Darius I (Old Persian: Dārayava(h)uš; New Persian: داریوش یکم هخامنشی c. 550–486 BCE) was the third king of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Also called Darius the Great, he ruled the empire at its peak, when it included much of West Asia, the Caucasus, Central Asia, parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Pannonia), portions of north and northeast Africa including Egypt (Mudrâya), eastern Libya, coastal Sudan, Eritrea, as well as most of Pakistan, the Aegean Islands and northern Greece / Thrace-Macedonia.
Darius is mentioned in the Biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah.
Darius ascended the throne by overthrowing Gaumata, the alleged magus usurper of Bardiya with the assistance of six other Persian noble families; Darius was crowned the following morning. The new king met with rebellions throughout his kingdom and quelled them each time. A major event in Darius's life was his expedition to punish Athens and Eretria for their aid in the Ionian Revolt, and subjugate Greece. Although ultimately ending in failure, Darius succeeded at the re-subjugation of Thrace, expansion of the empire via the conquering of Macedon, Cyclades, and the island of Naxos, and the sacking and enslavement of the city of Eretria.
Darius organized the empire by dividing it into provinces and placing satraps to govern it. He organized a new uniform monetary system, along with making Aramaic the official language of the empire. Darius also worked on construction projects throughout the empire, focusing on Susa, Pasargadae, Persepolis, Babylon and Egypt. Darius devised a codification of laws for Egypt. He also had the cliff-face Behistun Inscription carved, an autobiography of great modern linguistic significance. Darius also started many massive architectural projects, including magnificent palaces in Persepolis and Susa.
Dārīus and Dārēus are the Latin form of the Greek Dareîos (Δαρεῖος), itself from Old Persian Dāraya(h)uš ; in Aramaic dryhwš), which is a shortened form of Dārayava(h)uš .
The longer form is also seen to have been reflected in the Elamite Da-ri-(y)a-ma-u-iš, Babylonian Da-(a-)ri-ia-(a-)muš, Aramaic drywhwš, and possibly the longer Greek form Dareiaîos (Δαρειαῖος). The name means "holding firm the good", which can be seen by the stem dāraya, meaning "hold", and the adjective vau, meaning "good".
The Modern Persian form is Dāryūsh (داریوش).
Darius left a tri-lingual monumental relief on Mount Behistun which was written in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian between his coronation and his death. The inscription begins with a brief autobiography with his ancestry and lineage. To aid the presentation of his ancestry, Darius wrote down the sequence of events which occurred after the death of Cyrus the Great. Darius mentions several times that he is the rightful king by the grace of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god. In addition, further texts and monuments from Persepolis have been found, including a fragmentary Old Iranian inscription from Gherla, Romania (Harmatta) and a letter from Darius to Gadates, preserved in a Greek text of the Roman period.
Herodotus, a Greek historian and author of The Histories, provided an account of many Persian kings and the Greco-Persian Wars. He wrote an extensive amount of information on Darius which spans half of book 3, along with books 4, 5 and 6. It begins with the removal of the alleged usurper Gaumata and continues to the end of Darius's reign.
The Book of Ezra (chapter 6, verses 1 to 11) describes the decree to continue reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, specifying financial support and supplies for the temple services. This decree is dated approximately 519 BCE. Between Cyrus and Darius, an exchange of letters with King Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes is described (chapter 4, verse 7), the grandson of Darius I, in whose reign Ezra and Nehemiah came to Jerusalem. The generous funding of the temple gave Darius and his successors the support of the Jewish priesthood.
Darius is not only mentioned in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, but also in the prophetic books of Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah.
Darius was born as the eldest of five sons to Hystaspes and Rhodugune in 550 BCE. Hystaspes was a leading figure of authority in Persia, which was the homeland of the Persians. Darius's inscription states that his father was satrap of Bactria in 522 BCE. According to Herodotus, Hystaspes was the satrap of Persis, although most historians state that this is an error. Also according to Herodotus (III.139), Darius, prior to seizing power and "of no consequence at the time", had served as a spearman (doryphoros) in the Egyptian campaign (528–525 BCE) of Cambyses II, then the Persian Great King. Hystaspes was an officer in Cyrus's army and a noble of his court.
Before Cyrus and his army crossed the Aras River to battle with northern tribes, he installed his son Cambyses II as king in case he should not return from battle. However, once Cyrus had crossed the Aras River he had a dream with a vision of Darius in which he had wings atop his shoulders and stood upon the confines of Europe and Asia (the whole known world). When Cyrus awoke from the dream, he inferred it as a great danger to the future security of the empire, as it meant that Darius would one day rule the whole world. However, his son Cambyses was the heir to the throne, not Darius, causing Cyrus to wonder if Darius was forming treasonable and ambitious designs. This led Cyrus to order Hystaspes to go back to Persis and watch over his son strictly, until Cyrus himself returned. Darius did not seem to have any treasonous thoughts as Cambyses II ascended the throne peacefully, and through promotion Darius was eventually elevated to Cambyses's personal lancer.
The rise of Darius to the throne contains two variations, an account from Darius and another from Greek historians. Some modern historians have inferred that Darius's rise to power might have been illegitimate. To them, it seems likely that Gaumata was in fact Bardiya, and that under cover of revolts, Darius killed the heir to the throne and took it himself.
Darius's account, written at the Behistun Inscription states that Cambyses II killed his own brother Bardiya, but that this murder was not known among the Iranian people. A would-be usurper named Gaumata came and lied to the people, stating he was Bardiya. The Iranians had grown rebellious against Cambyses's rule and on 11 March 522 BCE a revolt against Cambyses broke out in his absence. On 1 July, the Iranian people chose to be under the leadership of Gaumata, as "Bardiya". No member of the Achamenid family would rise against Gaumata for the safety of their own life. Darius, who had served Cambyses as his lance-bearer until the deposed ruler's death, prayed for aid and in September 522 BCE, along with Otanes, Intraphrenes, Gobryas, Hydarnes, Megabyzus and Aspathines, killed Gaumata in the fortress of Sikayauvati.
Herodotus provides a dubious account of Darius's ascension: Several days after Gaumata had been assassinated, Darius and the other seven nobles discussed the fate of the empire. At first, the seven discussed the form of government; a democratic republic was strongly pushed by Otanes, an oligarchy was pushed by Megazybus, while Darius pushed for a monarchy. After stating that a republic would lead to corruption and internal fighting, while a monarchy would be led with a single-mindedness not possible in other governments, Darius was able to convince the other nobles that a monarchy was the correct form of government. To decide who would become the monarch, the six nobles (Otanes stated that he had no interest in becoming king) decided on a test. All six nobles would gather outside mounted on their horses at sunrise, and the nobles' horse which neighed first would become Great King. According to Herodotus, Darius had a slave, Oebares who helped Darius win this contest. Before the contest, Oebares rubbed his hand over the genitals of a mare that Darius's horse had a fondness for. When the six nobles gathered outside, Oebares placed his hands beside the nostrils of Darius's horse, who became excited at the smell and neighed. Immediately after, lightning and thunder occurred leading the other six noblemen to believe to be an act of God, causing them to dismount and kneel before Darius. Darius did not believe that he had achieved the throne through fraud but through brilliant sagacity, even erecting a statue of himself mounted on his neighing horse stating "Darius, son of Hystaspes, obtained the sovereignty of Persia by the sagacity of his horse and the ingenious contrivance of Oebases, his groom."
According to the accounts of Greek historians, Cambyses II had left Patizeithes in charge of the kingdom when he headed for Egypt. He later sent Prexaspes to murder Bardiya. After the killing, Patizeithes put his brother Gaumata, a Magian who resembled Bardiya, on the throne and declared him the Great King. Otanes discovered that Gaumata was an impostor, and along with six other Iranian nobles including Darius, created a plan to oust the pseudo-Bardiya. After killing the impostor along with his brother Patizeithes and other Magians, Darius was crowned king the following morning.
Following his coronation at Pasargadae, Darius moved to Ecbatana. He soon learned that support for Bardiya was strong, and revolts in Elam and Babylonia had broken out. Darius ended the Elamite revolt when the revolutionary leader Aschina was captured and executed in Susa, after three months the revolt in Babylonia had ended. While in Babylonia, Darius learned a revolution had broken out in Bactria, a satrapy which had always been in favour of Darius, and had initially volunteered an army of soldiers to quell revolts. Following this, revolts broke out in Persis, the homeland of the Persians and Darius. These new revolts led to a renewed revolt in Elam and Babylonia. With all these ongoing revolts, revolts broke out in Media, Parthia, Assyria, and Egypt. By 522 BCE, the majority, if not the entire Achaemenid Empire was revolting against Darius and in turmoil. Even though Darius did not have the support of the populace, Darius had a loyal army, led by close confidants and nobles (including the six nobles with whom he removed Gaumata) with whom he was able to suppress and quell all revolts within a year. In Darius's words, he had killed a total of eight "lying kings" through the quelling of revolutions. Darius left a detailed account of these revolutions at the Behistun Inscription.
One of the significant events of Darius's early reign was the slaying of Intaphernes. Intaphernes was one of the seven noblemen who had deposed the previous ruler and installed Darius as the new monarch. The seven had made an agreement that they could all visit the new king whenever they pleased, except when he was with his wife. One evening, Intaphernes went to the palace to meet Darius, but was stopped by two officers who stated that Darius had retired for the night. Becoming enraged and insulted, Intaphernes drew his sword and cut off the ears and noses of the two officers. While leaving the palace, he took the bridle from his horse, and tied the two officers together. The officers went to the king and showed him what Intaphernes had done to them. Darius began to fear for his own safety; he thought that all seven noblemen had banded together to rebel against him and that the attack against his officers was the first sign of revolt. He sent a messenger to each of the noblemen, asking them if they approved of Intaphernes's actions; they denied it and disavowed any connection to Intaphernes's actions, stating that they stood by their decision to appoint Darius as King of Kings.
Taking precautions against further resistance, Darius sent soldiers to seize Intaphernes, along with his son, family members, relatives and any friends who were capable of arming themselves. Darius believed that Intaphernes was planning a rebellion, but when he was brought to the court, there was no proof of any such plan. Nonetheless, Darius killed Intaphernes's entire family, excluding his wife's brother and son. She was asked to choose between her brother and son. She chose her brother to live. Her reasoning for doing so was that she could have another husband and another son, but she would always have but one brother. Darius was impressed by her response and spared both her brother's and her son's life.
After securing his authority over the entire empire, Darius embarked on a campaign to Egypt where he defeated the armies of the Pharaoh and secured the lands that Cambyses had conquered while incorporating a large portion of Egypt into the Achaemenid Empire. Darius also led his armies to the Indus River, building fortresses and establishing Persian rule.
Invasion of Indus Valley
In 516 BC, Darius embarked on a campaign to Central Asia, Aria and Bactria and then marched into Afghanistan to Taxila Satrapy in modern Pakistan. Darius spent winter of 516-515 BC in Gandhara, preparing to conquer the Indus Valley. Darius conquered the Indus in 515 BC. Darius I controlled the Indus Valley from Gandhara to modern Karachi and appointed the Greek Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. Darius then marched through the Bolan Pass and returned through Arachosia and Drangiana back to Persia.
After Bardiya was murdered, widespread revolts occurred throughout the empire, especially on the eastern side. Darius asserted his position as king by force, taking his armies throughout the empire, suppressing each revolt individually. The most notable of all the revolts is the Babylonian revolt which was led by Nebuchadnezzar III. This revolt occurred when Otanes withdrew much of the army from Babylon to aid Darius in suppressing other revolts. Darius felt that the Babylonian people had taken advantage of him and deceived him, which resulted in Darius gathering a large army and marching to Babylon. At Babylon, Darius was met with closed gates and a series of defenses to keep him and his armies out. Darius encountered mockery and taunting from the rebels, including the famous saying "Oh yes, you will capture our city, when mules shall have foals." For a year and a half, Darius and his armies were unable to retake the city, though he attempted many tricks and strategies—even copying that which Cyrus the Great had employed when he captured Babylon. However, the situation changed in Darius's favor when, according to the story, a mule owned by Zopyrus, a high-ranking soldier, foaled. Following this, a plan was hatched for Zopyrus to pretend to be a deserter, enter the Babylonian camp, and gain the trust of the Babylonians. The plan was successful, and Darius's army eventually surrounded the city and overcame the rebels.
During this revolt, Scythian nomads took advantage of the disorder and chaos and invaded Persia. Darius first finished defeating the rebels in Elam, Assyria, and Babylon and then attacked the Scythian invaders. He pursued the invaders, who led him to a marsh; there he found no known enemies but an enigmatic Scythian tribe.
Persian invasion of Scythia
The Scythians were a group of north Iranian nomadic tribes, speaking an Indo-Iranian language who had invaded Media, killed Cyrus in battle, revolted against Darius and threatened to disrupt trade between Central Asia and the shores of the Black Sea as they lived between the Danube river, river Don and the Black Sea.
Darius crossed the Black Sea at the Bosphorus Straits using a bridge of boats. Darius conquered large portions of Eastern Europe - even crossing the Danube to wage war on the Scythians. Darius invaded Scythia, where the Scythians evaded Darius's army, using feints and retreating technique eastward while wasting the countryside, by blocking wells, intercepting convoys, destroying pastures and continuous skirmishes against Darius's army. Seeking to fight with the Scythians, Darius's army chased the Scythian army deep into Scythian lands, where there were no cities to conquer and no supplies to forage. In frustration Darius sent a letter to the Scythian ruler Idanthyrsus to fight or surrender. The ruler replied that he would not stand and fight with Darius until they found the graves of their fathers and tried to destroy them - until then, they could continue their current technique as they had no cities or cultivated lands to lose. Darius ordered a halt at the banks of Oarus, where he built eight frontier fortresses spaced at intervals of eight miles. After chasing the Scythians for a month, Darius's army was suffering losses due to fatigue, privation and sickness. In fear of losing more troops, he halted the march at the banks of the Volga River and headed towards Thrace. He had conquered enough territory of Scythia to force the Scythians to respect the Persian forces.
Persian invasion of Greece
Darius's European expedition was a major event in his reign, which began with the invasion of Thrace, after which he left Megabyzus to conquer Thrace, returning to Sardis to spend the winter. Before returning, Darius also conquered many cities of the northern Aegean, while Macedonia submitted voluntarily. The Greeks living in Asia Minor and some of the Greek islands had submitted to Persian rule by 510 BCE. Nonetheless, there were certain Greeks who were pro-Persian, such as the medizing Greeks, which were largely grouped at Athens. This improved Greek-Persian relations as Darius opened his court and treasuries to the Greeks who wanted to serve him. These Greeks served as soldiers, artisans, statesmen and mariners for Darius; however, Greek fear of the strength of Darius's kingdom became strong and the constant interference by the Greeks in Ionia and Lydia were all stepping stones in the conflict that was yet to come between Persia and Greece.
When Aristagoras organized the Ionian revolt, Eretria and Athens supported him by sending ships and troops to Ionia and burning Sardis. Persian military and naval operations to quell the revolt ended in the Persian reoccupation of Ionian and Greek islands; however, anti-Persian parties gained more power in Athens, and pro-Persian aristocrats were exiled from Athens and Sparta. Darius responded by sending troops led by his son-in-law across the Hellespont; however, a violent storm and harassment by Thracians forced the troops to return to Persia. Seeking revenge on Athens and Eretria, Darius assembled another army of 20,000 men under his Admiral, Datis, and his nephew Artaphernes, who met success when he captured Eretria and advanced to Marathon. In 490 BCE, at the Battle of Marathon, the Persian army was defeated by a heavily armed Athenian army, with 9,000 men who were supported by 600 Plataeans, 1,000 soldiers from each of eleven Greek city-states (11,000 men in total) and 10,000 lightly armed soldiers led by Miltiades.
The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece. Darius began preparations for a second force which he would command, instead of his generals; however, before the preparations were complete, Darius died, thus leaving the task to his son Xerxes.
Darius was the son of Hystaspes and the grandson of Arsames. Both men belonged to the Achaemenid tribe and were still alive when Darius ascended the throne. Darius justifies his ascension to the throne with his lineage: he claimed it traced back to Achaemenes, even though he was only distantly related. For these reasons, Darius married Atossa, daughter of Cyrus, with whom he had four sons: Xerxes, Achaimenes, Masistes and Hystaspes. He also married Artystone, another daughter of Cyrus, with whom he had two sons, Arsames and Gobryas. Darius additionally married Parmys, the daughter of Bardiya, with whom he had a son, Ariomardos. Furthermore, Darius married Phratagone, with whom he had two sons, Abrokomas and Hyperantes. He also married another woman of the nobility, Phaidime, the daughter of Otanes. It is unknown if he had any children with her. Before these royal marriages, Darius married a commoner with whom he had three sons, Artobarzanes, Ariabignes and Arsamenes. Any daughters he had with her are not known. Although Artobarzanes was the first-born of Darius, Xerxes became heir and the next king through the influence of Atossa; she had great authority in the kingdom as Darius loved her most of all his wives.
After becoming aware of the Persian defeat at the Battle of Marathon, Darius began planning another expedition against the Greek-city states; this time, he, not Datis, would command the imperial armies. Darius had spent three years preparing men and ships for war when a revolt broke out in Egypt. This revolt in Egypt worsened his failing health and prevented the possibility of leading another army by himself. Soon after, Darius died. In October 486 BCE, the body of Darius was embalmed and entombed in the rock-cut sepulcher that had been prepared for him several years earlier.
Xerxes, the eldest son of Darius and Atossa, succeeded to the throne as Xerxes I; however, prior to Xerxes's accession, he contested the succession with his elder half-brother Artobarzanes, Darius's eldest son who was born to his commoner first wife before Darius rose to power.
In 1923 German archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld made casts of the cuneiform inscriptions on Darius's tomb. They are currently housed in the archives of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Early in his reign, Darius wanted to organize the loosely organized empire with a system of taxation he inherited from Cyrus and Cambyses. To do this, Darius created twenty provinces called satrapies (or archi) which were each assigned to a satrap (archon) and specified fixed tributes that the satrapies were required to pay. A complete list is preserved in the catalog of Herodotus, beginning from Ionia and listing the other satrapies from west to east excluding Persis which was the land of the Persians and the only province which was not a conquered land. Tributes were paid in both silver and gold talents.
Tributes in silver from each satrap were measured with the Babylonian talent. Those paid in gold were measured with the Euboic talent. The total tribute from the satraps came to an amount less than 15,000 silver talents.
The majority of the satraps were of Persian origin and were members of the royal house or the six great noble families. These satraps were personally picked by Darius to monitor these provinces, which were divided into sub-provinces with their own governors which were chosen either by the royal court or by the satrap. To assess tributes, a commission evaluated the expenses and revenues of each satrap. To ensure that one person did not gain too much power, each satrap had a secretary who observed the affairs of the state and communicated with Darius, a treasurer who safeguarded provincial revenues and a garrison commander who was responsible for the troops. Additionally, royal inspectors who were the "eyes and ears" of Darius completed further checks over each satrap.
There were headquarters of imperial administration at Persepolis, Susa, and Babylon while Bactria, Ecbatana, Sardis, Dascyclium and Memphis also had branches of imperial administration. Darius chose Aramaic as a common language, which soon spread throughout the empire. However, Darius gathered a group of scholars to create a separate language system only used for Persis and the Persians, which was called Aryan script which was only used for official inscriptions.
Darius conducted the new introduction of a universal currency, the daric sometime before 500 BCE. Darius applied the coinage system as a transnational currency to regulate trade and commerce throughout his empire. The daric was also recognized beyond the borders of the empire - in places such as Celtic Central Europe and Eastern Europe. There were two types of darics, a gold and a silver. Only the king could mint gold darics, important generals and satraps minted silver darics, the latter usually to recruit Greek mercenaries in Anatolia. The daric was a major boost to international trade, trade goods such as textiles, carpets, tools and metal objects began to travel throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. To further improve trade, Darius built a royal highway, a postal system and Phoenician-based commercial shipping.
The daric also improved government revenues as the introduction of the daric led to new taxes on land, livestock and marketplaces. This also led to the registration of land. It was measured and taxed accordingly. The increased government revenues helped maintain and improve existing infrastructure. The increased government revenues also helped fund irrigation projects in dry lands. This new tax system also led to the formation of state banking and the creation of banking firms. One of the most famous banking firms was Murashu and Sons, based in Nippur. These banking firms provided loans and credit to clients.
The daric was called dārayaka within the empire and was most likely named after Darius. In an effort to further improve trade, Darius built canals, underground waterways and a powerful navy. He further improved and expanded the network of roads and waystations throughout the empire, so that there was a system of travel authorization for the King, Satrap and other high officials, which entitled the traveller to draw provisions at daily stopping places.
While there is no absolute consensus on the kings before Darius, such as Cyrus and Cambyses, it is well established that Darius was an adherent of Zoroastrianism or at least a firm believer in Ahura Mazda. As can be seen at the Behistun Inscription, Darius believed that Ahura Mazda had appointed him to rule the Achaemenid Empire. Darius had dualistic convictions and believed that each rebellion in his kingdom was the work of druj, the enemy of Asha. Darius believed that because he lived righteously by Asha, Ahura Mazda supported him. In many cuneiform inscriptions denoting his achievements, he presents himself as a devout believer, perhaps even convinced that he had a divine right to rule over the world.
In the lands that were conquered by his empire, Darius followed the same Achaemenid tolerance that Cyrus had shown and later Achaemenid emperors would show. He supported faiths and religions that were "alien" as long as the adherents were submissive and peaceable, sometimes giving them grants from his treasury for their purposes. He had funded the restoration of the Israelite temple which had originally been decreed by Cyrus the Great, presented favour towards Greek cults which can be seen in his letter to Gadatas, and supported Elamite priests. He had also observed Egyptian religious rites related to kingship and had built the temple for the Egyptian god, Amun.
During Darius's Greek expedition, he had begun construction projects in Susa, Egypt and Persepolis. He had linked the Red Sea to the river Nile by building a canal which ran from modern Zaqāzīq to modern Suez. To open this canal, he traveled to Egypt in 497 BCE, where the inauguration was done among great fanfare and celebration. Darius also built a canal to connect the Red Sea and Mediterranean. On this visit to Egypt he erected monuments and executed Aryandes on accounts of treason. When Darius returned to Persis, he found that the codification of Egyptian law had been finished.
Additionally, Darius sponsored large construction projects in Susa, Babylon, Egypt, and Persepolis. In Susa, Darius built a new palace complex in the north of the city. An inscription states that the palace was destroyed during the reign of Artaxerxes I, but was rebuilt. Today only glazed bricks of the palace remain, the majority of them in the Louvre. In Pasargadae Darius finished all incomplete construction projects from the reign of Cyrus the Great. A palace was also built during the reign of Darius, with an inscription in the name of Cyrus the Great. It was previously believed that Cyrus had constructed this building, however due to the cuneiform script being used, the palace is believed to have been constructed by Darius.
In Egypt Darius built many temples and restored those that had previously been destroyed. Even though Darius was a Zoroastrian, he built temples dedicated to the Gods of the Ancient Egyptian religion. Several temples found were dedicated to Ptah and Nekhbet. Darius also created several roads and routes in Egypt. The monuments that Darius built were often inscribed in the official languages of the Persian Empire, Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian and Egyptian hieroglyphs. To construct these monuments Darius hired a large number of workers and artisans of diverse nationalities. Several of these workers were deportees who had been employed specifically for these projects. These deportees enhanced the economy and improved international relations with neighboring countries that these deportees arrived from. At the time of Darius's death construction projects were still underway. Xerxes completed these works and in some cases expanded his father's projects by erecting new buildings of his own.