DARIUS (dă-rī'ŭs, Heb. dāryāwesh, Gr. Darios). A common name for Medo-Persian rulers. Numerous cuneiform tablets contain references to them, especially to Darius Hystaspes. Darius the Mede is a more than mysterious figure who, so far, only appears in the Bible. He may have been Gubaru, an officer in Cyrus’s army who became governor of the Persian province of northern Babylon, but the evidence is rather more suited by thinking that this is an alternative title for Cyrus the Persian himself. The only two references to him are in Dan.5.31 and Dan.9.1.

Darius Hytaspes was the greatest of the Persian rulers. Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, continued the conquests that his noted father had started. He did not, however, recognize the claims of the Jews (Jos. Antiq. 11.1.2). In one of his campaigns he was defeated by the Egyptians, and on his way home he committed suicide. Taking advantage of the king’s defeat, a pretender named Smerdis was made king by zealots of the Magian religious sect, and he ruled one year until killed by Darius and other princes, Darius having had himself made king. He was of the same family line as Cyrus but not a direct descendant. Cyrus, according to tradition, had selected Darius to succeed him. Between the reign of Cyrus and that of Darius, the Jews had been mistreated, and work on rebuilding Jerusalem had stopped (Ezra.4.1-Ezra.4.6). An appeal was made to Darius who searched and discovered the original decree of Cyrus favoring the Jews. Under his lenient reign, they restored the walls of the city and rebuilt the temple (Ezra.6.1-Ezra.6.15). Darius was beset by rebellious subjects and spent much time in putting them down. He reorganized the government and extended its boundaries. He conducted many magnificent building enterprises and encouraged men of letters, especially the historians who extolled his prowess. The Greeks never yielded to him, however, and after some futile campaigns, his forces were overwhelmed in the battle at Marathon, 490 b.c. Darius planned another campaign against the Greeks, but rebellion in Egypt interfered, and death in 486 ended his career. He was succeeded by Xerxes, a grandson of Cyrus the Great.

Darius the Persian (Neh.12.22). There is uncertainty among scholars as to whether this was Darius Nothus or Darius Codomannus, but evidence favors the claim that he was the latter, whose kingdom was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 330 b.c. Following a disastrous defeat near Arbela, the Persian Empire crumbled, Darius the Persian being its last king.

Bibliography: D. J. Wiseman, Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel, 1965, pp. 9-16; J. G. Baldwin, Daniel (TOTC), 1978, pp. 23-28.——JDF

DARIUS də rī’ əs. In addition to nodetitle (q.v.), it is the name of two Pers. kings mentioned in Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, and Nehemiah.

Darius I Hystaspes

(521-486 b.c.), fourth ruler of the Pers. empire (after Cyrus, Cambyses, and Gaumata; cf. Dan 11:2, which lists three kings after Cyrus and before the “richer” king, who is obviously Xerxes). He often is referred to as “Darius the Great” because of his brilliant achievements as restorer of the empire after Gaumata, the Pseudo-Smerdis, usurped the throne from Cambyses (q.v.). The Achaemenid dynasty would prob. have ended with Cambyses had not Darius, one of his officers, son of Hystaspes (a satrap) and great-grandson of Ariyaramnes (brother of Cyrus I), retained the loyalty of the Pers. army. Within two months he had killed Gaumata (522 b.c.) and during the next two years defeated nine kings in nineteen battles to secure his throne. His own account of these victories is recorded in a large trilingual (Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elamite) cuneiform inscr. on the face of the Behistun Rock.

In one of these campaigns a Babylonian usurper claiming the title Nebuchadnezzar IV was trapped with his followers within Babylon. After a long siege the city was taken and three thousand of its leading citizens were crucified as a warning to other potential rebels (Herodotus, III, 159). This helps to explain the amazing zeal of Tattenai to obey a decree of Darius I about a year later to which the following warning was appended “whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this” (Ezra 6:11-13 KJV).

The remaining years of his reign were devoted to the reorganization of the empire into twenty satrapies and many provinces; the establishment of a highly efficient postal system similar to the 19th cent. American pony express (Herodotus VIII, 98; cf. Esth 8:10); the building of a fabulous new capital at Persepolis; the conquest of NW India (c. 514 b.c.); the redigging of an ancient canal from the Nile to the Red Sea (c. 513 b.c.); the conquest of Libya, Thrace, and Macedonia (c. 512 b.c.); the crushing of revolts among Ionian Greeks (500-493 b.c.); and the ill-fated expeditions against Greece (493 and 490 b.c.). Returning to Persia in defeat he died in 486 b.c. while preparing for yet another attack upon Greece.

Darius was buried in a rock-hewn tomb at Naqsh-i-Rustam, a few m. NE of Persepolis. The trilingual inscr. includes these words: “Says Darius the king: By the favor of Ahuramazda I am of such a sort that I am a friend to right, I am not a friend to wrong; it is not my desire that the weak man should have wrong done to him by the mighty; nor is that my desire, that the mighty man should have wrong done to him by the weak.”

Early in his reign, just after securing his throne, Darius I became God’s instrument for encouraging the Jews to complete their second Temple. In 520 b.c., Tattenai, the recently-appointed Pers. governor of W Euphrates provinces (formerly included in the realm of Darius the Mede), challenged the Jews who had started to build their Temple through the encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1-3). Their explanation that Cyrus had given Sheshbazzar (Zerubbabel) official permission to build the Temple was forwarded to Darius I with a request to investigate. Providentially the work was not halted during the long process of searching for Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 5:5).

The transition of royal power from Cambyses to Darius I was so traumatic that it is a testimony to Pers. efficiency that the document was ever discovered. An expanded form of the decree of Cyrus on a parchment scroll had been filed away in a branch library in the distant city of Ecbatana (Ezra 6:2). Darius I then proceeded to issue his own decree, commanding Tattenai to assist the Jews in their work on the Temple and to provide expenses from the tribute that came from the western provinces (Ezra 6:6-12). Doubtless, the king was sufficiently polytheistic (in spite of his devotion to Zoroastrianism) to suspect that Jehovah could either help or injure his dynasty (6:10).

With this substantial material assistance (and with additional words from the Lord during Darius’ fourth year [518 b.c., cf. Zech 7:1-8:23]), the Jews completed the Temple in his sixth year (Feb/March, 516 b.c.). Nothing further is known of the experiences of the Jews during the subsequent thirty years of the reign of Darius I.

Darius II Ochus

(423-404 b.c.), seventh ruler of the Pers. empire, and son of Artaxerxes I by a Babylonian concubine. His cruel and scheming queen, Parysatis, was frequently the real ruler. The empire disintegrated at an accelerated pace under his administration, with revolts in Sardis, Media, Cyprus, Cadusia and Egypt. In the latter case, the Jewish colony at Elephantine lost their temple (on an island in the Nile of Upper Egypt) and wrote desperate letters to Jerusalem and Samaria for help, all in vain.


A. T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire (1948); J. B. Pritchard (ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts (1950); G. C. Cameron, “Darius Carved History on Ageless Rock” National Geographic Magazine (Dec., 1950); R. Ghirshman, Iran (1954); J. Finegan, Light From the Ancient Past (1959); Pfeiffer and Vos, The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

da-ri’-us: The name of three or four kings mentioned in the Old Testament. In the original Persian it is spelled "Darayavaush"; in Babylonian, usually "Dariamush"; in Susian(?), "Tariyamaush"; in Egyptian "Antaryuash"; on Aramaic inscriptions, d-r-y-h-w-sh or d-r-y-w-h-w-sh; in Hebrew, dareyawesh; in Greek, Dareios; in Latin, "Darius." In meaning it is probably connected with the new Persian word Dara, "king." Herodotus says it means in Greek, Erxeies, coercitor, "restrainer," "compeller," "commander."

(1) nodetitle (Da 6:1; 11:1) was the son of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) of the seed of the Medes (Da 9:1). He received the government of Belshazzar the Chaldean upon the death of that prince (Da 5:30,31; 6:1), and was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans.

From Da 6:28 we may infer that Darius was king contemporaneously with Cyrus. Outside of the nodetitle there is no mention of Darius the Mede by name, though there are good reasons for identifying him with Gubaru, or Ugbaru, the governor of Gutium, who is said in the Nabunaid-Cyrus Chronicle to have been appointed by Cyrus as his governor of Babylon after its capture from the Chaldeans. Some reasons for this identification are as follows:

(a) Gubaru is possibly a translation of Darius. The same radical letters in Arabic mean "king," "compeller," "restrainer." In Hebrew, derivations of the root mean "lord," "mistress," "queen"; in Aramaic, "mighty," "almighty."

(b) Gutium was the designation of the country North of Babylon and was in all possibility in the time of Cyrus a part of the province of Media.

(c) But even if Gutium were not a part of Media at that time, it was the custom of Persian kings to appoint Medes as well as Persians to satrapies and to the command of armies. Hence, Darius-Gubaru may have been a Mede, even if Gutium were not a part of Media proper.

(d) Since Daniel never calls Darius the Mede king of Media, or king of Persia, it is immaterial what his title or position may have been before he was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans. Since the realm of the Chaldeans never included either Media or Persia, there is absolutely no evidence in the Book of Daniel that its author ever meant to imply that Darius the Mede ever ruled over either Media or Persia.

(e) That Gubaru is called governor (pihatu), and Darius the Mede, king, is no objection to this identification; for in ancient as well as modern oriental empires the governors of provinces and cities were often called kings.

Moreover, in the Aramaic language, no more appropriate word than "king" can be found to designate the ruler of a sub-kingdom, or province of the empire.

(f) That Darius is said to have had 120 satraps under him does not conflict with this; for the Persian word "satrap" is indefinite as to the extent of his rule, just like the English word "governor." Besides, Gubaru is said to have appointed pihatus under himself. If the kingdom of the Chaldeans which he received was as large as that of Sargon he may easily have appointed 120 of these sub-rulers; for Sargon names 117 subject cities and countries over which he appointed his prefects and governors.

(g) The peoples, nations and tongues of chapter 6 are no objection to this identification; for Babylonia itself at this time was inhabited by Babylonians, Chaldeans, Arabians, Arameans and Jews, and the kingdom of the Chaldeans embraced also Assyrians, Elamites, Phoenicians and others within its limits.

(h) This identification is supported further by the fact that there is no other person known to history that can well be meant. Some, indeed, have thought that Darius the Mede was a reflection into the past of Darius Hystaspis; but this is rendered impossible inasmuch as the character, deeds and empire of Darius Hystaspis, which are well known to us from his own monuments and from the Greek historians, do not resemble what Daniel says of Darius the Mede.

(2) Darius, the fourth king of Persia, called Hystaspes because he was the son of a Persian king named Hystaspis, is mentioned in Ezr (4:5, et al.), Hag (1:1) and Zec (1:1). Upon the death of Cambyses, son and successor to Cyrus, Smerdis the Magian usurped the kingdom and was dethroned by seven Persian nobles from among whom Darius was selected to be king. After many rebellions and wars he succeeded in establishing himself firmly upon the throne (Ant., XI, i). He reorganized and enlarged the Persian empire. He is best known to general history from his conflict with Greece culminating at Marathon, and for his re-digging of the Suez Canal. In sacred history he stands forth as the king who enabled the Jews under Jeshua and Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem.

(3) Darius, called by the Greeks Nothus, was called Ochus before he became king. He reigned from 424 to 404 BC. In the Scriptures he is mentioned only in Ne 12:22, where he is called Darius the Persian, probably to distinguish him from Darius the Mede.

It is not necessary to suppose that Darius Codomannus who reigned from 336 to 330 BC, is meant by the author of Ne 12, because he mentions Jaddua; for (a) Johanan, the father of this Jaddua, was high priest about 408 BC, as is clear from the Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine lately published by Professor Sachau of Berlin, and Jaddua may well have succeeded him in those troubled times before the death of Darius Nothus in 404 BC. And (b) that a high priest named Jaddua met Alexander in 332 BC, is attested only by Josephus (Ant., XI, viii, 5). It is not fair to take the testimony of Josephus as to Jaddua without taking his testimony as to the meeting with Alexander and as to the appeal of Jaddua to the predictions of the Book of Daniel. But even if Josephus be right, there may have been two Jadduas, one high priest in 404 BC, and the other in 332 BC; or the one who was alive and exercising his functions in 404 BC may still have been high priest in 332 BC. He need not have exceeded 90 years of age.

According to the Eshki Harran inscription, which purports to have been written by himself, the priest of the temple in that city had served for 104 years. In our own time how many men have been vigorous in mind and body at the age of 90, or thereabouts; Bismarck and Gladstone, for example?

R. Dick Wilson