Darius I

Darius I

Darius I (Darius the Great), d. 486 B.C., king of ancient Persia (521-486 B.C.), called also Dariavaush and Darius Hystaspis (after his father, Hystaspes or Vishtaspa). A distant cousin of Cambyses II (see under Cambyses), he succeeded to the throne after the fall of the impostor claiming to be Smerdis. The first years of his reign were spent in putting down revolts in Persia, Media, Babylonia, and the East. He then proved himself the true successor of Cyrus the Great and one of the most able of the Achaemenids by revising and increasing Cyrus' use of the satrapies. These provinces were ruled by satraps, who functioned as viceroys and were responsible only to the Great King; the satraps were, however, checked by generals, ministers of home affairs, and secret police, all of whom were responsible to Darius alone. This system proved so efficient that it was later adopted by Alexander the Great and, still later, by the Parthians. Darius also undertook lengthy campaigns; an incursion against the Scythians began in 512 B.C., and it involved taking Thrace and Macedonia and building a bridge across the Danube. He was involved in a dispute with the Greeks after giving refuge to the tyrant Hippias, but more serious quarrels began with the revolt (c.500 B.C.) of the Ionian cities against Persian rule. Having put down the rebels, Darius set out to punish the Greek city-states that had aided in the insurrection (see Persian Wars). His first expedition was turned back by storms; his second met defeat in the memorable battle of Marathon (490 B.C.). Darius consolidated Persian power in the East, including NW India. He continued Cyrus' policy of restoring the Jewish state, and under his auspices the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem was completed in 515 B.C. For this reason he is mentioned warmly in Ezra, Haggai, and Zechariah. He left the Behistun Inscription. Written in Old Persian, Assyrian, and Susian (the Iranian language of Elam), it provided the key for deciphering Babylonian cuneiform. Upon his death he was succeeded by his son Xerxes I.

Darius I the Great (c. 549 BC–486 BC) Dārayavahuš: "Possessing goodness" ) was the son of Hystaspes, and king of Persia from 522 BC to 486 BC. His name in modern Persian is داریوش (dɒrjuʃ), in Hebrew דַּרְיָוֶשׁ (Daryavesh), the ancient Greek sources call him Δαρεῖος (Dareios), and Indians called him दरायु (Darāyu) in Sanskrit. Darius was the Latin spelling used by ancient Roman historians. The English pronunciation is sometimes /'dæriəs/ or /də'raɪəs/.

Having ascended to power amidst controversy and bloodshed that claimed two sons of Cyrus the Great, Darius I's reign was marked by revolt; twice Babylonia revolted, three times Susiana, and Ionian revolt precipitated several ill-fated Persian expeditions against Greece, including a defeat at Marathon. Darius subjugated the nations of the Pontic and Armenian mountains, and extended Persian dominion to the Caucasus; for the same reasons he fought against the Saka and other Iranian steppe tribes, as well as the Turanians from beyond the Oxus. In the process of these campaigns he made military reforms such as introducing conscription, pay for soldiers, military training and he also made changes in the army and navy.


Darius in his empire appears a fervent worshiper of Ahura Mazda. A great reformer and organizer, Darius thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and also the legal code. His revisions of the legal code revolved around laws of evidence, deposits, bribery, and assault.

It was through the organization of the empire he became the true restorer of the heritage of Cyrus the Great. His organizing of provinces and fixing of tributes is described by Herodotus (iii. 90 if.), evidently from good official sources. He divided the Persian Empire into 20 provinces, each under the supervision of a governor or satrap. The satrap position was usually hereditary and largely autonomous, allowing each province its own distinct laws, traditions, and elite class. Every province, however, was responsible for paying a gold or silver tribute to the emperor; many areas, such as Babylonia, underwent severe economic decline resulting from these quotas.

Each province also had an independent financial controller and an independent military coordinator as well as the satrap, who controlled administration and the law. All three probably reported directly to the king. This distributed power within the province more evenly and lowered the chance of revolt. Darius also increased the bureaucracy of the empire, with many scribes employed to provide records of the administration.

Soldiers of many nationalities served in the armies of Darius, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Indians, Egyptians, Jews and Arabs.

Building projects

Many building projects were started during the reign of Darius, the largest being the building of the new capital of Persepolis. Pasargadae was too well associated with the previous dynasty of Cyrus and Cambyses and so Darius sought a new capital. The city would have walls 60 feet high and 33 feet thick and would be an enormous engineering undertaking. Darius' tomb was cut into a rock face not far from the city. He dug a canal from the Nile to Suez, and, as the fragments of a hieroglyphic inscription found there show, his ships sailed from the Nile through the Red Sea by Saba to Persia. Darius also commissioned the extensive road network that was built all over the country. The Persepolis Tablets mention a ‘royal road’ from Susa to Persepolis and from Sardis to Susa built by Darius. It was highly organised with rest stations, guarded garrisons, inns and apparently no bandits. Darius is also remembered for his Behistun Inscription which was chiseled into the rock face near the town of Behistun. It showed Darius' successful ascension to the throne and described Darius' legitimacy to be king.

Economy, diplomacy and trade

Darius is often renowned above all as being a great financier. He fixed the coinage and introduced the golden Daric. He developed commerce within the empire and trade without. For example, he sent an expedition down the Kabul and Indus Rivers, led by the Carian captain Scylax of Caryanda, who explored the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. During his reign, the population increased and industries flourished in towns.

Persia under Darius probably had connections with Carthage (cf. the Karka of the Nakshi Rustam inscription) of Sicily and Italy. At the same time he attempted to gain the good-will of the subject nations, and for this purpose promoted the aims of their priests. He allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem and it was finished in 516 BC, his sixth year. In Egypt his name appears on the temples which he built in Memphis, Edfu and the Great Oasis. He called the high-priest of Sais, Tzahor, to Susa (as we learn from his inscription in the Vatican Museum), and gave him full powers to reorganize the "house of life," the great medical school of the temple of Sais. In the Egyptian traditions he is considered one of the great benefactors and lawgivers of the country. In similar relations he stood to the Greek sanctuaries (cf. his rescript to "his slave" Godatas, the inspector of a royal park near Magnesia on the Maeander, in which he grants freedom of taxes and forced labor to the sacred territory of Apollo); all the Greek oracles in Asia Minor and Europe therefore stood on the side of Persia in the Persian Wars and admonished the Greeks against attempting resistance. Weights and measures were standardized (as in a "royal cubit" or a "king’s measure") but often they still operated side by side with their Egyptian or Babylonian counterparts. This would have been a boon for merchants and traders as trade would now have been far simpler. The upgraded communication and administration networks also helped to turn the Empire ruled by the Achaemenid dynasty into a seemingly commercial entity based on generating wealth.

Darius also continued the process of religious tolerance to his subjects, which had been important parts of the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses. Darius himself was likely monotheistic - in royal inscriptions Ahuramazda is the only god mentioned by name. However, there is considerable evidence that Darius worshiped, funded, and honored various pantheons of gods. This was important as the majority of the empire's inhabitants were polytheists. Also, like many other Persian Kings, he was strictly against slavery: for example, all the workers at Persepolis and other construction projects he commissioned were paid, which was revolutionary at the time. His human rights policies were also common to his ancestors and future Persian kings, continuing the legacy of the Cyrus Cylinder.

European campaigns

About 512 BC Darius undertook a war against the Scythians. A great army crossed the Bosporus, subjugated eastern Thrace, Macedonia submitted voluntarily, and crossed the Danube. The purpose of this war can only have been to attack the nomadic tribes in the rear and thus to secure peace on the northern frontier of the empire. Yet the whole plan was based upon an incorrect geographical assumption; a common one in that era, and repeated by Alexander the Great and his Macedonians, who believed that on the Hindu Kush (which they called the Caucasus Indicus) and on the shores of the Jaxartes (which they called Tanais, i.e., the River Don) they were quite near to the Black Sea. Of course the expedition undertaken on these grounds could only prove a failure; having advanced for some weeks into the steppes of Ukraine, Darius was forced to return. The details given by Herodotus (according to him, Darius had reached the Volga) are quite fantastic; and the account which Darius himself had given on a tablet, which was added to his great inscription in Behistun, is destroyed with the exception of a few words.

At the time, European Greece was intimately connected with the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor and as a result Athens and Eretria gave support to the Ionian Revolt against the Persians. Once the rebellion was put down, the Persians attempted to punish Athens and European Greece for meddling in the rebellion. But the first expedition, that of Mardonius, failed on the cliffs of Mount Athos (492 BC), and the army which was led into Attica by Datis in 490 BC was beaten at the Battle of Marathon. Before Darius had finished his preparations for a third expedition an insurrection broke out in Egypt (487 BC). In the next year Darius died, probably in October 486 BC, after a reign of 36 years.


By the daughter of Gobryas

By Atossa

By Artystone

By Parmys, daughter of Smerdis

By Phratagune

By Phaedymia, daughter of Otanes


By unknown wives


See also



  • Darius I the Great
  • Brosius, M: Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 BC, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998.
  • Farrokh, Kaveh (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1846031087.

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