Monday, February 19, 2024

Darius the Great

Darius I (داریوش بزرگ) (550 – 486 BCE), commonly known as Darius the Great, was a Persian ruler who served as the third King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire, reigning from 522 BCE until his death in 486 BCE. He was the eldest of five sons to Hystaspes. Hystaspes was an officer in Cyrus the Great's army and a noble of his court. The identity of Darius’s mother is uncertain. Darius’ great great grandfather was Cyrus’ great grandfather. Darius also married two of Cyrus’ daughters. He ruled the empire at its territorial peak, when it included much of Western Asia, parts of the Balkans and the Caucasus, most of the Black Sea's coastal regions, Central Asia, the Indus Valley in the far east, and portions of North Africa and Northeast Africa including Egypt, eastern Libya, and coastal Sudan.

Prior to seizing power, Darius had served as a spearman in the Egyptian campaign (528–525 BCE) of Cambyses II; this is often interpreted to mean he was the king's personal spear-carrier. Before Cyrus and his army crossed the river Araxes to battle with the Armenians, he installed his son Cambyses II as king in case he should not return from battle. However, once Cyrus had crossed the Aras River, he had a vision in which Darius had wings atop his shoulders and stood upon the confines of Europe and Asia. When Cyrus awoke from the dream, he inferred it as a great danger to the future security of the empire, as it meant that Darius would one day rule the whole world. However, his son Cambyses was the heir to the throne, not Darius, causing Cyrus to wonder if Darius was forming treasonable and ambitious designs. This led Cyrus to order Hystaspes to go back to Persis and watch over his son strictly, until Cyrus himself returned.

Darius' account, written at the Bisotoun Inscription, states that Cambyses II (who ascended to the throne in 530 BCE following Cyrus’ death) killed his own brother Bardia, but that this murder was not known among the Iranian people. A would-be usurper named Gaumata came and lied to the people, stating that he was Bardia. The Iranians had grown rebellious against Cambyses' rule and, on 11 March 522 BCE, a revolt against Cambyses broke out in his absence. On 1 July, the Iranian people chose to be under the leadership of Gaumata, as "Bardia". No member of the Achaemenid family would rise against Gaumata for the safety of their own life. In September 522 BCE Darius and a group of six nobles traveled to Sikayauvati and killed Gaumata. Darius was crowned king the following morning.

Following his coronation at Pasargadae, Darius moved to Ecbatana. One of the significant events of Darius's early reign was the slaying of Intaphernes, one of the noblemen who had deposed the previous ruler and installed Darius as the new monarch. They had made an agreement that they could all visit the new king whenever they pleased, except when he was with a woman. One evening, Intaphernes went to the palace to meet Darius, but was stopped by two officers who stated that Darius was with a woman. Becoming enraged and insulted, Intaphernes drew his sword and cut off the ears and noses of the two officers. While leaving the palace, he took the bridle from his horse, and tied the two officers together. Darius began to fear for his own safety; he thought that all of the noblemen had banded together to rebel against him and that the attack against his officers was the first sign of revolt. Taking precautions against further resistance, Darius sent soldiers to seize Intaphernes, along with his son, family members, relatives and any friends who were capable of arming themselves. Darius killed Intaphernes's entire family, excluding his wife's brother and son.

By 522 BCE, there were revolts against Darius in most parts of the Achaemenid Empire leaving the empire in turmoil. Even though Darius did not seem to have the support of the populace, Darius had a loyal army, led by close confidants and nobles (including the six nobles who had helped him remove Gaumata). With their support, Darius was able to suppress and quell all revolts within a year. In Darius's words, he had killed a total of nine "lying kings" through the quelling of revolutions.

The most notable of all these revolts was the Babylonian revolt which was led by Nebuchadnezzar III. This revolt occurred when Otanes withdrew much of the army from Babylon to aid Darius in suppressing other revolts. Darius felt that the Babylonian people had taken advantage of him and deceived him, which resulted in Darius gathering a large army and marching to Babylon. At Babylon, Darius was met with closed gates and a series of defenses to keep him and his armies out. For a year and a half, Darius and his armies were unable to retake the city, though he attempted many tricks and strategies. However, the situation changed in Darius's favor when, according to the story, a mule owned by Zopyrus, a high-ranking soldier, foaled. Following this, a plan was hatched for Zopyrus to pretend to be a deserter, enter the Babylonian camp, and gain the trust of the Babylonians. The plan was successful and Darius's army eventually surrounded the city and overcame the rebels.

Darius left a detailed account of these revolutions in the Bisotoun Inscription which was written in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian. The inscription begins with a brief autobiography including his ancestry and lineage. To aid the presentation of his ancestry, Darius wrote down the sequence of events that occurred after the death of Cyrus the Great. Darius mentions several times that he is the rightful king by the grace of the supreme deity Ahura Mazda.

During the Babylonian revolt, Scythian nomads took advantage of the disorder and chaos and invaded Persia. Darius first finished defeating the rebels in Elam, Assyria, and Babylon and then attacked the Scythian invaders. He pursued the invaders, who led him to a marsh; there he found no known enemies but an enigmatic Scythian tribe. Darius crossed the Black Sea at the Bosphorus Straits using a bridge of boats. Darius conquered large portions of Eastern Europe and captured the large fortified city of the Budini, one of the allies of the Scythians, and burnt it. Eventually he conquered enough Scythian territory to force the Scythians to respect the Persian forces.

Darius organized the empire by dividing it into administrative provinces, each governed by a satrap. Darius created twenty provinces called satrapies which were each assigned to a satrap and specified fixed tributes that the satrapies were required to pay. The majority of the satraps were of Persian origin and were members of the royal house or the six great noble families and were personally picked by Darius to monitor these provinces. Darius introduced a new universal currency, the daric, sometime before 500 BCE. He organized Achaemenid coinage as a new uniform monetary system, and he made Aramaic a co-official language of the empire alongside Persian. He finished all incomplete construction projects from the reign of Cyrus the Great and put the empire in better standing by building roads and introducing standard weights and measures. In an effort to further improve trade, Darius built canals, underground waterways and a powerful navy. He further improved and expanded the network of roads and way stations throughout the empire, so that there was a system of travel authorization for the King, satraps and other high officials, which entitled the traveler to draw provisions at daily stopping places. Through these changes, the Achaemenid Empire became centralized and unified.

After securing his authority over the entire empire, Darius embarked on a campaign to Egypt where he defeated the armies of the Pharaoh and secured the lands that Cambyses had conquered while incorporating a large portion of Egypt into the Achaemenid Empire. Through another series of campaigns, Darius I would eventually reign over the territorial apex of the empire, when it stretched from parts of the Balkans (Thrace-Macedonia, Bulgaria-Paeonia) in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. In 516 BCE, Darius embarked on a campaign to Central Asia, Aria and Bactria and then marched into Afghanistan to Taxila in modern-day Pakistan. Darius conquered the lands surrounding the Indus River in 515 BCE. Darius I controlled the Indus Valley from Gandhara to modern Karachi and appointed the Greek Scylax of Caryanda to explore the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. Darius then marched through the Bolan Pass and returned through Arachosia and Drangiana back to Persia.

Darius also conquered many cities of the northern Aegean, Paeonia, while Macedonia submitted voluntarily, after the demand of earth and water, becoming a vassal kingdom. The Greeks living in Asia Minor and some of the Greek islands had submitted to Persian rule already by 510 BCE. In 490 BCE, at the Battle of Marathon, the Persian army was defeated by a heavily armed Athenian army. The defeat at Marathon marked the end of the first Persian invasion of Greece and Darius began preparations for a second expedition against the Greek city-states.

Darius had spent three years preparing men and ships for war when a revolt broke out in Egypt. This revolt in Egypt worsened his failing health and prevented the possibility of his leading another army. Soon afterwards, Darius died, after thirty days of suffering through an unidentified illness, partially due to his part in crushing the revolt, at about sixty-four years old. In October 486 BCE, his body was embalmed and entombed in the rock-cut tomb at Naghsh’e Rostam, which he had been preparing.

The oldest seal ring of Darius the Great is kept in the storehouse of Iran’s National Museum. It is much older and different in shape and form than other seals attributed to the King of Kings. It measures 24.5, 20.5 and 1.5 cm, with inscriptions in cuneiform, reading “I am Darius the King” in three languages: Aryan (Old-Persian), Ilamid and Babylonian in 6 lines.


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