Kings and Tyrants
Book I of the series
Empire of the Medes
Duane A. March
The Main Characters
Fictional characters are asterisked (*).
Alkmaion, son of Megakles the arkhôn epônymous (632/1 BCE) and victor of the tethrippon race at Olympia (592 BCE)
Megakles (II), son of Alkmaion
Alkmaionides, son of Alkmaion and brother of Megakles (II)
Agaristê, daughter of Kleisthenes of Sikyon and wife of Megakles (II)
Kleisthenes (II), son of Megakles (II) and Agaristê
Hippokrates, son of Megakles (II) and Agaristê
* Agaristê (II), daughter of Megakles (II) and Agaristê
Hippokleides, son of Teisandros and a suitor of Agaristê
Miltiades, son of Kypselos
Stesagoras, cousin of Miltiades
Kimon, son of Stesagoras
Peisistratos, son of Hippokrates
Hipparkhos, brother of Peisistratos
Hegesistratos, son of Peisistratos and his first wife Timonassa
Iophon, son of Peisistratos and his first wife Timonassa
Hippias, son of Peisistratos and his second wife Myrsina
Hipparkhos, son of Peisistratos and his second wife Myrsina
* Timotheos, son of Konon of Anaphlystos
* Konon (II), son of Timotheos
Lykourgos, son of Aristolaïdes
* Boutades, his cousin
Solon, son of Exekestides, arkhôn eponymous and lawgiver (594/3 BCE)
Othagoridai of Sikyon
Kleisthenes, son of Aristonymos, tyrannos of Sikyon and father of Agaristê
Aiskhines, son of Kleisthenes
Skopadai of Thessalia
Diaktorides of Krannon, a suitor of Agaristê
Mermnadai of Lydia
Kroisos, son of Aluattu (Alyattes) and king of Lydia
Atys (Atys), son of Kroisos
Sandanis, army chief
Gordiash of Phrygia, lord of Phrygia and commander of the citadel of Sardeis
Adrashtu (Adrastos), son of Gordiash and friend of Atys
Paktua (Paktyes), an ambitious Lydian nobleman
House of Daiaukka of Media
Arshtivaiga (Astyages), King of the Madai
Harpag (Harpagos), kinsmen of Arshtivaiga
* Mithradatesh, herdsman and foster father of Kourvash
Akhaimenidai of Persia (House of Haxamanish)
Kourvash (Kyros), son of Kambujiya (Kambyses) of Anshan
Mandanê, mother of Kourvash and daughter of Arshtivaiga
Kassandanê, wife of Kourvash
Kambujiya (II), son of Kourvash and Kassandanê
Arshama (Arsames) of Parsa, cousin of Kourvash
Vishtaspa (Hystaspes), son of Arshama
In the 2nd year of the 51st Olympias
In the reign of Arshtivaiga,
King of the Madai
King of the Madai
Six-hundred and eight years since the fall of Troia
Five-hundred and seventy-five years before the era of the Khristos
– 575 BCE –
Mithradatesh cuddled the infant in a sling hung over his right shoulder as he steered his horse along a valley in the Zagros Mountains. As the sun began to color the eastern sky, he glanced down at the child and wrinkled his brow with concern. For hours now, he and his wife had been on the move, ever since he had accepted the boy and fled with his herd and household.
“Take him now,” the Lord Harpag had urged him. “Leave immediately.”
Since then, Mithradatesh had been constantly watching for spies, fearing discovery and arrest. His flight was an act of disloyalty, and the king was not known for mercy.
The track wound along narrow dales and over passes separating them. The going was slow and tested his patience; the herd could not move more swiftly, and the footing was uncertain in the dark. As soon as enough light had penetrated the valley, Mithradatesh spied a swift stream and called for a brief halt for water and a quick rest. His wife walked over to him.
“Give me the child. He will be hungry soon.”
Mithradatesh carefully dismounted, unslung his burden and handed it to his wife. She took the child with a loving smile and devoted herself to the infant’s needs. He had never seen her so happy. Yet he could not completely share her joy.
Why am I doing this? He had asked himself over and over again, always knowing the answer, yet fearing the consequences. If I am caught with this child, may the Wise Lord protect me!
The child’s name was Kourvash, the son of Kambujiya, Lord of Anshan, and of Mandanê, a daughter of the Mada King Arshtivaiga.
Arshtivaiga was determined to kill the infant.
When Kourvash was born, his father had sent a messenger northwest along the Zagros range to King Arshtivaiga at his capital Hangmatana. The messenger reported the boy’s birth and received the congratulations and gifts that the king typically sent to his vassal lords on such occasions. Because he never regarded his daughter’s son as an heir to the Mada kingship, Arshtivaiga promptly forgot the episode. Yet the gods take their own counsel and care little for the plans of mortal men.
The very night after receiving word of the boy’s birth, Arshtivaiga began to have disturbing dreams which occurred repeatedly for the next several nights. In despair of a good night’s sleep, he finally sent for the magush – priests of the god Ahuramazda and renowned as interpreters.
When the magush of his household arrived, Arshtivaiga described his dream.
“I am sitting atop the Zagros and gazing upon all the lands which acknowledge my lordship. I am filled with such power and fertility that I spill my seed onto a plain to the south. From the seed a woman sprouts, and it seems that from her womb a vine grows. This vine winds itself around me. It drags me down from the mountaintop and holds me fast so that I am helpless. Then comes a mule, and the mule climbs the mountain and stands at its summit. The sun then rises from behind Zagros, and the mule seems to become the sun. The sun blinds me, and then I awake.”
After hearing the dream, the magush consulted with each other for several long moments. At length, the eldest among them spoke.
“O Great King, we are in agreement. The dream signifies that one of your grandsons will overthrow your rule.”
“But, I have many grandsons!” Arshtivaiga responded. “Whom shall I kill, for kill him I must!”
“Lord, when did you begin having these dreams?”
“Several days ago,” the king responded. “I cannot think of what could have caused my nightmares.”
The eldest magush remained silent for a moment. Then his eyes narrowed and he asked, “Has any male been born to your household in the last several days?”
“In my household?” Arshtivaiga shook his head. “You would know as well as I if one of my sons had sired a boy!”
“What about one of your daughters?”
The king thought for a moment. “A messenger from Kambujiya came not long ago. He announced the birth of a son,” he recalled.
“And who is the boy’s mother?”
Arshtivaiga’s eyes widened. “His mother is Mandanê!”
“And the boy’s name, Great King?”
The old magush nodded. “This is our interpretation, Lord. Attend now and act as you deem wise.
“The woman sprung from your seed is indeed your daughter. She bears a mighty vine which renders you helpless and unseats you. The vine is her son’s power. The sun is Kourvash, as his name suggests, ‘Sun-like’. The mule is Kourvash as well, for like a mule, his lineage is mixed: Parsua on his father’s side, Mada on his mother’s.”
Arshtivaiga sat for long in silence. He then dismissed everyone save a kinsman named Harpag. As soon as the two men were alone, the king spoke:
“Go to Anshan and summon my daughter to attend me in here. Tell her that her father wishes to see his grandson and instruct her to bring him with her. On the way here, you will see to it that the boy Kourvash is killed! Bring the body to me, kinsman, and your reward will be great. Fail me, and the punishment will be even greater!”
Harpag was barely able to hide his dismay. He knew Arshtivaiga well enough. As a distant cousin of the king, he had spent most of his youth at court and knew how harsh his master could be. Yet even as he departed the king’s presence, he wrestled with his fears and conscience. If anyone ever found out, it would mean a blood-feud between his family and all the Parsua. Would Arshtivaiga defend him, or deny having ordered the killing? After all, there was no other witness to the king’s command. The Madai and Parsua alike detested murder; it made one unclean in the sight of Ahuramazda, the Wise Lord.
Harpag’s fears accompanied him to Anshan where he relayed his lord’s invitation and set off for Hangmatana again as escort for Mandanê and the infant Kourvash. He avoided the usual route leading through the Zagros and chose a lesser-frequented series of valleys. Only a day from Hangmatana, the company arrived in the small dale where Harpag’s family lived. Like Arshtivaiga, he was a member of the Mada tribe of the Arizanti, the noble tribe. As soon as he had arranged lodgings for his charges, he summoned Mithradatesh.
Arshtivaiga personally owned thousands of livestock animals: horses, cattle, sheep and goats. Only men of his own tribe served him as herdsmen, and the most trusted and experienced among them was Mithradatesh. The herdsman was a man in his late middle age. Although his family was not particularly distinguished, he was a respected for his honesty and devotion to the traditional values of the Madai.
The Madai, the Parsua and other Araiya tribes, drawn by rumors of Mesopotamia’s wealth, had moved south and west into the passes of the Zagros Mountains centuries ago, leaving the steppes for booty and conquest. The great Zagros range proved to be a harsh home. The Araiya could no longer live exclusively as nomads; many were compelled to turn to agriculture, crafts and trade. On the steppes, every grown man had been expected to become a skillful horseman and archer. Now, relatively few farmers, husbandmen and artisans had the time or opportunity to train for war. And yet over the generations since settling the mountains, the Araiya peoples learned organization and discipline. Despite the changes to their culture, they still produced fearsome warriors whose sons learned before anything else to ride, to draw the bow and to speak the truth.
Unlike most of his countrymen, Mithradatesh lived much as his ancestors had. His only dwelling was a tent, and he lived among his herds, moving with them from between summer and winter pastures. Harpag had known him since he was a small boy growing up in that dale and he knew that he could trust him.
When the herdsman arrived at his house, Harpag bade him to sit, and then addressed him without preface, “Has any infant here recently died?”
Mithradatesh was taken aback by the question. Only after Harpag repeated the question was he able to think and respond.
“Indeed, honored sir,” he nodded sadly. “How did you know?”
“Know what?” Now it was Harpag who was confused.
“Sir, I and my wife have had no children and our tent has not known the laughter of children who are blessed in the sight of the Wise Lord.”
“Yes, I know, my friend,” Harpag nodded.
“Nine months ago, it seemed that the Lord of Light had answered my prayers. Although my wife is nearly forty, she became pregnant. Two weeks ago she bore a boy. I was so proud that I neglected the herd to spend all my time with my son.
“Yet perhaps Ahuramazda decided to punish my pride.” Mithradatesh paused, wrestling with his sorrow. “Two days ago, my son suddenly died in his sleep. How did you know? I have told no one.”
Harpag remained silent while Mithradatesh wrung with tears. As he gazed upon the herdsman, he received sudden inspiration; a chance to soften the man’s loss and solve his own quandary.
“Good sir,” Harpag spoke softly. “There is something I must discuss with you.”
Mithradatesh dried his eyes and looked into Harpag’s eyes. “Forgive me, lord.”
“You must swear first not to betray what we discuss to any other than your wife.”
“You have my word,” Mithradatesh consented. “I swear by the spirit of my dead son.”
Harpag waited for the old man to compose himself before he spoke.
“I am traveling with the wife and son of the Parsua king Kambujiya. The boy’s name is Kourvash; he is about two months old. Lord Arshtivaiga has commanded me to kill the boy before we reach Hangmatana.”
“A defenseless child!” Mithradatesh exclaimed. “Ahuramazda punish will him! Why does he wish to commit this offense?”
“An oracle says that he will overthrow Arshtivaiga and rule us all.”
“Then he stands under the Wise Lord’s protection, sir. To attempt harm on the child would be a godless act!”
“Believe me, my friend, I know,” Harpag affirmed. “Therefore have I sent for you. I am depending on you to save the child – and my soul.”
“You may rely on me, sir!”
That evening at dinner, Harpag arranged for a soporific in Mandanê’s drink. Then, shortly before sunrise, Mithradatesh arrived at the house on horse and carrying a small bundle. Harpag took it and crept into Mandanê’s chamber while she soundly slept. He lifted the boy from her side, replaced him with the bundle and stole himself out of the house. Mithradatesh was waiting.
Mithradatesh took the boy and rode with him to his wife. She was waiting with the herd. Their tent and supplies were already packed and loaded on two asses. As soon as he arrived, he gave the child to her. The boy cried as she placed him in a small sack fastened in front of her, but soon quieted when she gave him her breast.
When Mandanê awoke, she discovered a dead child at her side. The boy was cold and stiff, and did not look like her son. She cried aloud in despair until Harpag appeared. After swearing her to secrecy, he told her what he had done, and why.
“But I cannot continue to Hangmatana!” She objected loudly. “I must return to Anshan and tell my husband!”
“My queen! You must keep quiet!” Harpag hissed. “If you speak of this, you will betray your son! Your father will seek him out. And if you tell Kambujiya, he will doubtless seek vengeance – and be destroyed!”
Mandanê sobbed, “But, my son…”
“…will live under the protection of anonymity and in the care of Ahuramazda.” Harpag insisted. “God has plans for him. He will be safe.”
So Mandanê and Harpag proceeded on to Hangmatana, where they reported the tragic and sudden death of Arshtivaiga’s grandson. The king hid his pleasure at the sight of the dead child. He made a great show of consoling his daughter and ordered his household into mourning. A month later, Mandanê returned to Anshan and told her husband that his son was dead.
Just over a month later, Mithradatesh, his wife and foster-son arrived at the foothills of the mountains far to the northwest, among the Saspires and near a large, dark sea. There the prince of the Parsua began his life as Daiaukka, a herdsman’s son.