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Harpagus (हरपेगस) was a Median (Manda) general from the 6th century BC, credited by Herodotus as having put Cyrus the Great on the throne through his defection during the battle of Pasargadae. Historians[1] have proved that he was from the Manda Jat clan.

Variants of name


According to Herodotus' Histories, Harpagus was a member of the Median royal house in service to King Astyages, the last king of Media.

When word reached Astyages that Cyrus was gathering his forces, he ordered Harpagus, as his primary general, to lead the army against Cyrus. After a three-day battle on the plain of Pasargadae, Harpagus took his revenge for the death of his son when he turned on the battlefield in favor of Cyrus, resulting in Astyages' defeat and the formation of the Persian Empire.


Herodotus accounts for the turn of Harpagus' support to a version of the cannibal feast of Thyestes.[2] He reports that Astyages, after having a dream that his daughter, Mandane, would give birth to a king who would overthrow him, ordered Harpagus to expose the child at birth. Harpagus, reluctant to spill his own royal blood, gave the child (Cyrus) to a shepherd named Mitradates,[3] who raised him as his own son.

Ten years later, when Cyrus was discovered alive, Astyages cruelly punished Harpagus by killing Harpagus' only son and feeding him to the courtier during a banquet. It is said that Harpagus did not react during the banquet, other than to gather the pieces of his son and remove them for burial. Astyages then asked his Magi (priests) for their advice about the fate of Cyrus. They told him that the boy, who had been discovered while playing king of the mountain with his friends, had fulfilled the prophecy of becoming a king, albeit in play, and was no longer a danger. On their advice, Astyages sent Cyrus to his parents, Cambyses I and Mandane, in Anšan (southwestern Iran near Shiraz).

Harpagus bided his time, sending gifts to Cyrus to keep contact with him, as he worked to turn the nobles of Media against Astyages. When they were ready, he sent a message to Cyrus, hidden in the belly of a hare, informing him that the Medians would mutiny on the field, should he take arms against his grandfather.


Herodotus, The Histories:

"Astyages, as soon as Cyrus was born, sent for Harpagus, a man of his own house and the most faithful of the Medes...."
"When Cyrus beheld the Lydians arranging themselves in order of battle on this plain, fearful of the strength of their cavalry, he adopted a device which Harpagus, one of the Medes, suggested to him. He collected together all the camels that had come in the train of his army to carry the provisions and the baggage, and taking off their loads, he mounted riders upon them accoutred as horsemen. These he commanded to advance in front of his other troops against the Lydian horse..."
"Astyages, meanwhile, took the son of Harpagus, and slew him, after which he cut him in pieces, and roasted some portions before the fire, and boiled others..."
"When Cyrus grew to manhood, and became known as the bravest and most popular of all his compeers, Harpagus, who was bent on revenging himself upon Astyages, began to pay him court by gifts and messages..."
"Upon Mazares' death, Harpagus was sent down to the coast to succeed to his command. He also was of the race of the Medes, being the man whom the Median king, Astyages, feasted at the unholy banquet, and who lent his aid to place Cyrus upon the throne..."
"After conquering the Ionians, Harpagus proceeded to attack the Carians, the Caunians, and the Lycians. The Ionians and Aeolians were forced to serve in his army..."

The Chronicle of Nabonidus:

"King Astyages called up his troops and marched against Cyrus, king of Anšan (southwest Iran), in order to meet him in battle. The army of Astyages revolted against him and in fetters they delivered him to Cyrus. Cyrus marched against the country Ecbatana; the royal residence he seized; silver, gold, other valuables of the country Ecbatana he took as booty and brought to Anšan."[4]

Acquisition of Lycia by Cyrus the Great

Herodotus writes more credibly of contemporaneous events, especially where they concerned his native land. Asia Minor had been partly conquered by the Iranians, starting with the Scythians, then the Medes. The latter were defeated by the Persians, who incorporated them and their lands into the new Persian Empire. Cyrus the Great, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, resolved to complete the conquest of Anatolia as a prelude to operations further west, to be carried out by his successors. He assigned the task to Harpagus, a Median general, who proceeded to subdue the various states of Anatolia, one by one, some by convincing them to submit, others through military action.

Arriving at the southern coast of Anatolia in 546 BC, the army of Harpagus encountered no problem with the Carians and their immediate Greek neighbors and alien populations, who submitted peacefully. In the Xanthus Valley an army of Xanthians sallied out to meet them, fighting determinedly, although vastly outnumbered. Driven into the citadel, they collected all their property, dependents and slaves into a central building, and burned them up. Then, after taking an oath not to surrender, they died to a man fighting the Persians, foreshadowing and perhaps setting an example for Spartan conduct at the Battle of Thermopylae a few generations later. Coincidentally archaeology has turned up a major fire on the acropolis of Xanthus in the mid-6th century BC, but as Antony Keen points out, there is no way to connect that fire with the event presented by Herodotus. It might have been another fire.[5] The Caunians, says Herodotus, followed a similar example immediately after.[6] If there was an attempt by any of the states of Lycia to join forces, as happened in Greece 50 years later, there is no record of it, suggesting that no central government existed. Each country awaited its own fate alone.

Herodotus also says or implies that 80 Xanthian families were away at the time, perhaps with the herd animals in alpine summer pastures , but helped repopulate the place. However, he reports, the Xanthians of his time were mainly descended from non-Xanthians. Looking for any nuance that might shed light on the re-population of Xanthus, Keen interprets Herodotus' "those Lycians who now say that they are Xanthians" to mean that Xanthus was repopulated by other Lycians (and not by Iranians or other foreigners).[7] Herodotus said nothing of the remainder of Lycia; presumably, that is true because they submitted without further incident. Lycia was well populated and flourished as a Persian satrapy; moreover, they spoke mainly Lycian.

Military career

After the defeat of Astyages (550 BC) Harpagus started - according to Herodotus - a military career under the new ruler Cyrus II:

  • Harpagus suggested using camels as the front line against the Lydians in Cyrus II's war against Croesus, thereby scattering the Lydian cavalry (the horses panicked at the smell of the dromedaries).
  • Following a revolt by the Lydians and the death of Cyrus's infantry commander, General Mazares, Cyrus II turned over the conquest of Asia Minor to Harpagus, who went on to serve as Cyrus's most successful general.
  • The Median general followed his victory at Lydia by conquering Ionia, Phoenicia, Caria, Lycia and many other regions of Asia Minor (except Miletus, which had earned the favor of Cyrus through their great sage Thales's advice to stay neutral in the Lydian war).
  • Harpagus was also known for innovations in engineering techniques, specifically, the use of earthwork ramps and mounds during sieges (a method later employed by Alexander the Great during his siege of Tyre) and for the use of mountain climbers to scale opponents' walls.
  • Despite Harpagus' reputation for mercy, the residents of Xanthos in Lycia committed suicide rather than surrender to him, saying that they had never been conquered.

Later life

After the completion of his conquests, Harpagus was appointed Satrap of Asia Minor. His descendants are claimed as the royal family of Lycia in what is now southwest Turkey.

Jat History

Historians[8] have proved that he was from the Manda Jat clan. Median Empire mentioned in the history books was infact was a Jat Empire of Manda. ....When in the course of a few generations the wheel of fortune turned, a Persian prince with Jat blood flowing in his veins succeeded to that Jat Empire. The laws, the administration and the army, however, remained Jat. Even the Commander-in-Chief of the army, Harpagus, was the same Jat, who had previously conquered so many countries under the Manda Empire. Only the Emperor, the head of the Empire, was Persian. The name of the Empire was, however, changed into Manda and Persian Empire. In course of time the word Manda happened by a mere philological mistake, to be changed into Mede.

Bhim Singh Dahiya[9] writes....Ishtuvegu or Astyages was superstitious King. He had no son and his daughter named Mandani (after the clan name Manda) was married to a small vassal prince of Ellam, because It was forecast by the Magis that her issue will become the king of Asia and Europe. The emperor saw a vine outgrowing from Mandani which overshadowed the whole of Asia. He, therefore, feared to marry her to a noble man of his own country and thus he wanted to flout the fate. But as always happens, it was impossible to do so. The first issue of princess Mandani, was Cyrus who became the emperor, after putting in prison his maternal grandfather, Ishtuvegu through the help of General Harpagus whose son the crooked king had made into a dinner served to Harpagus himself. Three battles were fought, as per traditions preserved by the classical writers, before Ecbatana itself fell in 550 B.C. Cyrus was emperor of Persia and had inherited the empire of the Mandas which was further extended by him. But this does not mean that efforts were not made to recover the lost empire. We hear that Cyrus himself fought wars against the Jats in Balkh and the Caspian sea. At both the places he was unsuccessful. Balakh remained under the Kangs, and the small kingdom of the Massaagate ruled over by the Dahias, remained free and independent.


हरपेगस (Harpagus) - यह ईश्तुवेगु (Astyages) (550 BC) के शासनकाल में मांडा जाट साम्राज्य की जाट सेना का प्रसिद्ध वीर योद्धा एवं योग्य सेनापति था। इसकी कल्पना तथा सहायता से साईरस (Cyrus) मांडा साम्राज्य तथा फारस का महान् सम्राट् बना।[10]


  1. Ujagar Singh Mahil: Antiquity of the Jat race, Delhi (1954), sec.4, Ch.1
  2. The detailed parallels are presented by Walter Burkert, Homo Necans (1983:103-09.
  3. Mitradeates: the Hellenistic form of an Iranian theophoric name meaning "given by Mithra".
  4. ABC 7 (Nabonidus Chronicle)
  5. Keen & (1998), p. 73.
  6. Histories, Book I, Section 176.
  7. Keen & (1998), p. 76.
  8. Ujagar Singh Mahil: Antiquity of the Jat race, Delhi (1954), sec.4, Ch.1
  9. Bhim Singh Dahiya:Jats the Ancient Rulers (A clan study)/The Mandas, p.131
  10. Jat History Dalip Singh Ahlawat/Chapter IV,p.424