Darius The Great ( Dariush I)
The principal sources for the life of Darius are his own inscriptions, especially the great inscription of Behistun in which he explains how he gained the crown and put down many rebellions. There are also some informations related to his past, for example we know that his fathers name was Hystaspes. In modern times the veracity of Darius has often been doubted, but without any sufficient reason or suggestion of alternatives. The accounts given later by Herodotus and Ctesias of his accession are in many points evidently dependent on this official version, with many legendary stories interwoven, e.g. the tale that Darius and his allies left the question as to which of them should become king to the decision of their horses, and that Darius won the crown by a trick of his groom. Herodotus also informs us of Dariuse' past. He mentions that Hystaspes was a soldier in the Persian army during the last war of Cyrus the Great, which took place in 530. According to the story of Herodotus, Cyrus becomes suspicious of the son of Hystaspes, who was "about twenty at the time and had been left behind in Persia because he was too young for war". So he sent back Hystaspes to gain control over Darius. A few days later, Cyrus was killed in action. Cambyses was appointed as the new king and Hystaspes became the satrap ( governor) of Parthia.
Rise to Power:
Darius belonged to the cadet branch of the Achaemeid Dynasty. After the suicide of Cambyses II on March 21, Gaumata ,( Cyrus's younger son), seized the whole empire and ruled in under the name of Bardiya ( Smerdis), another son of Cyrus the great. No one dared to challenge him except Darius. Darius " with the help of Ahuramazda", decided to regain the kingdom for the royal family. According to an inscript found at Susa, both Darius's father, Hystaspes and his grandfather, Arsames, were alive when Darius became the king. Assisted by six noble Persians, whose names Darius proclaimed at the end of the Behistun Inscription, he surprised and killed Gaumata in a Median fortress and gained the crown. He also married Atossa, the widow of the false Smerdis and daughter of king Cyrus the great. In time, Xerxes, Darius's son from Atossa, would succeed his father on the throne.
These sudden changes in the central authority in Persia was percieved by the rulers of the eastern provinces as an opportunity to regain their independence. In Susiana, Babylon, Media, Sagartia, and Margiana, people in power pretended that they are from the royal race and gathered large armies to revolt. Even in central Persia, Vahyazdata imitated the example of Gaumata and introduced himself as the True Bardiya. Darius, with only a very small army of Persians and Medes and some loyal generals, overcame all these difficulties. By 520 BC all the rebellions were put down. Even Babylon, which had revolted twice, and Susiana, which had rebelled three times, both submitted, and recognized Darius's government as legitamit.
One of the first acts of Darius was to establish that, by the grace of Ahuramazda, he had overcomed all his enemies and promoted the monotheistic religion of Zoroaster. At Behistun, Darius ordered the relief and inscription of his victory by the help of Ahuramazda to be carved. Unfortunately, the text had to be written in Elamite and Akkadian cuneiform, the most common scripts of the ancient Near East. This was against Darius' chauvinist feelings, and he therefore ordered the invention of a special, Aryan alphabet suited for the Persian language.
Darius was also a great statesman and organizer. He thoroughly revised the Persian system of administration and also the legal code. His revisions of the legal code revolved around laws of evidence, slave sales, deposits, bribery, and assault. The time of conquests had come to an end; the wars which Darius undertook, like those of Augustus, only served the purpose of gaining strong natural frontiers for the empire and keeping down the barbarous tribes on its borders. Thus Darius subjugated the wild nations of the Pontic and Armenian mountains, and extended the Persian dominion to the Caucasus; for the same reasons he fought against the Saka and other Iranian steppe tribes, as well as the mysterious Turanians from beyond the Oxus. In the process of these campaigns he made military reforms such as introducing conscription, pay for soldiers, military training and he also made changes in the army and navy. But by the organization which he gave to the empire he became the true successor of the great Cyrus. His organization of the provinces and the fixing of the tributes is described by Herodotus (iii. 90 if.), evidently from good official sources. He divided the Persian Empire into twenty 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 region, however, was responsible for paying a gold or silver tribute to the emperor; many areas, such as Babylonia, underwent severe economic decline resulting from these quotas. Each satrapy also had an independent financial controller, an independent military coordinator as well as the satrap, who controlled administration and the law. All three probably reported directly to the king. This more evenly distributed power within the satrapy and lowered the chance of revolt. Darius also increased the bureaucracy of the empire, with many scribes employed to provide records of the administration.
Another innovation that dates back to the age of Darius is the construction of Royal roads. The roads themselves were centuries old and connected the main urban centers of the ancient Near East. But Darius introduced a system of caravanserais where a traveler could change horses and find a place to sleep. More important, those traveling on behalf of the Persian government, like the inspectors known as the king's eyes, received passports that entitled them to food rations all along the road. From the Persepolis fortification tablets, we learn that Darius' uncle Pharnaces was in charge of the department that gave out these passports.
Another reform by Darius was the rewriting of the Calendar. At the time Babylonian astronomers (the Chaldaeans) had invented a better system for the intercalation of months. Darius introduced it everywhere in the entire empire. Our first evidence for this calendar dates to 503 BCE, but an earlier introduction can not be excluded. This Babylonian calendar is still used by the Jews.
Many building projects were initiated during the reign of Darius, with the largest being the building of the new capital of Persepolis ( and Susa). The city would have walls sixty feet high and thirty-three 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 and beyond, known as the Royal Road.
Darius is also remembered for his Behistun Inscription which was chiselled 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 tried to develop the commerce of the empire, and sent an expedition down the Kabul and the Indus, led by the Carian captain Scylax of Caryanda, who explored the Indian Ocean from the mouth of the Indus to Suez. During his reign, the population increased and industries flourished in towns. Persia under Darius probably had connections with Carthage (cf. the Karka of the Naghshe Rustam inscription) of Sicily and Italy. At the same time he attempted to gain the good-will of the subject nations, and for this purpose promoted the aims of their priests. He allowed the Jews to build the Temple of Jerusalem. In Egypt his name appears on the temples which he built in Memphis, Edfu and the Great Oasis. He called the high-priest of Sais, Tzahor, to Susa (as we learn from his inscription in the Vatican Museum), 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 as one of the great benefactors and lawgivers of the country. In similar relations he stood to the Greek sanctuaries (cf. his rescript 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 Minor and Europe therefore stood on the side of Persia in the Persian Wars and admonished the Greeks against attempting resistance.
Weights and measures were standardised (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 ( this was revolutionary since at the time it was accepted to call deviators barbaric and kill them). Darius himself was completely monotheistic - in royal inscriptions Ahuramazda is the only god mentioned by name. But, time and again he is mentioned worshipping, funding or giving 'lip-service' to various pantheons of gods. This was important as the majority of the empire's inhabitants were polytheists. Also, like many other Persian Kings, he maintained a no-slave policy; for example, all workers at the Persepolis site and other sites made for him 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 first human rights document ever made.
European and North African campaigns
About 512 BC Darius undertook a war against the Scythians. A great army crossed the Bosporus, 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 Kush (which they called the Caucasus Indicus) and on the shores of the Jaxartes (which they called Tanais, i.e., the River Don) they were quite near to the Black Sea. Of course the expedition undertaken on these grounds could only prove a failure; having advanced for some weeks into the Russian steppes, 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 Behistun, is destroyed with the exception of a few words.
Although European Greece was intimately connected with the coasts of Asia Minor, and the opposing parties in the Greek towns were continually soliciting his intervention, Darius did not meddle with their affairs. The Persian wars were begun by the Greeks themselves. The support which Athens and Eretria gave to the rebellious Ionians and Carians made their punishment inevitable as soon as the rebellion had been put down. But the first expedition, that of Mardonius, failed on the cliffs of Mount Athos (492 BC), and the army which was led into Attica by Datis in 490 BC was beaten at the Battle of Marathon. Before Darius had finished his preparations for a third expedition an insurrection broke out in Egypt (486 BC).
The last letter from Babylon that is dated to the reign of Darius was written on 17 November 486, and the first one from the reign of his son and successor Xerxes on 1 December. In the two weeks between these dates, Darius died, after thirty days of illness, about sixty-four years old. He had been a great king, as even his Athenian enemies admitted. Thirteen years after his death, the tragic poet Aeschylus evoked the days of Darius as the golden age of Persia.
The body of King of Kings was placed in a coffin and transported to Naqsi Rustam, where his tomb had been prepared a long time before his death. Like the Behistun inscription, the tomb text at the tomb of Naqš-i Rustam is a rather stereotypical autobiography and it is interesting to see how Darius wanted to be remembered. In the upper part, he summarizes his reign and recalls the confused early days and his conquests:
Ahuramazda, when he saw this earth in commotion, thereafter bestowed it upon me, made me king; I am king. By the favor of Ahuramazda I put it down in its place; what I said to them [my subjects], that they did, as was my desire. If now you shall think that "How many are the countries which King Darius held?" look at the sculptures of those who bear the throne, then shall you know, then shall it become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone forth far; then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has delivered battle far indeed from Persia.