Battle of Hyrba

Year: Winter, 552 BC
Place: Near the City of Hyrba, Media [34°11'3.35"N and  49°17'55.04"E]
Participants: Persia ¤ Media
Result: Persian victory
Consequences: Astyages, king of Media, decides to invade Persia

Cyrus the Great was only 24 years old, when he rebelled against his grandfather Astyages, the king of the Median Empire. The first showdown between the Persian army and the army of the Medes happened near Hyrba, a city in Media.

But in 576 BC, 24 years before the revolt, Astyages ordered the newborn Cyrus to be killed, because he was afraid that Cyrus would be a potential contender and threat to the Median throne. Astyages gave the responsibility to Harpagus who could not kill a baby. So Harpagus handed the baby, along the responsibility of killing him, to a shepherd. The shepherd's wife had a stillborn child the same day, and she decided to hand over her own child as the body of Cyrus and give him a royal funeral. Therefore they decided to raise Cyrus as their own child. Cyrus grew up and was eventually recognized by Astyages. Cyrus was allowed to visit his father Cambyses several times. Meanwhile Astyages punished Harpagus due to his disobedience, by slaying his son and serving him as food. Therefore he was ready to avenge the death of his son:

"... Harpagus, who was bent on revenging himself upon Astyages, began to pay him court by gifts and messages. His own rank was too humble for him to hope to obtain vengeance without som foreign help ..."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

So Harpagus decided to aid Cyrus in his coming revolts. When Cyrus visited his father in Persia Harpagus sent him letters hidden in rabits. As Herodotus says:

"... These preparations made, Harpagus, being now ready for revolt, was anxious to make known his wishes to Cyrus, who still lived in Persia; but as the roads between Media and Persia were guarded, he had to contrive a means of sending word secretly, which he did in the following way. He took a hare, and cutting open its belly without hurting the fur, he slipped in a letter containing what he wanted to say..."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

One of the letters of Harpagus contained the following message:

"... Listen now to me, and obey my words, and all the empire of Astyages shall be thine. Raise the standard of revolt in Persia, and then march straight on Media. Whether Astyages appoint me to command his forces against thee or whether he appoint any other of the princes of the Medes, all will go as thou could wish. They will be the first to fall away from him, and joining thy side, exert themselves to overturn his power. Be sure that on our part all is ready; wherefore do thou thy part, and that speedily."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

In this manner the revolt of Persia led by Cyrus was prepared, and Harpagus kept persuading the Median army to defect to the Persians. And Cyrus did not have any time to waste. It was now known that Astyages was keen on getting rid of Cyrus because he was posing a threat to the Median hegemony.

(Cyrus commanding the Persians,

Cyrus was now the leader of the Persians and the tribes that he assembled and persuaded to revolt were: 

"... the principal ones on which all the others are dependent. These are the Pasagadae, the Maraphians, and the Maspians, of whom the Pasargadae are the noblest. The Achaemenidae, from which spring all of the Perseid kings, is one of their clans. The rest of the Persian tribes are the following: the Panthialaeans, the Derusiaeans, the Germanians, who are engaged in husbandry: the Daans, the Mardians, the Dropicans, and the Sagartians, who are nomads."
(The Histories of Herodotus, Book One, Translated by George Rawlinson)

Cyrus was now ready to meet his grandfather near the Median city Hyrba. Astyages wanted his grandson back dead or alive. Therefore he quickly sent 300 horsemen to:

"... bring him [Cyrus] back; if he would not obey they were to cut off his head and bring back that."
(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 349)

So the Median soldiers met Cyrus, and they presented the commands of Astyages. Cyrus was very clever and knew the fate that awaited him, if he turned the commands of his grandfather down. So he answered:

"Why should I not return as my lord summons me? Today we will feast; tomorrow we will set out"
(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 349)

The Median horsemen accepted this, and Cyrus sacrificed many oxen and other animals and caused the Medes to drink heavily so they were intoxicated. Cyrus did what he became famous for; he acted unbelievably quickly and sent a message to his father, Cambyses I in order to:

"... send at once 1000 cavalry and 5000 foot-soldiers to the city of Hyrba which lay on the way, and to arm the rest of the Persians as quickly as possible in such a way that it should seem to be done by command of the king. His true aims he did not communicate to him."
 (Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 349)

So Cyrus left the 300 sleeping Medes in the night and quickly went to the city of Hyrba and armed the inhabitants. When the Medes slept out there debauch and saw that Cyrus was nowhere to be found, they pursued him and came to Hyrba. And the battle of Hyrba ensued where: 

"... Cyrus first displayed his bravery, for with his Persians he slew 250 of the horse of Astyages. The remainder escaped, and brought the news to Astyages. 'Woe is me!' cried the king  striking his thigh, 'that I, well knowing that we should not do good to the evil, have allowed myself to be carried away by clever speeches, and have raised up this Mardian [Cyrus] to be such a mischief to me."
(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 350)

Astyages was infuriated by the rebellious youngster who was only 24 years. so he decided to invade Persia and summoned up:

"... against the Persians nearly 1.000.000 foot-soldiers, 200.000 horse and 3.000 chariots"
(Max Duncker, The History of Antiquity book, Book VII, pp. 350)

So Cyrus had now enticed the mighty Median war-machine against the tiny but motivated Persia. The inequality in numbers and resources seemed to motivate Cyrus to meet the vast armies of his grandfather in battles that were going to determine the future of Persia...

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