Phraortes (Old Persian Frâda): son of Upadaranma, king of Media (522-521 BCE).

The Median king Phraortes on the Behistun relief
The Median king Phraortes on the Behistun relief

The immediate cause of Phraortes' rebellion was the death of the Persian king Cambyses in the Spring of 522 and the usurpation of the throne by a Magian named Gaumâta, who did not belong to the Achaemenid dynasty and may have been a Mede by birth. The adherents of the Persian royal house helped Darius become king; he killed Gaumâta in the stronghold Sikayauvatiš in Media on 29 September.

Almost immediately, two kings revolted: Nidintu-Bêl of Babylonia and ššina of Elam. When Darius had suppressed these rebellions and was staying in Babylon, Phraortes made his bid for power. He proclaimed that he was a descendant of the Median king Cyaxares and took the throne name Khshathrita; he seized Ecbatana, the capital of Media, in December 522 BCE. At more or less the same time, there was a new rebellion in Elam, this time under king Martiya; and there were other rebellions in adjacent provinces, such as Armenia, Assyria, and Parthia.

The Persians were unable to suppress the Median revolt immediately. In the Behistun inscription, Darius claims that his general Hydarnes won a victory at Marush (Mehriz, south of modern Yazd) on 12 January 521, but this served only to prevent Phraortes from invading Persia and did not seriously hurt his position in Media. Another factor working to the advantage of Phraortes was that Darius' army was made up of Median troops. They had fought for the Persian king at Babylon, but were not likely to attack their homeland.

However, Phraortes was unable to exploit the situation, because in Parthia, which was loyal to him, a Persian garrison still held out. It was commanded by Darius' father Hystaspes. On 8 March 521, the Parthians and their allies, the Hyrcanians, attacked the Persian garrison, but they were defeated.

As long as this Persian garrison could attack his rear, Phraortes could not attack Darius, who was able to built up a new army. In the spring, the Persian leader invaded Media from the west, and on 8 May 521 BCE, he defeated Phraortes at a place called Kunduru, which is probably identical to modern Bisotun, where the Behistun inscription can still be seen. Phraortes fled to the Parthians, but he was caught on his way to the religious center of the Magians, Rhagae (modern Tehrân). Darius writes in the Behistun inscription that he personally cut off the Median king's nose, ears and tongue, put out his eyes, and had him crucified in Ecbatana. The Behistun monument shows him before this mutilation (picture). His adherents were flayed and their hides were stuffed with straw.

After these victories, Darius could send troops to Armenia and to Parthia, where his generals managed to defeat the remaining rebels.

This page was created in 2000; last modified on 24 September 2020.