Darius the Great

(Darius Hystaspes)

d. 486 BC

Darius the Great was the third of the Great Kings of the Persian Empire. His two predecessors, Cyrus the Great and Cambyses, had been conquerors, but the main achievement of Darius was consolidation and organization. After putting down numerous rebellions in his early years, Darius set about administering to his kingdom. He minted gold coins, called Darics, that were widely used for commerce and trade. He divided the Empire up into twenty provinces, each run by a satrap, or governor, who in most cases, had a great deal of autonomy. In order to gain the good-will of his subject people, he allowed religious freedom, and donated money toward the building of various temples, including the Temple of Jerusalem, in Judea.

Darius did not inherit the throne of Persia, but rather came to it through a great deal of political intrigue. The previous occupant of the throne was a usurper, who had assumed the throne by declaring himself Smerdis, the second son of Cyrus the Great. The real Smerdis was dead, having been killed by Cambyses, his older brother, who feared his influence. The imposter stayed almost entirely within the palace and would not see visitors, allowing all of his business to be handled by a trusted minister. A group of seven Persian nobles, of whom Darius was one, became suspicious and hatched a plot to expose the imposter. When the imposter was deposed, the seven briefly considered an oligarchical form of government, but decided instead to select one of their number as the new king, and grant permanent privileges to the other six. Darius, by craft, won the throne of Persia and to seal his position, married Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. The names of the other six conspirators were Otanes, Hydarnes, Megabyzes, Intaphrenes, Gobryas, and Anspathines. Most played important roles in the administration of Darius and his successors for years to come.

Although Darius's main contribution to the Persian Empire was administrative, he did engage in several important military operations. His first major challenge was the re-taking of Babylon. The city, which was extremely well fortified and provisioned, rebelled while his army was tied up in Asia Minor. It took several years, and an elaborate ruse, to reduce the city. Babylon was dealt with firmly, and further rebellion ceased, so in the tenth year of Darius's reign, he planned an invasion of Scythia, which is a region in Europe bordering the Black Sea north of the Danube. Darius's invasion of Scythia, like that of Cyrus's, ended in defeat for the Persians, but at least Darius escaped with his life. This disaster curbed Darius's taste for conquest for many years, and he did not attempt another invasion of Europe for nearly twenty years.

The next great event of the reign of Darius was the Ionian Rebellion, in which the Greek cities in Asia Minor sought to break away from Persian domination. The struggle lasted five years, and Athens sent a fleet to aid the Ionians. At long last the Persians prevailed, and the rebellious cities were punished, but Darius did not forget the name of the Greek city of Athens, and forthwith made definite plans for an invasion of Greece. His first land based expedition, launched in 492 B.C., came to a disastrous end before even crossing the Bosporus. His second expedition, which he planned entirely by sea, resulted in the renowned victory for Athens at the battle of Marathon. This is the battle, hailed by most historians as one of the most significant in history, for which Darius is best known, although it occurred only a few years before the end of his thirty-six year reign.

Key events during the life of Darius the Great:

522 BC
Smerdis the Magian usurps the throne of Persia, Cambyses commits suicide.
522 BC
Darius, with six other conspirators, murders Smerdis; Darius is selected king.
521 BC
Marries Atossa.
520 BC
Birth of son Xerxes.
518 BC
Democedes initiates reconnoitering mission to Greece.
516 BC
Babylon rebels against Darius. Darius prepares for a siege.
514 BC
Darius retakes Babylon, with help from Zopyrus.
512 BC
Darius makes war on the Scythians, but returns in defeat.
  Darius introduces the Daric, a gold coin, to aid in commerce.
  Darius divides empire into twenty provinces, each administered by a satrap.
499 BC
Ionian Rebellion breaks out in Miletus, and spreads to all of Asia Minor.
494 BC
Ionian Rebellion is brought under control.
492 BC
First expedition to Greece fails due to storm at Mount Athos.
490 BC
Second expedition to Greece results in loss at Marathon.
486 BC
Insurrection in Egypt broke out.
485 BC
Death of Darius.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Kingdom of Darius  in  Stories of the East From Herodotus  by  Alfred J. Church
Great King  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Bridge of Boats  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Darius Demands Earth and Water  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Darius and the Scythians  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
First and Second Persian Expeditions  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Darius of Persia is Repulsed at Marathon  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Book Links
Darius the Great  by  Jacob Abbott
Stories of the East From Herodotus  by  Alfred J. Church

Image Links

The Babylonians deriding Darius.
 in Darius the Great

 in Stories of the East From Herodotus

The Tomb of Darius
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

War Council of Darius (From the Darius Vase)
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

The Greeks Preserve the Bridge of Darius
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Short Biography
Cambyses Eldest son of Cyrus. Invaded Egypt, killed brother, then died.
Smerdis the Magi Impersonated Smerdis, son of Cyrus and stole the throne of Persia.
Zopyrus Loyal Persian General, helped Darius retake Babylon with an elaborate ruse.
Atossa Daughter of Cyrus the Great, wife of Darius, mother of Xerxes
Democedes Greek physician, valuable slave of Darius. Schemed and plotted to return to Greece.
Mardonius Brother-in-law of Xerxes and commander-in-chief of Xerxes's Army.
Polycrates Prosperous king of Samos who was overthrown by Oretes, his enemy from Asia Minor.
Histiaeus Very close advisor to Darius, rescued him from disaster in Scythia, later rebelled. Father in law of Aristagoras.
Aristagoras Son-in-law of Histiaeus. Led Rebellion of Greek Colonies in Asia Minor.
Artaphernes Brother of Darius, Satrap of Lydia during Ionian Rebellion. Lead Persian forces at Marathon.
Otanes One of the seven conspirators who killed the usurper Smerdis and helped Darius win the throne of Persia.