Ach'metha (Heb. Achmetha', אִחמתָא, Ezr 6:2; Sept. Α᾿μαθά, Vulg. Ecbatana), the ECBATANA SEE ECBATANA of classical writers (τὰ Ε᾿κβάταυα, 2 Maccabees 9:3; Judith 11:1; Tobit 5:9; Josephus, Ant. 10:11, 7; 11:4, 6; also, in Greek authors, Ε᾿γβάτανα and Α᾿γβάτανα), a city in Media. The derivation of the name is doubtful (see Gesenius, Thes. Heb. p. 70); but Major Rawlinson (Geogr. Journal, 10, 134) has left little question that the title was applied exclusively to cities having a fortress for the protection of the royal treasures. The ancient orthography of this name is traced by Lassen (Jud. Biblioth. 3, 36) in the Sanscrit acradhana, i.e. ἱπποστασία, stable. In Ezra we learn that, in the reign of Darius Hystaspis, the Jews petitioned that search might be made in the king's treasure-house at Babylon for the decree which Cyrus had made in favor of the Jews (Ezr 5:17). Search was accordingly made in the record-office ("house of the rolls"), where the treasures were kept at Babylon (6, 1); but it appears not to have been found there, as it was eventually discovered "at Achmetha, in the palace of the province of the Medes" (6, 2). Josephus (Ant. 10:11, 7; 11:4, 6), while retaining the proper name of Ecbatana, yet (like the Sept., which adds the generic name πόλις) employs the word
βάρις to express the Chaldee בַּירתָא, Birtha' ("the palace"), which is used as the distinctive epithet of the city (Ezr 6:2).
In Judith 1:2-4, there is a brief account of Ecbatana, in which we are told that it was founded by Arphaxad (Phraortes), king of the Medes, who made it his capital. It was built of hewn stones, and surrounded by a high and thick wall, furnished with wide gates and strong and lofty towers. Herodotus ascribes its foundation to Dejoces, in obedience to whose commands the Medes erected "that great and strong city, now known under the name of Agbatana, where the walls are built circle within circle, and are so constructed that each inner circle overtops its outer neighbor by the height of the battlements alone. This was effected partly by the nature of the ground — a conical hill — and partly by the building itself. The number of the circles was seven, and within the innermost was the palace of the treasury. The battlements of the first circle were white, of the second black, of the third scarlet, of the fourth blue, of the fifth orange; all these were brilliantly colored with different pigments; but the battlements of the sixth circle were overlaid with silver, and of the seventh with gold. Such were the palace and the surrounding fortification that Dejoces constructed for himself; but he ordered the mass of the Median nation to construct their houses in a circle around the outer wall" (Herodot. 1:98). It is contended by Rawlinson (Geogr. Jour. 10, 127) that this story of the seven walls is a fable of Sabaean origin — the seven colors mentioned being precisely those employed by the Orientals to denote the seven great heavenly bodies, or the seven climates in which they revolve.
This Ecbatana has been usually identified with the present Hamodan (see Journal of Education, 2, 305), which is still an important town, and the seat of one of the governments into which the Persian kingdom is divided. It is situated in north lat. 34o 53', east long. 40 o, at the extremity of a rich and fertile plain, on a gradual ascent, at the base of the Elwund mountains, whose higher summits are covered with perpetual snow. Some remnants of ruined walls of great thickness, and also of towers of sun-dried bricks, afford the only positive evidence of a more ancient city than the present on the same spot. Although still declining, it has a population of about 25,000, and contains excellent and well-supplied bazaars, and numerous khans of rather a superior description — it being the great center where the routes of traffic between Persia, Mesopotamia, and Persia converge and meet. Its own manufactures are chiefly in leather. Many Jews reside here, claiming to be descended from those of the captivity who remained in Media.
Benjamin of Tudela says that in his time the number was 50,000. Rabbi David de Beth Hillel (Travels, p. 85-87, Madras, 1832) gives them but 200 families. The latest authority (J. J. Benjamin, Eight Years in Asia and Africa, Hanover, 1859, p. 204) reckons them at 500 families. They are mostly in good circumstances, having fine houses and gardens, and are chiefly traders and goldsmiths. They speak the broken Turkish of the country, and have two synagogues. They derive the name of the town from "Haman" and "Mede," and say that it was given to that foe of Mordecai by King Ahasuerus. In the midst of the city is a tomb, which is in their charge, and which is said to be that of Mordecai and Esther. It is a plain structure of brick, consisting of a small cylindrical tower and a dome (the whole about twenty feet high), with small projections or wings on three sides. An inscription on the wall in bass-relief describes the present tomb as having been built by two devout Jews of Kashan, in A.D. 714. The original structure is said to have been destroyed when Hamadan was sacked by Timour. As Ecbatana was anciently the summer residence of the Persian court, it is probable enough that Mordecai and Esther died and were buried there (see Kinneir's Persia, p. 126; Morier's Second Journey, p. 264 sq.; Southgate's Tour, 2, 102 sq.; Buckingham, Assyria, 1, 284 sq.; M'Culloch's Gazetteer, s.v. Hamadan).
The door of the tomb is very small, and consists of a single stone of great thickness, turning on its own pivot from one side. On passing through the little portal, the visitor is introduced into a small arched chamber, in which are seen the graves of several rabbis, some of which may contain the bodies of the first re-builders of the tomb, after the destruction of the original one by Timour. A second door, of very confined dimensions, is at the end of this vestibule, by which the entrance is made into a large apartment on hands and knees, and under the concave stand two sarcophagi, made of very dark wood, curiously and richly carved, with a line of Hebrew inscription running round the upper ledge of each. Other inscriptions, in the same language, are cut on the walls, while one of the most ancient, engraved on a white marble slab, is let into the wall itself. This slab is traditionally alleged to have been preserved from the ruins of the edifice destroyed by Timour, with the sarcophagi in the same consecrated spot. This last inscription is as follows: "Mordecai, beloved and honored by a king, was great and good. His garments were as those of a sovereign. Ahasuerus covered hin with this rich dress, and also placed a golden chain around his neck. The city of Susa (or Shushan) rejoiced at his honors, and his high fortune became the glory of the Jews." The inscription which encompasses the sarcophagus of Mordecai is to the following effect: "It is said by David, Preserve me, O God! I am now in thy presence. I have cried at the gate of heaven that thou art my God, and what goodness I have received from thee, O Lord! Those whose bodies are now beneath, in this earth, when animated by thy mercy, were great; and whatever happiness was bestowed upon them in this world came from thee, O God! Their griefs and sufferings were many at the first, but they became happy, because they always called upon thy name in their miseries. Thou liftedst me up, and I became powerful. Thine enemies sought to destroy me in the early times of my life; but the shadow of thy hand was upon me, and covered me as a tent from their wicked purposes. — Mordecai." The following is the inscription carved round the sarcophagus of Esther: "I praise thee, O God, that thou hast created me. I know that my sins merit punishment, yet I hope for mercy at thy hands; for whenever I call upon thee, thou art with me; thy holy presence secures me from all evil. My heart is at ease, and my fear of thee increases. My life became, through thy goodness, at the last, full of peace. O God! do not shut my soul out from thy divine presence. Those whom thou lovest never feel the torments of hell. Lead me, O merciful Father, to the life of life, that I may be filled with the heavenly fruits of Paradise. — Esther" (Ker Porter's Travels, 2, 88 sq.). SEE ESTHER.
Ecbatana, or Hamadan, is not without other local traditions connected with sacred history. On the mountain Orontes, or Elwund, the body of a son of King Solomon is pretended to be buried, but what son is not mentioned. It is a large square platform, little raised, formed by manual labor out of the native rock, which is ascended by a few rugged steps, and is assuredly no covering of the dead. It is a very ancient piece of workmanship, but how it came to be connected with a son of the Jewish monarch does not appear. The Jewish natives of Hamadan are credulous as to the reputed story, and it is not unlikely that it was originally a mountain altar to the sun, illustrating what we often read in Scripture respecting the idolatrous sacrificial worship in "high places." The natives believe that certain ravines of the mountain produce a plant which can transform all kinds of metal into gold, and also cure every possible disease. They admit that no one had ever found it, but their belief in its existence is nevertheless unshaken. They also have a fabulous legend respecting a stone on the side of this mountain, which reminds the English reader of the celebrated story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves in the Arabian Nights. This stone contains an inscription in cabalistic characters, unintelligible to every one who has hitherto looked on it; but it is believed that if any person could read the characters aloud an effect would be produced which will shake the mountain to its center, it being the protecting spell of an immense hidden treasure; and these characters once pronounced, would procure instant admittance from the genii of this subterranean cavern, and the wealth it contains would be laid at the feet of the fortunate invoker of this golden." Sesame!" SEE ECBATANA.
History mentions another Ecbatana, in Palestine, at the foot of Mount Carmel, toward Ptolemais, where Cambyses died (Herodot. 3, 64; Pliny 5:19). It is not mentioned by this or any similar name in the Hebrew writings. (See Reland, Paloest. p. 745.)