|This is a summary of a more extensive treatment of the identification of
the city at Kerkenes with Pteria, an imperial foundation of the Medes, mentioned by
Herodotus whose testimony is worth quoting in full:
The historical background to the Battle of Pteria begins with the Median attack on the Neo-Assyrian city of Nimrud in 614 BC, their subsequent alliance with the Babylonians and sack of Nineveh to the combined forces two years later. Sources for the following period of Median expansion are few and much debated, being Greek and Babylonian rather than Median and mostly somewhat later than events themselves. By 590-589 BC the Medes were fighting the Lydians in Central Anatolia. The power of Urartu must have been spent because the Median king Cyaxares could not have campaigned towards the Halys River without security in the rear. The Medio-Lydian war, a series of annual campaigns lasted into a sixth year when on the afternoon of 28 May 585 BC, it seemingly came to an end with the Battle of the Eclipse.
The next part of the story begins with the overthrow of Astyages and the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great. By this time Alyattes was dead and his son Croesus, brother-in-law of Astyages, was on the Lydian throne. Turmoil in the Iranian court provided Croesus with an opportunity. Using the convenient, if not genuine, excuse of the murder of his brother-in-law, and having sent envoys to various oracular temples from which he received what he could only interpret as a favorable answer he took his forces across the Halys River and sacked Pteria, as recounted in the passage from Herodotus quoted above. After the inconclusive Battle of Pteria between Croesus and Cyrus, Croesus retreated to Sardis for the winter from where he summoned his allies in the natural expectation that Cyrus too would withdraw for the winter and that the confrontation would be renewed in the following spring. Cyrus, however, went in immediate pursuit. The oracle at Delphi had been correct. An empire was destroyed as a consequence of Croesus's action but not, as he had so confidently expected, that of the Persians but rather his own.
The brief period of occupation at Kerkenes fits with the historical record: founded soon after 585 BC and destroyed by Croesus some forty years later. The site would be consistent with the need of Astyages for a strong base east of the Halys River, and the lack of later occupation can easily be understood because once Cyrus had exerted control over Lydia, the very reason for a strong base east of the Halys River no longer existed.
It is striking that Croesus treated the inhabitants of Pteria differently from the "Syrians" in the surrounding villages who, in contrast to the Pterians, had done no wrong. It can thus be argued that the phraseology of Herodotus implies that the inhabitants of Pteria were not the same as the rural population, an implication that can easily be understood if the occupants of the city were Medes and their allies: a foreign occupying power.
A much later author, Stephanos of Byzantium lists both Pteria near Sinop, and Pterion (alternatively Pteria), a city of the Medes. David French has suggested (pers. comm.) that the association of the name Pterion/Pteria with the Medes supports the identification of the Median city on the Kerkenes Dag with Herodotus' Pteria.
Source: The Kerkenes