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Zoroastrian Heritage

Author: K. E. Eduljee



Darius the Great

Page 1


Rule of a Just Law

Darius' Ascension to the Throne


Choice of Governance


Page 2

Extent of Darius' Empire

Imperial Governance


Capital Cities & Regional Imperial Headquarters

The Satrapy

Weights and Measures

Language Policy

The Immortals



Roads & Trade. The Royal Roads

Postal System

Canals & Underground Waterways

Suez Canal

Persia's Greek Allies

Medized Greeks

Conflict with Greece

Battle of Marathon 490 BCE

Death & Tomb

Peace with Greece - Really?

Page 1

Suggested prior reading:

» Early Achaemenian History

» Cambyses

Related reading:

» Behistun Historical Site


Darius is the English (from the Greek) form of the Old Persian name Darayavaush contracted to Daryavas. The modern Persian version of the name is Daryush also spelt Dariush.

Darius was the tenth king of the Achaemenian dynasty, which had early in its history, established two royal lines that stemmed from the second king, Chishpish's (Teispes') two son's, Kurush I (Cyrus I - not to be confused with Cyrus the Great) and Arshama (Arsames). Kurush (Cyrus) I established the first line that ended with Kurush (Cyrus) II with his murder by Bardia (Smerdis) the usurper. Darius, son of Vishtasp, governor of Persia, and grandson of Arshama (Arsames) who established the second line, reclaimed the Persian throne for the Achaemenians.

Darius' ascension to the throne took place as a culmination of palace intrigue, high drama and assassination. Darius gives us his own account of the circumstances in which he assumed the throne, an account preserved in the stone inscriptions at Behistun (presently in Iran's Kermanshah province) a portion of which we have reproduced below.

In Book 3 of his Histories (3.61), Herodotus gives us a far more dramatic account of the circumstances leading up to Darius assuming the Persian throne.

In both accounts, Darius personally killed (with the help of six co-conspirators) Gaumata, a Magian who had usurped the Achaemenian throne.

Darius' troubles did not end with his ascension. His kingship was challenged and rebellions broke out throughout the kingdom. He had to fight nineteen battles "in one and the same year after I became king".

Once Darius had consolidated his rule, he set about expanding the Persian empire established by Cyrus the Great, making it the largest empire the world had ever seen (Meyer, p. 85) to that point. In the process he ruled over about 50 million people. He was universally recognized, even by Greeks, as a great and just king who brought prosperity to the Persian empire and its neighbours. The Greek poet Aeschylus called the reign of Darius as the golden age of Persia - an age characterized by the rule of law, a just law.

Rule of a Just Law

If Cyrus had brought the concept of human rights to all the nations within the Persian empire, Darius established a most remarkable administration and governance structure based on the rule of a just law.

An inscription authored by Darius at Naqsh-e Rustam reads:
"By the grace of Ahuramazda, I am of such,
That I am a friend of what is right
I am not a friend of that which is wrong.
It is not my desire that the weak be wronged by the strong,
Nor is it my desire that the strong be wronged by the weak,
What is right, that is my desire."

Darius' Ascension to the Throne

Relief carved into a rock face at Behistun (Bisotun), Western Iran
Relief carved into a rock face at Behistun (Bisotun), Western Iran. Image credit: dynamosquito at Flickr. The 3 x 5.5 m relief depicts Darius, holding a bow in his left hand, victorious over Gaumata under his foot. Facing the king, are nine men tied together with a rope around their necks and their hands tied behind their backs. They are rebels defeated by Darius and identified (from left to right) as: Achina the Elamite, Nidintu-Bel the Babylonian, Martiya the Elamite, Fravartish (Phraortes) the Mede, Cisantakhma (Tritantaechmes) the Sagartian, Frada the Margian (Margush), Vahyazdata the Persian (another individual who claimed to be Bardiya/Smerdis), Arakha the Armenian, and Skunkha the Saka. The noblemen behind Darius are two of his six co-conspirators, Vidafarna (Intaphrenes, carrying a bow) and Gaubaruva (Gobryas, holding a lance).

[The names in brackets are the English names derived for the main part from the Greek versions.]

Darius I, the Great's, inscription at Behistun (see photos above), gives his account of palace intrigue that followed the death of Cyrus and the events leading up to the ascension of Darius to the Achaemenid throne of Persia in the summer of 522 BCE. In addition, the inscriptions list the various revolts that Darius had to overcome within the first year of his rule. In all, Darius fought nineteen battles from the summer of 522 to the winter of 521 BCE.

"A son of Kuraush (Cyrus), Kabujiya (Cambyses) by name, of our family was king here. Cambyses had a brother, Bardiya (Bardia, Smerdis) by name, who had the same mother and the same father as Kabujiya (Cambyses). Kabujiya (Cambyses) slew Bardiya (Smerdis). When Kabujiya (Cambyses) slew Bardiya (Smerdis), it did not become known to the people that Bardiya (Smerdis) had been slain. Afterwards, Kabujiya (Cambyses) went to Mudrayam (Egypt). When Kabujiya (Cambyses) was in Mudrayam (Egypt), the people became evil and drauga (the Lie) waxed great in the country, both in Parsa (Persia) and in Mada (Media) and in the other provinces.

"Afterwards, there was a man, a Magush (Magian), named Gaumata, who rose up from Paishiyauvada. From there at a mountain named Arakadri, on the fourteenth day of the month ,Viyakhna, he rose (to take power). He lied to the people saying, "I am Bardiya (Bardia, Smerdis), the son of Kuraush (Cyrus), brother of Kabujiya (Cambyses)." After that, all the people joined him in rebellion against Kabujiya (Cambyses) in both Parsa (Persia), Mada (Media) as well as in the other provinces. On the ninth day of Garmapada, he (Gaumata) seized the kingdom. After that, Kabujiya (Cambyses) died by his own hand.

"The kingdom which Gaumata the Magush (Magian) took away from Kabujiya (Cambyses) had from long ago been ruled by our family, and Gaumata the Magush (Magian) took (the rule) from Kabujiya (Cambyses) and took for himself the possession of both Parsa (Persia), Mada (Media) as well as in the other provinces, and made himself king.

There was not a man, neither a Parsa (Persian) nor a Mada (Mede), nor anyone in our family, who sought to remove Gaumata the Magum (Magus) from his kingship. The people feared him greatly and he slew in numbers people who previously had known Bardiya (Bardia, Smerdis). He slew these people "lest they know me, that I am not Bardiya (Bardia, Smerdis) the son of Kuraush (Cyrus)." Nobody dared say anything against Gaumata the Magum (Magus) - until I took action. I sought help of Ahuramazda and Ahuramazda bore me aid. On the tenth day of the month Bagayadi, together with a few men, I slew Gaumata the Magum (Magus) and those who were his foremost followers. I slew him in a fortress of Sikayauvati, in the district of Nisaya, in Media. I took back the kingdom from him and by the grace of Ahuramazda I became king. Ahuramazda bestowed the kingdom upon me."

Further in the inscription, Darius mentions:
"Darius, king, says: These are the men who were with me when I slew Gaumata the Magus (Magian), who was called Bardiya (Smerdis). These men helped me as my followers:"
Vidafarna (Intaphrenes), son of Vayaspara, a Persian;
Utana (Otanes), son of Thukhra a Persian;
Gaubaruva (Gobryas), son of Marduniya (Mardonius), a Persian;
Vidarna (Hydarnes), son of Bagabigna, a Persian;
Bagabukhsha (Megabyzus), son of Datuvahya, a Persian;
Ardumanish, son of Vakauka, a Persian.

A complete transcription of Darius' inscriptions can be found at Wikipedia.

Herodotus account of the assassination (Histories 3.78) is as follows:

Now both the Magi were at this time within, holding counsel upon the matter of Prexaspes. So when they heard the stir among the eunuchs, and their loud cries, they ran out themselves, to see what was happening. Instantly perceiving their danger, they both flew to arms; one had just time to seize his bow, the other got hold of his lance; when straightway the fight began. The one whose weapon was the bow found it of no service at all; the foe was too near, and the combat too close to allow of his using it. But the other made a stout defence with his lance, wounding two of the seven, Aspathines in the leg, and Intaphernes in the eye. This wound did not kill Intaphernes, but it cost him the sight of that eye. The other Magus, when he found his bow of no avail, fled into a chamber which opened out into the apartment of the males, intending to shut to the doors. But two of the seven entered the room with him, Darius and Gobryas. Gobryas seized the Magus and grappled with him, while Darius stood over them, not knowing what to do; for it was dark, and he was afraid that if he struck a blow he might kill Gobryas. Then Gobryas, when he perceived that Darius stood doing nothing, asked him, "why his hand was idle?" "I fear to hurt thee," he answered. "Fear not," said Gobryas; "strike, though it be through both." Darius did as he desired, drove his dagger home, and by good hap killed the Magus.


For five days after the killing of Gaumata and his supporters, Herodotus tells us in in Histories 3.79: "They called out to all the Persians whom they met, and told them what had happened, showing them the heads of the Magi, while at the same time they slew every Magus who fell in their way. Then the Persians, when they knew what the seven had done, and understood the fraud of the Magi, thought it but just to follow the example set them, and, drawing their daggers, they killed the Magi wherever they could find any. Such was their fury, that, unless night had closed in, not a single Magus would have been left alive. The Persians observe this day with one accord, and keep it more strictly than any other in the whole year. It is then that they hold the great festival, which they call the Magophonia. No Magus may show himself abroad during the whole time that the feast lasts; but all must remain at home the entire day."

It is of some interest when reading Herodotus' accounts that while Darius was deeply religious, calling upon Ahuramazda frequently in his inscriptions, and while the magi were the group Herodotus refers to frequently as leading religious duties according to his observations, and had apparently been rehabilitated when Herodotus wrote his accounts some fifty years later, one of the conspirators, Gobryas, remarks in Histories 3.73 "Consider that we Persians are governed by a Median Magus, and one, too, who has had his ears cut off!". These dynamics between the Persians and the magi bring into question whether the priesthood of the Zoroastrians during Achaemenian times was solely assigned to the Median magi, or if the atharvan of the Avesta consisted of priests from various backgrounds.

Choice of Governance

In Histories, 3.80-83, Herodotus writes:

[3.80] And now when five days were gone, and the hubbub had settled down, the conspirators met together to consult about the situation of affairs. At this meeting speeches were made, to which many of the Greeks give no credence, but they were made nevertheless. Otanes recommended that the management of public affairs should be entrusted to the whole nation. "To me," he said, "it seems advisable, that we should no longer have a single man to rule over us - the rule of one is neither good nor pleasant. Ye cannot have forgotten to what lengths Cambyses went in his haughty tyranny, and the haughtiness of the Magi ye have yourselves experienced. How indeed is it possible that monarchy should be a well-adjusted thing, when it allows a man to do as he likes without being answerable? Such licence is enough to stir strange and unwonted thoughts in the heart of the worthiest of men. Give a person this power, and straightway his manifold good things puff him up with pride, while envy is so natural to human kind that it cannot but arise in him. But pride and envy together include all wickedness - both of them leading on to deeds of savage violence. True it is that kings, possessing as they do all that heart can desire, ought to be void of envy; but the contrary is seen in their conduct towards the citizens. They are jealous of the most virtuous among their subjects, and wish their death; while they take delight in the meanest and basest, being ever ready to listen to the tales of slanderers. A king, besides, is beyond all other men inconsistent with himself. Pay him court in moderation, and he is angry because you do not show him more profound respect - show him profound respect, and he is offended again, because (as he says) you fawn on him. But the worst of all is, that he sets aside the laws of the land, puts men to death without trial, and subjects women to violence. The rule of the many, on the other hand, has, in the first place, the fairest of names, to wit, isonomy; and further it is free from all those outrages which a king is wont to commit. There, places are given by lot, the magistrate is answerable for what he does, and measures rest with the commonalty. I vote, therefore, that we do away with monarchy, and raise the people to power. For the people are all in all."

[3.81] Such were the sentiments of Otanes. Megabyzus spoke next, and advised the setting up of an oligarchy:- "In all that Otanes has said to persuade you to put down monarchy," he observed, "I fully concur; but his recommendation that we should call the people to power seems to me not the best advice. For there is nothing so void of understanding, nothing so full of wantonness, as the unwieldy rabble. It were folly not to be borne, for men, while seeking to escape the wantonness of a tyrant, to give themselves up to the wantonness of a rude unbridled mob. The tyrant, in all his doings, at least knows what is he about, but a mob is altogether devoid of knowledge; for how should there be any knowledge in a rabble, untaught, and with no natural sense of what is right and fit? It rushes wildly into state affairs with all the fury of a stream swollen in the winter, and confuses everything. Let the enemies of the Persians be ruled by democracies; but let us choose out from the citizens a certain number of the worthiest, and put the government into their hands. For thus both we ourselves shall be among the governors, and power being entrusted to the best men, it is likely that the best counsels will prevail in the state."

[3.82] This was the advice which Megabyzus gave, and after him Darius came forward, and spoke as follows:- "All that Megabyzus said against democracy was well said, I think; but about oligarchy he did not speak advisedly; for take these three forms of government - democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy - and let them each be at their best, I maintain that monarchy far surpasses the other two. What government can possibly be better than that of the very best man in the whole state? The counsels of such a man are like himself, and so he governs the mass of the people to their heart's content; while at the same time his measures against evil-doers are kept more secret than in other states. Contrariwise, in oligarchies, where men vie with each other in the service of the commonwealth, fierce enmities are apt to arise between man and man, each wishing to be leader, and to carry his own measures; whence violent quarrels come, which lead to open strife, often ending in bloodshed. Then monarchy is sure to follow; and this too shows how far that rule surpasses all others. Again, in a democracy, it is impossible but that there will be malpractices: these malpractices, however, do not lead to enmities, but to close friendships, which are formed among those engaged in them, who must hold well together to carry on their villainies. And so things go on until a man stands forth as champion of the commonalty, and puts down the evil-doers. Straightway the author of so great a service is admired by all, and from being admired soon comes to be appointed king; so that here too it is plain that monarchy is the best government. Lastly, to sum up all in a word, whence, I ask, was it that we got the freedom which we enjoy? - did democracy give it us, or oligarchy, or a monarch? As a single man recovered our freedom for us, my sentence is that we keep to the rule of one. Even apart from this, we ought not to change the laws of our forefathers when they work fairly; for to do so is not well."

[3.83] Such were the three opinions brought forward at this meeting; the four other Persians voted in favour of the last. Otanes, who wished to give his countrymen a democracy, when he found the decision against him, arose a second time, and spoke thus before the assembly:- "Brother conspirators, it is plain that the king who is to be chosen will be one of ourselves, whether we make the choice by casting lots for the prize, or by letting the people decide which of us they will have to rule over them, in or any other way. Now, as I have neither a mind to rule nor to be ruled, I shall not enter the lists with you in this matter. I withdraw, however, on one condition - none of you shall claim to exercise rule over me or my seed for ever." The six agreed to these terms, and Otanes withdrew and stood aloof from the contest. And still to this day the family of Otanes continues to be the only free family in Persia; those who belong to it submit to the rule of the king only so far as they themselves choose; they are bound, however, to observe the laws of the land like the other Persians.

Herodotus then proceeds to tell us of a horse race that decided the kingship, but the credibility of this account is in question especially since the group needed to establish royal Achaemenian lineage to claim the throne, and it is likely that Darius had the better claim.

The Old Persian word for king was khshayathiya, a word from which the modern Persian word shah is derived,


[The names in brackets are the English names derived for the main part from the Greek versions.]

Darayavaush / Darius II states in his inscriptions that he was a member of one of the two Hakhamanishiya (Eng. Achaemenian) royal lines.

The other line starting with Kurush (Cyrus) I, one of two sons of Chispish (Teispes), included Kabujiya (later Kambiz, Cambyses ) I and Kurush (Cyrus) II (the Great), ended with Cyrus the Great's son Kabujiya (later Kambiz, Cambyses ) II who either died while returning from his campaign in Egypt.

The line of which Darius the Great says he was a member started with Ariyaramna (Ariaramnes), second son of Chispish (Teispes), included Arshama (Arsames). Darius states that Arshama / Arsames' son and Darayavaush / Darius' father was Vishtasp, who Herodotus informs us, was governor of Persia.

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