ID:5760 Section:

Updated:Sunday 12th October 2014

Harpagus Definition

Harpagus was a Median general, nobleman and courtier of king Astyages who was ordered to kill Cyrus the Great when he was a child.Harpagus, later earned the title: The kingmaker by Cyrus the Great.Median king Astyages reigned approximately between 585-550 B.C.Astyages first had a dream about his daughter Mandane in which the world flooded with her urine. The dream was interpreted by Magiens as: a descendant of Mandane would take over the world. Astyages gave Mandane to Cambyses I of Anshan considered to be a loyal person and no threat to his kingdom. Year later, Astyages had another vision. In his second dream, Mandane’s son Cyrus destroyed his empire. Therefore, Astyages secretly appointed Harpagus to kill the child. However Harpagus had a vow not to pour royal blood and he gave Cyrus to a herdsman named Mithradates to be killed. When Mithradates went home, he found out that his newly born kid was dead. They decided to keep the child, leaving the dead boy in the mountains. When the corpse of the child was found, everyone believed it was Cyrus, so Harpagus returned to Astyages and claimed that he had fulfilled his command.When Cyrus became 10, his acts were so noble that he raised suspicion. He had all characteristics of a great leader and most of all, he resembled Astyages himself. One day, Cyrus was playing the game of Kings and he was elected King by all the kids. Cyrus immediately started distributing tasks among his subjects! He appointed someone to build a palace and chose a strong one as his bodyguard. Another person became his Vezir, and then he chose a herald. One of the children playing the game was the son of a rich Median and he refused to take orders from Cyrus a herdsman’s son. Cyrus ordered his arrest and issued a harsh punishment for disobeying the king! The boy ran away to his father and cried out about Cyrus. The rich father, whose child was beaten, complained to the King, who had the duty of the judge too. Astyages, who became curious about Cyrus, summoned him into his presence. When asked why he punished the kid, Cyrus asserted that he did what he had to do, adding that he was ready to stand for his deeds. A herdsman’s son would not dare speak in that manner. Astyages asked the father of the child, Mithradates to be brought before him for questioning. So the truth was revealed and Harpagus confessed that he did not kill the child himself. Astyages spared the child’s life and promised not to kill Harpagus for his mistake.Astyages gave a party in honor of his grandson. The food presented to Harpagus at this party was prepared from the body of his own son. Harpagus was thus forced to eat his own son. Cyrus received a favorable treatment and was allowed to go to his own parents, Cambyses and Mandane but Harpagus started to look for an opportunity to take revenge. When Cyrus had come of age, he organized a federation of ten Persian tribes and marched against Astyages. Harpagus switched allegiance and during a battle at Pasargadae, the Medes defected to the Persians. The united army marched to the Median capital and seized Astyages, who was pardoned by Cyrus. This was the foundation of almost all stories told about Cyrus the Great. The Old Testament, Herodotus and many other ancient sources tell more or less the same story. It should be noted that after Macedonian Alexander conquered Persia, he burnt down Perspolis and di (Wikipedia) - Harpagus For the genus of birds of prey, see Harpagus (bird).

Harpagus, also known as Harpagos or Hypargus (Ancient Greek Ἅρπαγος; Akkadian: Arbaku), was a Median 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.

  • 1 Biography
  • 2 Myth
  • 3 Harpagus in historical texts
  • 4 Military career
  • 5 Later life
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 External links


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. 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, 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 the Medians would mutiny on the field, should he take arms against his grandfather.

Harpagus in historical texts

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."

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 Lydian 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 II''s infantry commander, General Mazares, Cyrus II turned over the conquest of Asia Minor to Harpagus, who went on to serve as Cyrus II''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 II through their great sage Thales''s advice to stay neutral in the Lydian war).
  • Though feared in battle, Harpagus is said to have followed Cyrus''s policy of tolerance and freedom of religion toward those he conquered.
  • 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.
  • The Phoenicians also did not wait for Harpagus'' victory, stealing away on ships, abandoning their homeland for their colony of Carthage.
Later life

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

  • ^ The detailed parallels are presented by Walter Burkert, Homo Necans (1983:103-09.
  • ^ Mitradeates: the Hellenistic form of an Iranian theophoric name meaning "given by Mithra".
  • ^ On-line text in translation
  • External links
    • Livius on Harpagus
    • The Chronicle of Nabonidus
    • The Histories of Herodotus

    Tags:Akkadian, Alexander the Great, Anshan, Asia, Asia Minor, Astyages, Cambyses, Caria, Carthage, Croesus, Cyrus, Cyrus the Great, Ecbatana, Greek, Harpagus, Herodotus, Ionia, Iran, Iranian, Livius, Lycia, Lydia, Macedonian Alexander, Medes, Media, Miletus, Mithra, Nabonidus, Old Testament, Pasargadae, Persia, Persian, Persian Empire, Perspolis, Phoenicia, Satrap, Shiraz, Turkey, Vezir, Wikipedia

    Harpagus Media

    Harpagus Terms

      Harpagus Articles

      Harpagus Your Feedback