For centuries, the mighty Assyrian Empire dominated the ancient Middle East. Its influence even extended to the lands of the Medes, in what is now Iran. The Medes had mixed feelings about this and a nobleman named Phraortes led a revolt around 653 BC. But the bowmen of Assyria were justly feared, and the rebellion was crushed. Phraortes was executed and his grieving son Cyaxares swore to finish what his father had started.
This was no mean task, particularly considering that the Scythians had invaded Media in the meantime. But Cyaxares quietly submitted to Scythian rule until he was able to lure their leaders to a banquet. Once the Scythians were drunk, Cyaxares had them slaughtered. Next, he united the Medes into one kingdom under his command. He reformed the Mede army with new weapons and a focus on horsemen, which the Assyrians lacked.
In 614 BC, the Medes attacked, sacking the Assyrian stronghold at Ashur. Over the next two years, they ground closer to the Assyrian capital Ninevah, which fell in 612. Cyaxares had avenged his father and destroyed the greatest empire of the day. The Median Empire seemed destined to dominate the ancient world—-and it might have, had Cyaxares’s successor not had the misfortune to cross an young man called Cyrus, the leader of an obscure tribe called the Persians.