Media . . . quam ante regnum Cyri superlovis et incrementa Persidos legimus Asiae reginam totius.—Amm. Marc, xxiii. 6.
The origin of the Median nation is wrapt in a profound obscurity. Following the traces which the Zendavesta offers, taking into consideration its minute account of the earlier Arian migrations, its entire omission of any mention of the Medes, and the undoubted fact that it was nevertheless by the Medes and Persians that the document itself was preserved and transmitted to us, we should be naturally led to suppose that the race was one which in the earlier times of Arian development was weak and insignificant, and that it first pushed itself into notice after the ethnological portions of the Zendavesta were composed, which is thought to have been about B.C. 1000. Quite in accordance with this view is the further fact that in the native Assyrian annals, so far as they have been, recovered, the Medes do not make their appearance till the middle of the ninth century B.C., and when they appear are weak and unimportant, only capable of opposing a very slight resistance to the attacks of the Ninevite kings. The natural conclusion from these data would appear to be that until about B.C. 850 the Median name was unknown in the world, and that previously, if Medes existed at all, it was either as a sub-tribe of some other Arian race, or at any rate as a tribe too petty and insignificant to obtain mention either on the part of native or of foreign historians. Such early insignificance and late development of what ultimately becomes the dominant tribe of a race is no strange or unprecedented phenomenon to the historical inquirer; on the contrary, it is among the facts with which he is most familiar, and would admit of ample illustration, were the point worth pursuing, alike from the history of the ancient and the modern world.
But, against the conclusion to which we could not fail to be led by the Arian and Assyrian records, which agree together so remarkably, two startling notices in works of great authority but of a widely different character have to be set. In the Toldoth Beni Noah, or “Book of the Generation of the Sons of Noah,” which forms the tenth chapter of Genesis, and which, if the work of Moses, was probably composed at least as early as B.C. 1500, we find the Madai—a word elsewhere always signifying “the Medes”—in the genealogy of the sons of Japhet. The word is there conjoined with several other important ethnic titles, as Gomer, Magog, Javan, Tubal, and Meshech; and there can be no reasonable doubt that it is intended to designate the Median people. If so, the people must have had already a separate and independent existence in the fifteenth century B.C., and not only so, but they must have by that time attained so much distinction as to be thought worthy of mention by a writer who was only bent on affiliating the more important of the nations known to him.