Darius the Great, King of Persia (522–486 BC), was hailed as a genius administrator in one of the greatest kingdoms of ancient times—the Persian Empire.
Read the following to know more about his supremacy.
Who Was Darius the Great?
Darius the Great was one of the greatest rulers who led the ancient world, specifically the Persian Empire. His rule still belonged to the Achaemenes Dynasty. The Achaemenid Dynasty is the series of kingship started by King Cambyses II in the 27th century. From a lowly lance bearer to a king, Darius I rose through the ranks and eventually led the empire into greatness.
– Brief History
Darius I’s father was Hystapses, a governor of Bactria under the rule of Cyrus the Great, who was later succeeded by King Cambyses II, his son. As the son of a governor, Darius I enjoyed the little favors given to his father as little king in their province.
According to legend, Cyrus the Great was appalled by young Darius as this boy appeared in his dream as someone who seized the throne and ruled the kingdom. Hence, Hystapses was sent back to Persia so that he could closely monitor the whereabouts of his son. Meanwhile, Darius I wealthy mother, Irdabama, belonged to a family of landowners.
Hystapses’ influence as a satrap, army, and noble in court helped Darius secure his post as spear bearer in most of King Cambyses II’s campaigns. With his loyalty and faithfulness, he became the king’s personal spearman, an important post. Meanwhile, some records showed that Darius I himself claimed that he was a cousin to the king, a claim he strongly believed made him eligible to the throne.
He married several wives, but the most favored one was Atossa, daughter of Cyrus the Great. She bored him with four sons: Xerxes, Achaemenes, Masistes, and Hyptases. Her influence led to the appointing of her son, Xerxes, to be the thron’s successor.
At the young age of 28, he became king, many believed that his succession was a bit dappled with controversies. However, this did not dissuade him from leading the land into its greatness and supremacy.
Succession to the Throne
There was no definite account of how Emperor Darius I became king. Several versions were debated by scholars alike, but the most famous one was the one illustrated by the Greek historian Herodotus.
According to Herodotus, right after the death of King Cambyses II with no definite heir to the throne, noblemen, which included Darius himself, held a contest to decide who would be crowned king among them. Picking out the winner simply involved seeing to whom the horse would neigh first in the morning; he would become king.
Darius the First won the contest with the help of his groom’s man. Now, it was said that Darius’ groom’s man rubbed his hand in a mare’s genitalia and let the steed sniff it; stimulated, the horse naturally neighed, making Darius the victor of that seemingly trivial competition. Lightning and thunder came right after the horse neighed, making the result of the contest seem like a decision favored by the heavens.
– Version Two
Meanwhile, in the inscriptions on the Behistun rock, Darius I narrated that King Cambyses II secretly killed his brother, Bardiya, an act unknown to the Persian people. One time, when King Cambyses II and Darius were on a campaign somewhere far, the people became restless and dissatisfied with their king’s rule.
Consequently, they turned to fraud, Gaumata, an impostor—stating that he was the king’s brother, Bardiya, to become their leader. Upon knowing of this unfortunate turn of events, King Cambyses II and his men immediately returned home. Unluckily, the king fell from his horse and cut himself in the process, and the wound became so infected that he died from it.
Now, left on their own, King Cambyses II’s men, led by Darius, killed the fraud Gaumata. In the morning, he was chosen and was crowned king. Yet, it was unclear who they really killed.
Was it really an impostor or the real brother of the King?
– Version Three
A similar story revealed that King Cambyses II lost his mind where it came to a point that he killed his own brother Bardiya unknowingly. When the king died of natural causes, frauds came to usurp the throne. One of those deceivers who successfully established himself as the ruler was Gaumata.
Fortunately, a nobleman, Otanes, noticed that this ruler was not the king’s brother but rather a fake. After asking help from his six fellow noblemen, they murdered Gautama. As the loyal lance bearer to the king and a natural leader, Darius I was easily appointed as the successor to King Cambyses II.
As proudly stated in the inscriptions of the Behistun rock and visible to all travelers of the kingdom, Darius I claimed that he was the rightful heir to the throne because of some reason. For instance, he was chosen by the great god Ahura Mazda himself to become king. Another reason was that his grandfather was of the same lineage as that of Cyrus the Great, making him a cousin to King Cambyses II and a legitimate successor to the throne.
Yet, many scholars have the impression that Darius I’s succession to the throne is somewhat shady. He just made up all of the reasons for his own personal gain. Nonetheless, Darius the Great was able to accomplish extraordinary achievements as a ruler of the vast Persian kingdom.
Due to the intrigue that brought Emperor Darius to the throne, problems and rebellions occurred in the kingdom. Many factions emerged, and different satraps or governors did not honor Emperor Darius as their new ruler. Nevertheless, these did not falter the Persian king in his actions.
Extensive literature mentioned how Darius I and his 10,000 loyalists, including soldiers and noblemen, took care of these outrages across the kingdom. Hence, the early years of Darius the Great’s reign were used to fortify his realm and nearby territories.
After several years later, ensuring that the revolts were all subdued, King Darius I focused on the matter of managing his kingdom, which he eventually turned out be to a genius about. Darius the great was applauded by modern scholars as one of the kings who had excellent governance skills, as manifested in his kingdom.
– During His Reign
First and foremost, he organized his kingdom into 20 provinces called “satrapies.” Each satrapy was overseen by a governor called satrap, chosen by the great king himself, perhaps to lessen the possibility of revolt. Some of the duties of a satrap were to ensure that a tribute would be regularly given to the emperor, either in gold or in silver, and report to the king the conditions of each satrap.
Next, he moved the capital from Pasargadae to Parsa or Persepolis, along with the seat of governance. In a new imperial center, he built majestic buildings and palaces that possessed not only aesthetic but also financial value. In these buildings, Darius the Great stored many treasures and reserves of the wealth of the Persian Empire, to be taken later by invaders from the west, of which the most notable one was Alexander the Great.
Aside from the administrative and engineering expertise shown by Emperor Darius, economic excellence was also displayed during his rule. He allowed the use of coins with monetary value and standardized the weight and length measurements, which contributed to better commercial exchanges of merchandise and trades.
The royal roads he built within and across the kingdom, connecting provinces to each other, contributed to faster transportation and transaction of goods and facilitated traveling, helping boost the economy.
Poets and historians agreed that during the reign of Darius the Great, the Persian Empire attained its pinnacle of glory. Thus, it was called the Golden Age of the Persian Empire.
Though polytheistic beliefs were practiced, the religion of Zoroastrianism was widespread during the regime of Darius I, not just in Persia but also in neighboring lands of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Babylon. The liberal stance of Emperor Darius on religion was quite admirable.
Despite occupying the highest position in the land, he did not suppress his constituents to believe in a certain god or gods, but rather, he exhibited tolerance toward the religious beliefs and practices of his people.
In the Persian capital, Persepolis, there were not only palaces but also temples. These included temples for gods, such as Amun and Osiris, to the delight of the Persian population. Meanwhile, another sect that enjoyed religious leniency was the Jews. The Jews were left to their own gatherings and holy activities.
King Darius I was a faithful devotee of Ahuramazda. He permanently emphasized the divine role his god granted in his every struggle, especially that of becoming and being a king. The Behistun Inscriptions are a testament of his faith in his god Ahuramazda, the wise lord, his overall protector.
Darius I and His Inscriptions
Aside from royal announcements, how do kings inform their constituents of the great deeds they have done?
King Darius I made use of the Behistun rock.
The Behistun rock enclosed the life-sized bas-relief of Darius I in a hard rock cliff at the foot of Mount Behistun—modern-day Iran. Measuring up to 100 meters, the ancient engravings contained the words of the king. This majestic work was strategically located in the kingdom, such that people passing by could not help but read and be awed by the man described in the text.
Cuneiform was the method used in writing the inscriptions, through the old Persian, Elamite, and Akkadian languages were used in the letterings.
Perhaps this was to ensure that the majority of the audience, wherever they came from, could read and understand what it wanted to present.
Some of the notes analyzed Darius I’s royal lineage, how his ascension to throne had divine providence, and his very own life story.
Through the inscriptions in the Behistun rock, scholars have taken a glimpse of the person that was Darius I, the great king of Persia.
Foreign invasion, once successful, is a surefire for a kingdom to live in prosperity. Aside from additional land territories, human, natural, and mineral resources are excellent sources of economic assets that benefit a kingdom.
Other than ensuring economic prosperity in his land, the great King Darius I continued to invade foreign lands and expand the empire’s territory. In the East, his domain reached up to India and the Indus valley, all the way to the West with Egypt and to the far West Europe, in Greece to be exact.
Greece was already developing into a prosperous nation, such that Darius I focused his sight on annexing into this land. He successfully conquered Thrace first, followed by territory after territory, including the Aegean and Paeonia.
– Greeks and Persians
The Persian empire was at its pinnacle during Emperor Darius’ reign, and other nations looked at it with admiration. They were willing to be under the rule of this great land. Not to mention that there were Greeks who were also pro-Persia.
As a vassal state, Macedonia willingly surrendered to Persia. Darius I opened Persia to skilled Greek citizen workers who were willing to work in his kingdom, another move that contributed to the prosperity of the land.
However, there were Greek territories that didn’t support the Persian government. King Darius I turned his unforgiving gaze toward these states that supported the anti-Persian revolts in Ionia. When it was time to conquer Athena and Marathon, King Darius I encountered overwhelming resistance from a large number of loyal Greeks.
Greek warriors were known not only for their physical accomplishments but also for their solid fortitude, endurance, and grit compared to Persian warriors. With a novel military strategy from the Greeks, King Darius I lost big time in this famous Battle in Marathon.
After this unsuccessful battle, there was no other option but to come back and reclaim what should have been his victory. King Darius I planned to retaliate and conquer the entirety of Greece successfully.
Darius the Great’s Legacy
One could have presumed that great modern leaders may have copied some of the tactics and strategies used by Darius the Great during his rule.
The decentralization of administration in one’s area of responsibility might have been copied from the organization of satraps or provinces. The practice in which each province had a governor that oversaw the development and progress of a place is very similar to what is being practiced in a lot of countries today, not only those practicing a monarchy but also nations that are in a democracy.
The governor, handpicked by the king, did not only monitor the progress of each province but, most importantly, also became the eyes and the ears of the king for whatever insurgence that might arise, which might consequently harm the king.
Ensuring that leaders in the lower positions are under the same ruling party is the trend of today’s politics. Although helpful and beneficial during the reign of King Darius I, this may seem dubious today.
– The Vision of Darius
It is simple to say that the king had a vision for Persia. A prominent, successful legacy from King Darius I was the use of coins—daric coins, which contained the image of the emperor—to facilitate exchanges, trades, and tax collection without delays. The use of daric coins became popular not only in Persia but also in neighboring cities and kingdoms.
Nations big and small still utilize coins of different currencies. Such a system is very much still practiced in modern times
Extensive literature revealed that aside from the endeavors mentioned above, King Darius I also initiated the construction of a Suez Canal-like passage connecting the Nile and the Red Sea. This remarkable act facilitated the easier navigation of men and cargoes alike from lands to rivers and to seas.
Irrigations and water systems were also in place, contributing to the immediate responses to the needs and progress of his constituents. As early as in his time, Darius the Great was able to address the basic necessities of his constituents, a deed that usually goes unnoticed by the modern rulers of the modern world.
The reign of King Darius I became significant in the records of world history. Without him and his great accomplishments, the world would have had a different face. Aside from his brilliance in managing his kingdom, Darius the Great also accomplished a lot in furthering the empire not only through invasion but, most importantly, by practicing peace principles among his people and of the lands he conquered.
Life in the kingdom had been easier due to the constructions built in place—roads, irrigation systems, palaces, and temples. An economic boom was also experienced since Darius I ingeniously ordered the use of coins, which had the same values as goods.
On the other hand, uniformity was established among the governors, called satraps, of the provinces for they were given the same orders and expectations. No satrap was higher in rank than the other satraps.
Indeed, the Persian Empire would have had a different story and wouldn’t have experienced the golden age if King Darius I didn’t try to win the contest cunningly and murder the imposter Gaumata/Bardiya (or maybe there was no impostor at all), or so it might have seemed. However, due to his gumption, the common spear bearer became Darius the Great.
Darius I’s Death
Subsequent to his failed attempt to invade the greater Greece, Darius I prepared to retaliate, but now older and frailer. As customary among the Persian rulers, before going into a war, they were tasked to construct their own burying place. He made and called it Naqsh E Rostam.
After several weeks of being sick, King Darius I died at the age of 64. He was buried in the tomb he made for himself. As the Father of Xerxes, succeeded him on the throne.
Although the great Emperor Darius I ascended the throne through scheming and deceit, his works as a ruler were a living testament that the Persian lands were in better hands during his reign. His leadership style was mimicked not only after his death but up to the present modern times—a compliment at its finest.
King Darius I, being the fourth ruler of the vast Persian reign, his supremacy lasted for more than three decades and was characterized by administrative greatness and efficiency in leading the kingdom.
Believed to have a shady start in his ascension to the throne, this did not deter King Darius from proving that among his contemporaries, he was the best choice for a leader. After all, his god never left his side.
Inheriting a slackly structured empire, King Darius the Great turned it into a highly organized and systematic ideal kingdom, to the wonder of both eastern and western historians. Hence, his being labeled as Darius of Persia is truly fitting considering how he revolutionized Persia during his reign.
Darius the Great was looked upon by ancient and modern scholars as an “administrative genius,” the greatest king of the Persian Dynasty. He turned an unruly kingdom into a fortified and prosperous empire. Darius I is known for the following:
- His resolute assertion that he was the legitimate heir to the throne, as inscribed on the Behistun rock
- His innovations in creating satrapies or provinces, as well as appointing satraps, the forerunner of modern-day bureaucratic methods in governance
- His tolerant stance toward many religions (Being a zealous practitioner of his own religion did not prevent him from building and offering temples to the gods of his constituents).
- His constructions of imperial roads, water systems, and irrigation systems facilitated sophisticated ways and means of the kingdom
- The use of daric coins and the standardization of weight and length measurement led to economic progress
- His failure to invade Greece (However, he did not stop at it. Even at old age, he still wanted to pursue it, until he died.)
Darius I is a great case of small beginnings, great endings. Starting from a lowly role, he led the kingdom into the greatness that his successes overshadowed his failures and humble beginnings.