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Darius I or Darius the Great ( (Dārayavahuš) > modern Persianداریوش بزرگ ) (c. 549 BC – October 486 BC), was a Zoroastrian Persian Shahanshah (Great King) of Persia. He reigned from September 522 to October 486 BC as the third Achaemenian King, and was called by some "the greatest of the Achaemenid kings".

He managed not only to "hold together the empire" (to use his wordsmarker), but also to extend the empire founded by Cyrus the Great in all directions; east into the Indusmarker valley, north against the Saka tribes, and west into Thrace and Macedon. His reign lasted 35 years and completed the work of his Achaemenian predecessors. Under Darius and the generation he belonged to, Achaemenid Iran became the greatest power in the world--arguably, Earth's first sole superpower in relation to the then known world. However, the successful expansion of the empire was not Darius' only important achievement. He also centralized administration of his empire and encouraged the development of cultural and artistic activity as demonstrated by his building projects at Susamarker and Persepolismarker.Schmitt, R., Achaemenid dynasty, i. The Clan and Dynasty, in Encyclopaedia Iranica.

In the lands he conquered, Darius continued Cyrus' path of active benevolence to non-Persian faiths, most evidently seen in his construction of a huge temple to Amun-Re in Egypt.Boyce, M., Achaemenid religion, in Encyclopaedia Iranica'. Darius completed the work of Cambyses II and issued a code of laws in Egypt and become the lawgiver to Egyptians.

His entire empire benefited from legal reforms and the development of juridical systems. Indeed most peoples of Darius' empire started to use the Old Persian word "dāta" (law, King's law) in related documents.

Darius' reign was marked by upheaval and unrest: twice Babylonia revolted, Susianamarker three times, and the Ionian Revolt precipitated several Persian expeditions against Greece, including their defeat by the Greeks at Marathonmarker in 490 BC.

Darius was a restless king as evidenced by his major building programs in Persepolis, Susa, Egypt, and elsewhere. Toward the end of his reign, he decided to punish the Greeks for supporting the Ionian Revolt. But a further revolt in Egypt (probably led by the Persian satrap of Egypt) had to be suppressed first. As Darius' health was failing, this prevented him from acting in person against the Greeks.A. Sh. Shahbazi, Darius I the Great, in Encyclopaedia Iranica. Major expeditions such as that planned against the Greeks required, under Persian law, the Achaemenian kings to choose a successor before starting such expeditions. Upon his decision to leave for Greece, Darius prepared his tomb at Naqsh-e Rostammarker and appointed Xerxes I, his oldest son by Atossa, as his successor. But he did not leave Persismarker again and he died there in October 486 BC.

Name and Etymology

Darius (or Dareus) is the Latin form of Ancient Greek: Δαρεῖος (Dareios), a short form of the original (Dārayavauš). His name has also appeared in many languages of his vast empire; in Elamite as (Dari(y)amauiš), in Babylonian as (Da(a)riia(a)muš), in Egyptian tr(w)š, etc. The name must be translated based on its original longer Old Persian form as “holding firm the good”. This is the point of view of modern scholars that reject the ancient accounts.Schmit, R., Darius (i. The name) in Encyclopaedia Iranica. The etymology "possessing goodness" is also proposed in Avesta names; Old Persian names; Parsi names; Irani Zoroastrian names. The English pronunciation is sometimes or .

Accession of Imperial Power

Not much is known about the early life of Darius before his accession to power in the summer of 522 BC, when he killed the previous ruler with the cooperation of six other Persian families. The traditional story is that this previous ruler was a "Magian usurper" who was impersonating Bardiya, a son of Cyrus. Some modern historians consider that this ruler was the real Bardiya, and the story that he was an impostor was an invention by Darius.

Darius rewarded the cooperation of those who helped him kill Bardiya by requiring their family to be protected thereafter.Dandamaev, M. A., A political history of the Achaemenid empire, p. 103. After this, some provincial magnates rebelled. But Darius defeated all of them as reported by Darius himself at Behistunmarker and elsewhere. Darius explains the causes of the rebellions: “Falsehood (drauga-) made them rebellious”. Thereafter his rule was established throughout the empire.

This event and the story of the transition of power to Darius has been mentioned by the ancient Greeks. However, their accounts mention wrong names of Darius' cooperating nobles and miss some. There is also evidence of certain "misunderstanding" in these accounts.

He was crowned as the great king of Persia in September 522 BC. A tradition of Achaemenid kings was to take throne names at accession. This served as an expression of the king’s program. Darius expression was his name; "holding the good".Schmitt, R., Achaemenid dynasty, ii. The empire, in Encyclopaedia Iranica.

Darius was a Zoroastrian. In fact the rejection of falsehood (i.e. drauga) is itself viewed as an acknowledgement of Zoroastrian teachingsSaati, P., Conversion in Encyclopaedia Iranica. which Darius very often mentions. And beside there is a number of other important monuments and inscriptions as evidence and guides to Darius' Zoroastrian beliefs. Indeed Darius is very often portrayed with his right hand raised, apparently at prayer according to Zoroastrian prescriptions. Ahuramazda, proclaimed by Zoroaster as God, is mentioned and celebrated as Creator in most speeches of Darius. Darius' Naqsh-e Rostam inscription reads "A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created yonder sky, who created man, who created happiness". This reference to Ahuramazda as Creator only of what is good is in accordance with Zoroastrian doctrine and as such significant. In the Elamite version of Darius' trilingual inscription at Behistun, "Ahuramazda" is called "god of Aryans (i.e. Iranians)".

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 the laws of evidence, deposit, 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 as a result of 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, Phoeniciansmarker, Babylonians, Indiansmarker, 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 Persepolismarker. Pasargadae was too well associated with the previous dynasty of Cyrus and Cambyses and so Darius sought a new capital. The new 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 organized with rest stations, guarded garrisons, and inns. 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 leading outside his empire. For example, he sent an expedition down the Kabulmarker and Indusmarker Rivers, led by the Carian captain Scylax of Caryanda, who explored the Indian Oceanmarker from the mouth of the Indus to Suezmarker. During his reign, the population increased and industries flourished in towns.

Persia under Darius probably had connections with Carthagemarker (cf. the Karka of the Nakshi Rustammarker inscription) of Sicily and Italymarker. At the same time he attempted to gain the goodwill of the subject nations, and for this purpose promoted the aims of their priests. He allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalemmarker and it was finished in 516 BC, his sixth year. In Egyptmarker his name appears on the temples which he built in Memphismarker, Edfumarker and the Great Oasis. He called the high-priest of Saismarker, Tzahor, to Susamarker (as we learn from his inscription in the Vatican Museummarker), 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 prescript 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 Minormarker 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 pantheon 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

Darius on an ancient Greek vase
About 512 BC Darius undertook a war against the Scythians. A great army crossed the Bosporusmarker, 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 Kushmarker (which they called the Caucasus Indicusmarker) and on the shores of the Jaxartes (which they called Tanais, i.e., the River Don) they were quite near to the Black Seamarker. Of course the expedition undertaken on these grounds could only prove a failure; having advanced for some weeks into the steppes of Ukrainemarker, 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 Behistunmarker, 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 Athensmarker and Eretriamarker 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 Atticamarker by Datis in 490 BC was beaten at the Battle of Marathonmarker. 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.


Darius was an adherent to the Zoroastrian faith, and believed that Ahura Mazda had appointed him to be the Shahenshah of the Persian Empire. At inscriptions, such as the Behistun Inscriptionmarker, he mentions that he believes he is chosen by Ahura Mazda to be the Shahenshah. Darius had dualistic convictions and believed that each rebellion in his kingdom was the work of Drug the enemy of Asha. Darius believed that because he lived righteously by Asha, Ahura Mazda supported him. In many cuneiform inscriptions denoting his achievements he presents himself a devout believer perhaps even convinced that he had a divine right to rule over all of the world . Unlike Cyrus before him he seems of believed that Zoroastrianism was the one true faith all others bringing chaos and disorder; nevertheless he allowed he tolerated other religions. In the lands that were conquered by the Persian Empire, Darius followed the same Achaemenid tolerance that Cyrus had shown, and later Achaemenid Shahenshahs would show. He supported faiths and religions that were "alien" as long as the adherents were submissive and peaceable, sometimes giving them grants from his treasury for their purposes . He had funded the restoration of the Jewish temple which had originally been decreed by Cyrus the Great, presented favour towards Greek cults which can be seen in his letter to Gadatas, and supported Elamite priests. He had also observed Egyptian religious rites related to kingship and had built the temple for the Egyptian God, Amun.


By Artabāma daughter of Gobryas:
Artobarzanes (son of Darius I)|Artobarzanes or Artobazanes
Ariaramnes or Ariamnes (sometimes identified with Masistes)

By Atossa (daughter of Cyrus the Great)]]
Xerxes I
Mandane (sometimes identified with Sandauce)
Artazostre, wife of Mardonius

By Artystone (daughter of Cyrus the Great)]]

By Parmys, daughter of Bardiya

By Phratagune

By Phaedymia, daughter of Otanes son of Pharnaspes

By unknown wives
The unnamed father of Mithropaustes
The unnamed wife of Artochmes
The unnamed wife of Daurises
The unnamed wife of Himeas
The unnamed wife of Otanes son of Sisamnes
Sandauce (sometimes identified with Mandane)
Ištin wife of Bagaya
Pandušašša wife of Bakanšakka


  1. Ghiasabadi, R. M., Achaemenid Inscriptions. See also Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Published by Cambridge University Press for the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol. XI, Part I, 1849. p. 185.
  2. Olmstead, A. T. Excerpts 1. Diodorus of Sicily, we have long known,lists the six famous Egyptian lawgivers as Mneves or Menes,Sasychis, Sesoosis or Sesostris,Bocchoris, Amasis, and Darius. As regards Darius, a demotic papyrus proves Diodorus correct. 2. Now that we have actual evidence for the code of laws issued by Darius, we at last understand why we find references to the "king's law" in the business documents of the reign and not before, why the Persian word data is employed and not the native Akkadian dindtu...
  3. Darius I :: Fortification of the empire. - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  4. His name in Hebrew דַּרְיָוֶשׁ (Daryavesh), the ancient Greek sources call him (Dareios), the Armenian name is Դարեհ Dareh and Indians called him दरायु (Darāyu) in Sanskrit.
  5. Darius I. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000. is the pronunciation found in the 2004 movie Alexander in reference to Darius III, and is also the only one given in Everyman's English Pronouncing Dictionary, 14th edition, Jones, D, 1977. Stress on the second syllable is etymologically more supportable than stress on the first, given the Greek form and the standard Latin forms Darēus and Darīus, themselves derived from the Greek.
  6. Cook, J. M., The Cambridge History of Iran 2, p. 217.
  7. Boyce, M., AHURA MAZDĀ,Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 1.
  8. twice and only in Elamite version (DB ¶ 61-2 E).
  9. Farrokh 2007: 60
  10. Boyce (1979), p. 55
  11. Boyce (1979), p. 54-55
  12. Boyce (1979), p. 56


  • Darius I the Great
  • Brosius, M: Women in Ancient Persia, 559-331 BC, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998.

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