King Darius I the Great

The Immortals of Persian King Darius
The Immortals of Persian King Darius.

Darius I

558? - 486/485 B.C.

Occupation: Persian King

Here are some points to know about Darius I, known as Darius the Great, an Achaemenid Great King and empire builder:

  1. Darius claimed his empire extended from the Sakas beyond Sogdiana to the Kush, and from Sind to Sardis.
  2. Satrapies had been used by his predecessors, but Darius refined the process. He divided his empire into 20 of them and added security measures to reduce revolt.
  3. He was responsible for the Persian Empire's capital at Persepolis and for many other building projects, including:
  4. Roads through his empire (notably the Royal Road with messengers stationed along it so no one man had to ride more than a day to deliver the post).
  5. As king of Egypt in the Late Period, he was known as a law-giver, and for completing a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea.
  6. He was also renowned for irrigation (qanat) projects), and a coinage systems.
  7. Darius had at least 18 children. His successor, Xerxes, was the oldest son of his first wife, Atossa, making Xerxes a grandson of Cyrus the Great.
  8. Darius and his son Xerxes are associated with the Greco-Persian or Persian Wars.
  9. The last king of the Achaemenid Dynasty was Darius III, who ruled from 336 - 330 B.C. Darius III was a descendant of Darius II (ruled 423-405 B.C.), who was a descendant of King Darius I.

The Accession of Darius:
Darius I is known as Darius the Great. He ruled from c. 522-486/485,  but how he got to the throne is a bit murky, although Cambyses [(II), son of Cyrus the Great and Cassandane, ruled the Achaemenid empire between 530 - 522 B.C.] died from natural causes and Darius widely publicized his own spin on the events.​

When Gaumata, a man whom Darius called an imposter, claimed the throne vacated by Cambyses, Darius and his followers killed him, thereby (again, they claimed) restoring the rule to the family, since Darius claimed descent from an ancestor of Cyrus [source: Krentz]. This and details of Darius' violent treatment of rebels are inscribed on a large relief at Bisitun (Behistun), whose text was circulated throughout the Persian Empire. The relief itself was positioned so as to prevent defacement about 100 meters up on a cliff face

In the Behistun Inscription, Darius explains why he has the right to rule. He says he has the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda on his side. He claims royal blood lineage through four generations to the eponymous Achaemenes, the father of Teispes, who was the great-grandfather of Cyrus. Darius says his own father was Hystaspes, whose father was Arsamnes, whose father was Ariamnes, a son of this Teispes.

Cyrus did not claim a genealogical connection to Achaemenes; that is, unlike Darius, he didn't say Teispes was a son of Achaemenes [source: Waters].

From the Livius site's article on the Behistun inscription, here is the relevant section:

(1) I am Darius, the great king, king of kings, the king of Persia, the king of countries, the son of Hystaspes, the grandson of Arsames, the Achaemenid.

(2) King Darius says: My father is Hystaspes; the father of Hystaspes was Arsames; the father of Arsames was Ariaramnes; the father of Ariaramnes was Teispes; the father of Teispes was Achaemenes.

(3) King Darius says: That is why we are called Achaemenids; from antiquity we have been noble; from antiquity has our dynasty been royal.

(4) King Darius says: Eight of my dynasty were kings before me; I am the ninth. Nine in succession we have been kings.

(5) King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda am I king; Ahuramazda has granted me the kingdom.

Death of Darius

Darius died in the final weeks of November 486 B.C., following an illness at about the age of 64. His coffin was buried at Naqš-i Rustam. On his tomb is inscribed a memorial stating what Darius wanted said about himself and his relationship with Ahura Mazda.

It also lists the people over whom he claimed power:

"Media, Elam, Parthia, Aria, Bactria, Sogdia, Chorasmia, Drangiana, Arachosia, Sattagydia, Gandara, India, the haoma-drinking Scythians, the Scythians with pointed caps, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Armenia, Cappadocia, Lydia, the Greeks, the Scythians across the sea, Thrace, the sun hat-wearing Greeks, the Libyans, the Nubians, the men of Maka and the Carians." [Source: Jona Lendering.]

There are two parts to the inscription all written in cuneiform using Old Persian and the Aryan script.

Pronunciation: /də'raɪ.əs/ /'dæ.ri.əs/

Also Known As: Nickname: kapelos 'retailer'; Darius I Hystaspes

Darius the Great References:

  • Peter Krentz' The Battle of Marathon
  • "The Construction of the Past in Late Antique Persia," by Touraj Daryaee Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte Vol. 55, No. 4 (2006), pp. 493-503.
  • "Cyrus and the Achaemenids," by Matt Waters; Iran Vol. 42, (2004), pp. 91-102.
  • Encyclopædia Iranica Vol. VI, Fasc. 5, p. 516

Era-by-Era Greek Timeline

Darius is on the list of Most Important Ancient People to Know.
(Also see: Ancient People.)

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Glossary, N.S. Gill's Ancient/Classical History. "King Darius I the Great." ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2016, Glossary, N.S. Gill's Ancient/Classical History. (2016, August 31). King Darius I the Great. Retrieved from Glossary, N.S. Gill's Ancient/Classical History. "King Darius I the Great." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 24, 2018).