1902 Encyclopedia > Darius I (Darius the Great)

Darius I
(also known as: Darius the Great)
King of Persia (from 521 BC)

DARIUS I., the son of Hystaspes, was the true consoli-dator of the Persian empire. His administrative ability founded a new type of government, and organized the crude mass of conquered states bequeathed him by his predeces-sors. His military talents, though considerable, have been thrown into the shade by his legislative and financial ones. The originator of imperial centralization and unity, the inventor of a well-regulated system of taxation, and the introducer of an alphabetic system of writing, he found a half-dissolved amalgamation of discordant populations on his accession, and left a firmly-welded empire at his death.

In the great inscription on the rock of Behistun, where he has recorded his struggles and victories, Darius traces his descent from Achsemenes, through four ancestors all kings like himself. He seems to have stood next to the line of Cyrus in succession to the throne; and Cyrus, when setting out on his campaign against the Massagetae, already suspected him of aiming at the crown. He accompanied Cambyses to Egypt, but was recalled by his father to the capital at the time the conspiracy was being formed against the Magian usurper Gomates, who professed to be Bardes (Smerdis in Herodotus), the brother of Cambyses. With six other Persian nobles Darius succeeded in over-throwing the Magian usurpation, and pursued the pseudo-Smerdis to Sikhyuvatis, a fortress in Nisaea, where he was put to death, April 2, 521 B.C. The friends of Gomates were massacred, the yearly festival of the Magophonia instituted, and the religion of Zoroaster, which had been suppressed in favour of the idolatrous worship of the Turanian (as opposed to the Aryan) Medes, was solemnly restored. Darius, now twenty-eight years old, was pro-claimed king.

The first six years of his reign were occupied in sup-pressing the revolts which broke out throughout the empire, occasioned partly, perhaps, by the zeal with which the new monarch maintained the Zoroastrian faith, and which led him to look with special favour on the monotheistic Jews. Pretender after pretender appeared—Atrines and after-wards Martes, in Susiania; Nidintabel, who called himself Nebuchadrezzar son of Nabonidus, in Babylonia; Bhraortes, who claimed to be Xathrites son of Cyaxares, in Media and Parthia; Tritantachmes, in Sagartia; Phraates, in Margiana; CEosdates, a second pseudo-Smerdis, in Persia itself; and an Armenian, Aracus, in Babylon; but they were all successively crushed by Darius or his generals. The most serious of these revolts were those in Media and Babylonia, and it was probably during the first Babylonian revolt that the long siege of Babylon mentioned by Herodotus took place, resulting in the attempted plunder of the image of Bel (518 B.C.) This siege may have introduced the otherwise unknown "Darius the Mede" into the book of Daniel (see article on DANIEL). The Median Phraortes, who probably belonged to the Turanian part of the population, proved more than a match for three generals of Darius, and the king had to leave Babylon, which he had just succeeded in capturing, and take the field in person, before the war was finished by the seizure and crucifixion of Phraortes at Ecbatana. The second capture of Babylon was followed by the execution of the Behistun inscription, 515 B.C., in which Darius declares that he had translated " the Ancient Book," " the Text of the Divine Law (Avesta) and a Commentary of the Divine Law and the Prayer (Zend) " from Bactrian into the old Persian, and had restored it to the nations of the empire (see Oppert's translation of the Median version of the Behistun inscription in Records of the Past, vol. vii.) It must have been for the sake of this translation that the Assyrian cuneiform syllabary was simplified into an alphabet of forty characters. A revolt of Iskunka, a chief of the Sacaa, was suppressed shortly after the inscription was engraved. Before this, Orcetes, governor of Sardis, who had murdered Polycrates of Samos, and aimed at making himself independent, had been put to death, as well as Aryandes, satrap of Egypt, who had issued a silver coinage of his own.

Darius now set about consolidating and organizing his empire. An elaborate bureaucratic system was instituted, and the empire divided into a varying number of provinces, each under a governor or satrap (khshatrapdva), appointed by the king for an indefinite time, and responsible for a fixed tribute. The power of the satrap was checked by " royal clerks," who sent annual reports of the satrap and his actions to the king, by retaining the old chiefs or kings of the province by the side of the satrap wherever possible, and by sending members of the royal family to the satrapies. Except in the border satrapies, the military power was intrusted to a separate officer, and it was only in the border provinces, accordingly, that a revolt was to be feared. It is said that the chief fortresses had each an independent commander, while in Persia proper " royal judges " went on circuit. The satrap represented the king, and had the power of life and death. The money tribute, raised probably by a land-tax, amounted, according to Mr Grote's calculation, to £4,254,000,—7740 talents (£2,964,000) being paid in silver, and the rest in gold. The Indian satrapy contributed by far the most, and Persia proper paid nothing. Part of the tribute was paid in kind, Babylonia and Assyria fur-nishing one-third. There were, besides, water-rates, and taxes for the use of such crown property as fisheries and the like, but the amount to be paid to the imperial treasury was in all cases fixed. It was otherwise, however, with the exactions the satraps were allowed to make on their own account, and which must have pressed heavily on the people. The tribute enabled Darius to issue a coinage of extreme purity, and his gold darics were worth about 22s. of our money. An incised bar was the imperial stamp. The satrapies were connected with one another by high-roads and posting-stations, at which relays of horses were kept for the royal messengers.

After building a palace at Susa, the new capital of the empire, and founding the Cheld Minar at Persepolis, Darius overran the Punjaub, and had the Indus navigated by a naval expedition under Scylax of Caryanda. Under the guidance of Democedes, a physician of Crotona, the Greek seas were also explored as far as Magna Grsecia, and the northern frontier was strengthened by a campaign against the Scythians. Ariamnes of Cappadocia first examined the northern shores of the Black Sea, after which Darius, with 600 ships and the aid of the Asiatic Greeks, crossed the Bosphorus by a bridge constructed by the Greek Mandrocles, conquered the Getae, and threw a bridge of boats across the Danube. Leaving the defence of the bridge to the Greeks, he pursued the Scythians as far as the 50th parallel, burning Gelonus (perhaps the modern Voronej), and recrossed the bridge in safety, thanks to the fidelity of Histiaeus of Miletus. Megabazus, or Megabyzus, next reduced Thrace and made Amyntas of Macedon tributary (506). In the following year Otanes subjugated Byzantium, Chalcedon, Antandros, Lemnos, and Imbros.

In 500 B.C. the Ionic revolt broke out. The allies of the Ionians from Athens and Eretria landed in Asia Minor and burnt Sardis, an event which led the Greeks of the Helles-pont, as well as the Carians and the Cyprians, to join the insurrection. The revolt was crushed in 495 B.C. by the battle of Lade and the sack of Miletus ; and a terrible punishment was taken upon the Greek cities on the coasts and islands of the iEgean. Miltiades, the tyrant of the Chersonese, escaped with difficulty to Athens, while Darius prepared to avenge the burning of Sardis. His son-in-law, Mardonius, was accordingly sent against Athens and Eretria with a powerful force. But after establishing democracies in the place of tyrants in various Greek cities, and captur-ing Thasos and its gold mines, Mardonius lost 300 ships and more than 20,000 men in a storm off Mount Athos, and, being further surprized by the Thracian Bryges, returned to Asia Minor. Two years afterwards (490 B.C.) Darius sent another expedition under Datis, which destroyed Eretria, but was ingloriously defeated at Marathon by the Athenians under Miltiades. Darius now made preparations for an attack upon a scale which the Greeks would have found it hardly possible to withstand while an able prince like Darius was at the head of the empire ; but in the fourth year of the preparations (487 B.C.), just before everything was ready, Egypt broke out into revolt. Before the revolt could be put down Darius died, 486 B.C., in the sixty-third year of his age according to Herodotus, or the seventy-second according to Ctesias, who, however, curtails his reign by three years. Darius had already nominated Xerxes, his son by Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, as his successor,—his eldest son, Artobazanes, whose mother was a daughter of Gobryas, being set aside as born before his father was king.

Long before his death Darius had excavated a richly-ornamented tomb with four pillars and other sculptures out of the rocks of Naksh-i-Bustam, about four miles from Persepolis. In an inscription on the facade of the tomb he enumerates 28 different countries or satrapies, including India and " the Scythians beyond the sea,'1 over which he bore sway. His name Daryavush is rendered ____, " worker " or " organizer," by Herodotus; but the true meaning of the word is rather " the maintainer," from darj (Sanskrit, dhri, " conservare "). (A. H. S.)

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