Darius I, King of Persia
DARIUS I, KING OF PERSIA
Reigned 522 to 486 b.c., known as "the Great"; b.550. Darius (Old Persian dārayavahuš, Hebrew and Aramaic dār eyāweš, Greek Δαρε[symbol omitted]ος) was a son of the satrap of Persia, Hystaspes, an Achaemenian prince distantly related to cyrus the Great and Cambyses II. The principal sources for his reign are his own inscriptions, especially the great trilingual (Old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian) Behistun Inscription. As a member of the royal bodyguard he accompanied Cambyses II on his conquest of Egypt (525–522). In spring or summer of 522, as the Persian army was returning from Egypt, the King died under mysterious circumstances (accident or suicide), and his throne was occupied by a man who claimed to be Bardiya (Smerdis), the son of Cyrus and brother of Cambyses. Darius hurried to Media, killed the new King, and seized the throne. He justified his action by claiming that the
man was not Bardiya, whom he said had been secretly murdered by Cambyses before the Egyptian campaign, but one Gaumata, a member of the powerful Magian priesthood. Darius spent the next two years putting down uncoordinated revolts that rocked the sprawling empire.
Even though Judah was apparently not directly involved in these disturbances, its dormant messianic hopes were awakened, and it believed that the present upheaval of the kingdom of this world was heralding the future kingdom of God, and that Zerubbabel, King Jehoiachin's grandson, who was then governor of Judah, would restore the Kingdom of Israel (Zec 6.9–15). The Prophets Haggai and Zechariah used these hopes as a stimulus to spur the people to resume the rebuilding of the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587. Judah was one of many small political units within the fifth satrapy [‘ăbar-nahărā, beyond (i.e., west of) the (Euphrates) River]. Obstructionist elements within the satrapy forced the satrap Thathanai (Tattenai) to obtain proof of Darius's approval of the construction; in 519 Darius reaffirmed the earlier decree of Cyrus, encouraging the construction to continue (Ezra ch. 5–6). This, as well as other indications, show that Darius, although an ardent Zoroastrian [see zoroaster (zarathushtra)] continued the enlightened religious policies of Cyrus.
Darius was also, like Cyrus, a highly successful administrator and legislator. His law code ("the irrevocable laws of the Medes and the Persians": Dn 6.9, 13, 16) laid the basis on which his empire survived for almost two centuries. He was less successful as a military leader, and every schoolboy knows of the defeat that the Greeks inflicted on him at Marathon in 491. He was succeeded by his son Xerxes I (486–464).
The "Darius the Persian" mentioned in Neh 12.22 is probably Darius II Nothus (423–404). In 1 Mc 1.1 mention is made of Darius III (335–330), whom Alexander the Great overthrew. The historically impossible figure of "Darius the Mede" of the Book of daniel is essentially based on the character of Darius I, even though he is regarded as the predecessor of Cyrus the Great (Dn 5.1) and called "the son of Xerxes" (Dn 9.1).
Bibliography: a. t. e. olmstead, History of the Persian Empire: Achaemenid Period (Chicago 1948). j. buchanan, The Cambridge Ancient History (London and New York 1923–39) 4:20–25. l. w. king and r. c. thompson, The Sculptures and Inscription of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistûn in Persia (London 1907). r. mayer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 3:165–166. Encyclopedia Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 490–493.
[e. a. ballmann]