The Mannaeans were an ancient people who lived in the territory of present-day northwestern Iran south of Lake Urmia, around the 10th to 7th centuries BC. At that time they were neighbours of the empires of Assyria and Urartu, as well as other small buffer states between the two, such as Musasir and Zikirta.
In the Bible (Jeremiah 51:27) the Mannaeans are called Minni. In the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), Minni is identified with Armenia
“According to the Peshiṭta and Targum Onkelos, the “Minni” of the Bible (Jer. li. 27) is Armenia—or rather a part of that country, as Ararat is also mentioned (Isa. xxxvii. 38; II Kings xix. 37) as a part of Armenia.”
but it can also relate to one of the regions of ancient Armenia, such as Manavasean (Minyas). Together with Ararat and Ashkenaz, this is probably the same Minnie from the Assyrian inscriptions, corresponding to Manna. Armenia is interpreted by some specialist scholars as ḪARMinni, that is, the “mountain region of Minnie.”
According to examinations of the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, the Mannaeans, or at least their rulers, spoke Hurrian, a non-Semitic and non-Indo-European language related to Urartian, with no modern language connections.
The kingdom was situated east and south of the Lake Urmia, roughly centred around the Urmia plain in this part of what is today named Iranian Azerbaijan. Excavations that began in 1956 succeeded in uncovering the fortified city of Hasanlu, once thought to be a potential Mannaean site. More recently, the site of Qalaichi (possibly ancient Izirtu/Zirta) has been linked to the Mannaeans based on a stela with this toponym found at the site.
After suffering several defeats at the hands of both Scythians and Assyrians, the remnants of the Mannaean populace were absorbed by the Matieni and the area became known as Matiene. It was then annexed by the Medes in about 609 BC.
The Mannaean kingdom began to flourish around 850 BC. The Mannaeans were mainly a settled people, practising irrigation and breeding cattle and horses. The capital was another fortified city, Izirtu (Zirta).
By the 820s BC, they had expanded to become the first large state to occupy this region since the Gutians, later followed by the unrelated Iranian peoples, the Medes and the Persians. By this time they had a prominent aristocracy as a ruling class, which somewhat limited the power of the king.
Beginning around 800 BC, the region became contested ground between Urartu, who built several forts on the territory of Mannae, and Assyria. During the open conflict between the two, c. 750–730 BC, Mannae seized the opportunity to enlarge its holdings. The Mannaean kingdom reached the pinnacle of its power during the reign of Iranzu (c. 725–720 BC).
In 716 BC, king Sargon II of Assyria moved against Mannae, where the ruler Aza, son of Iranzu, had been deposed by Ullusunu with the help of the Urartians. Sargon took Izirtu, and stationed troops in Parsua (Parsua was distinct from Parsumash located further southeast in what is today known as Fars province in Iran. The Assyrians thereafter used the area to breed, train and trade horses.
According to one Assyrian inscription, the Cimmerians (Gimirru) originally went forth from their homeland of Gamir or Uishdish on the shores of the Black Sea in “the midst of Mannai” around this time. The Cimmerians first appear in the annals in the year 714 BC, when they apparently helped the Assyrians to defeat Urartu. Urartu chose to submit to the Assyrians, and together the two defeated the Cimmerians and thus kept them out of the Fertile Crescent. At any rate, the Cimmerians had again rebelled against Sargon by 705, and he was killed whilst driving them out. By 679 they had instead migrated to the east and west of Mannae.
The Mannaeans are recorded as rebelling against Esarhaddon of Assyria in 676 BC when they attempted to interrupt the horse trade between Assyria and its colony of Parsuash.
The king Ahsheri, who ruled until the 650s BC, continued to enlarge the territory of Mannae, although paying tribute to Assyria. However, Mannae suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Assyrians around 660 BC, and subsequently, an internal revolt broke out, continuing until Ahsheri’s death. Also in the 7th century BC, Mannae was defeated by the advancing Scythians, who had already raided Urartu and been repelled by the Assyrians. This defeat contributed to the further break-up of the Mannaean kingdom.
King Ahsheri’s successor, Ualli, as an ally of Assyria, took the side of the Assyrians against the Iranian Medes (Madai), who was at this point still based to the east along the southwest shore of the Caspian Sea and revolting against Assyrian domination. The Medes and Persians were subjugated by Assyria. However, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which had dominated the region for three hundred years, began to unravel, consumed by civil war after the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BC. The upheavals in Assyria allowed the Medes to free themselves from Assyrian vassalage and make themselves the major power in ancient Iran at the expense of the Persians, Mannaeans and the remnants of the indigenous Elamites whose kingdom had been destroyed by the Assyrians. At the battle of Qablin in ca. 616 BC the Assyrian and Mannaean forces were defeated by Nabopolassar’s troops. This defeat laid open the frontiers of the Land of the Manneans which fell under the control of Media between 615 BC and 611 BC.