the nucleus of the Persian Empire. The most famous conqueror who rose from Anshan was Cyrus the Great.
The ancient Persians were present in the region from about the 9th century BC, and became the rulers of a large empire under the Achaemenid dynasty in the 6th century BC. The ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, two of the four capitals of the Achaemenid Empire, are located in Fars.
The chronological placement of this event is uncertain. This is due to his suggested, but still debated identification, with the monarch known as “Kuras of Parsumas”, first mentioned c. 652 BC.
At that year Shamash-shum-ukin, king of Babylon (668–648 BC) revolted against his older brother and overlord Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria (668–627 BC). Cyrus is mentioned being in a military alliance with the former. The war between the two brothers ended in 648 BC with the defeat and reported suicide of Shamash-shum-ukin.
Cyrus is mentioned again in 639 BC. At that year Ashurbanipal managed to defeat Elam and became overlord to several of its former allies. Kuras was apparently among them. His elder son “Arukku” was reportedly sent to Assyria to pay tribute to its King. Kuras then seems to vanish from historical record. His suggested identification with Cyrus would help connect the Achaemenid dynasty to the major events of the 7th century BC.
Ashurbanipal died in 627 BC. Cyrus presumably continued paying tribute to his sons and successors Ashur-etil-ilani (627–623 BC) and Sin-shar-ishkun (623 BC – 612 BC). They were both opposed by an alliance led by Cyaxares of Media (633–584 BC) and Nabopolassar of Babylon (626–605 BC).
In 612 BC the two managed to capture the Assyrian capital Nineveh. This was effectively the end of the Neo-Assyrian Empire though remnants of the Assyrian Army under Ashur-uballit II (612–609 BC) continued to resist from Harran.
Media and Babylon soon shared the lands previously controlled by the Assyrians. Anshan apparently fell under the control of the former. Cyrus is considered to have ended his days under the overlordship of either Cyaxares or his son Astyages (584 BC – 550 BC). Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses I. His grandson would come to be known as Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire.
It has been noted that this account of his life and reign would place his early activities more than a century before those of his grandson. This would place his fathering of Cambyses very late in life and his death at an advanced age.
It has been argued that Kuras and Cyrus were separate figures of uncertain relation to each other. The latter would have then reigned in the early 6th century BC and his reign would seem rather uneventful. Due to the current lack of sufficient records for this historical period it remains uncertain which theory is closer to the facts.
As the eponymous ancestor of the clan, Achaemenes is very often held to be legendary. Apart from Persian royal inscriptions, there are very limited historical sources on Achaemenes; therefore very little, if anything at all, is known for certain about him. It has been proposed that Achaemenes may merely have been a “mythical ancestor of the Persian royal house”. The “Babylonian” Cyrus Cylinder, ascribed to Cyrus the Great, does not mention Achaemenes in an otherwise-detailed genealogy.
Some historians hold that perhaps Achaemenes was a retrograde creation of Darius the Great, made in order to legitimize his connection with Cyrus the Great, after Darius rose to the position of Shah (i.e. King) of Persia in 522 BC (by killing the usurper Gaumata, the so-called “False Smerdis”, who had proclaimed himself King upon the death of Darius’ predecessor, Cambyses II. According to Darius, Gaumata was an impostor pretending to be Cambyses II’s younger, deceased brother Bardiya.
Darius certainly had much to gain in having an ancestor shared by Cyrus and himself, and may have felt the need for a stronger connection than that provided by his subsequent marriage to Cyrus’ daughter Atossa. An inscription from Pasargadae, also ascribed to Cyrus, does mention Cyrus’ descent from Achaemenes; however, historian Bruce Lincoln has suggested that these inscriptions of Cyrus in Pasargadae were engraved during the reign of Darius in c. 510.
In any case, the Persian royal dynasty from Darius onward revered Achaemenes and credited him as the founder of their dynasty. Very little, however, was remembered about his life or actions. Assuming he existed, Achaemenes was most likely a 7th-century BC warrior-chieftain, or the probable first king, who led the Persians, or a tribe of Persians, as a vassal of the Median Empire.
An Assyrian inscription from the time of King Sennacherib in 691 BC, mentions that the Assyrian king almost repelled an attack by Parsuamash and Anzan, with the Medians and others on the city of Halule. Historians contend that if he existed, Achaemenes had to be one of the commanders, leading his Persians with the independent troops of Anshan, during the indecisive Battle of Halule in 691 BC.
Achaemenes is generally known as the leader of one of the clans, known to the Greeks as the Pasargadae (although this identification may been due to a confusion with the Persian Imperial capital city Pasargadae begun by Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II of Persia) around 546 BC), that was one of the some ten to fifteen Persian tribes. Persian royal inscriptions such as the Behistun Inscription place him five generations before Darius the Great. Therefore, according to the Inscriptions, Achaemenes may have lived around 700 BC. The inscriptions do label him as a “king”, which may mean that he was the first official king of the Persians.
Ancient Greek writers provide some legendary information about Achaemenes: they call his tribe the Pasargadae, and say that he was “raised by an eagle”. Plato, when writing about the Persians, identified Achaemenes with Perses, ancestor of the Persians in Greek mythology. According to Plato, Achaemenes/Perses was the son of the Ethiopian queen Andromeda and the Greek hero Perseus, and a grandson of Zeus. Later writers believed that Achaemenes and Perses were different people, and that Perses was an ancestor of the king.
Assuming he existed, Achaemenes was most likely a 7th-century BC warrior-chieftain, or the probable first king, who led the Persians, or a tribe of Persians, as a vassal of the Median Empire. An Assyrian inscription from the time of King Sennacherib in 691 BC, mentions that the Assyrian king almost repelled an attack by Parsuamash and Anzan, with the Medians and others on the city of Halule. Historians contend that if he existed, Achaemenes had to be one of the commanders, leading his Persians with the independent troops of Anshan, during the indecisive Battle of Halule in 691 BC.
The Mannaean Kingdom
However, it was in ancient times the center of the Mannaean Kingdom (country name usually Mannea; Akkadian: Mannai, possibly Biblical Minni). Ancient historians including Strabo, Ptolemy, Herodotus, Polybius, and Pliny, mention names such as Mantiane, Martiane, Matiane, Matiene, to designate a region located to the northwest of Media.
The Mannaean kingdom was situated east and south of the Lake Urmia, roughly centered around the Mahabad plain in this part of what’s today are named as “Azerbaijan region of Iran”. Excavations that began in 1956 succeeded in uncovering the fortified city of Hasanlu, thought to be a potential Mannaean site. More recently, the site of Qalaichi (possibly ancient Izirtu/Zirta) has been linked to the Mannaeans based on a stela with this toponym found at the site.
The Mannaeans, which according to the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, spoke a Hurro-Urartian language, a non-Semitic and non-Indo-European language with no modern language connections, was overrun by the people who were called Matiani or Matieni and were subdued by the Scytho-Kimmerians, an Iranian people variously identified as Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, or Cimmerian, during the seventh and eighth centuries BC., later followed by the unrelated Iranian peoples, the Medes and the Persians.
Before the Mannaeans were overrun they were neighbors of the empires of Assyria and Urartu, as well as other small buffer states between the two, such as Musasir and Zikirta, an ancient land in northern Zagros, which comprised the easternmost part of Greater Mannae. Geographically it corresponds with the modern counties of Takab and Shahindej in northwestern Iran.
The Mannaean kingdom began to flourish around 850 BC. The Mannaeans were mainly a settled people, practicing irrigation and breeding cattle and horses. The capital was the fortified city Zirta. By the 820s BC they had expanded to become the first large state to occupy this region since the Gutians. By this time they had a prominent aristocracy as a ruling class, who somewhat limited the power of the king.
Beginning around 800 BC, the region became contested ground between Urartu, who built several forts on the territory of Mannea, and Assyria. During open conflict between the two, ca. 750-730 BC, Mannea seized the opportunity to enlarge its holdings. The Mannaean kingdom reached the pinnacle of its power during the reign of Iranzu (ca. 725-720 BC).
In 716 BC, king Sargon II of Assyria moved against Mannea, where the ruler Aza, son of Iranzu, had been deposed by Ullusunu with the help of the Urartians. Sargon took Izirtu, and stationed troops in Parsua (Parsua was distinct from Parsumash located further southeast in what is today known as Fars province in Iran). The Assyrians thereafter used the area to breed, train and trade horses.
According to one Assyrian inscription, the Cimmerians (Gimirru) originally went forth from their homeland of Gamir or Uishdish on the shores of the Black Sea in “the midst of Mannai” around this time. The Cimmerians first appear in the annals in the year 714 BC, when they apparently helped the Assyrians to defeat Urartu.
Urartu chose to submit to the Assyrians, and together the two defeated the Cimmerians and thus kept them out of the Fertile Crescent. At any rate, the Cimmerians had again rebelled against Sargon by 705, and he was killed whilst driving them out. By 679 they had instead migrated to the east and west of Mannea.
The Mannaeans are recorded as rebelling against Esarhaddon of Assyria in 676 BC, when they attempted to interrupt the horse trade between Assyria and its colony of Parsuash.
The king Ahsheri, who ruled until the 650s BC, continued to enlarge the territory of Mannea, although paying tribute to Assyria. However, Mannea suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Assyrians around 660 BC, and subsequently an internal revolt broke out, continuing until Ahsheri’s death.
Also in the 7th century BC, Mannea was defeated by the advancing Scythians, who had already raided Urartu and been repelled by the Assyrians. Somewhat later (585 BC) destroying Mannea. This defeat contributed to the further break-up of the Mannaean kingdom.
King Ahsheri’s successor, Ualli, as a vassal of Assyria, took the side of the Assyrians against the Iranian Medes (Madai), who were at this point still based to the east along the southwest shore of the Caspian Sea and revolting against Assyrian domination.
The Medes and Persians were subjugated by Assyria. However, the Neo Assyrian Empire which had dominated the region for three hundred years began to unravel, consumed by civil war after the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC.
The upheavals in Assyria allowed the Medes to free themselves from Assyrian vassalage and make themselves the major power in ancient Iran at the expense of the Persians, Manneans and the remnants of the indigenous Elamites whose kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians. The Medes conquered the remnants of Mannea in 616 BC and absorbed the populace.
In the Bible (Jeremiah 51:27) the Mannaeans are called the Minni. In the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), “Minni” is identified with Armenia, but maybe it could refer to one of the provinces in ancient Armenia; Minni, Ararat and Ashkenaz.
Matiene was ultimately conquered by the Medes in about 609 BCE., and Matiene became a satrapy of the Median Empire until the Persian conquest, when alongside of the Saspires and Alaradians (remnants of Urartians) it became a part of the XVIII satrapy of the Achaemenid Emire. After suffering several defeats at the hands of both Scythians and Assyrians, the remnants of the Mannaean populace were absorbed by the Medes.
According to the Encyclopædia Iranica: It is unlikely that there was any ethnolinguistic unity in Mannea. Like other peoples of the Iranian plateau, the Manneans were subjected to an ever increasing Iranian (i.e. Indo-European) penetration.
Melikishvili (1949, p. 60) tried to confine the Iranian presence in Mannea to its periphery, pointing out that both Daiukku (cf. Schmitt, 1973) and Bagdatti were active in the periphery of Mannea, but this is imprecise, in view of the fact that the names of two early Mannean rulers, viz. Udaki and Azā, are explicable in Old Iranian terms.
In the early 1930s, it was called Lake Rezaiyeh after Reza Shah Pahlavi, but after the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, the lake was renamed Urmia. Its ancient Persian name was Chichast, meaning, “glittering” – a reference to the glittering mineral particles suspended in the lake water and found along its shores. In medieval times it came to be known as Lake Kabuda, or “azure/blue”, in Persian, (“Kapuyt/Gabuyd” in Armenian).