Darius I of Persia (548-486 BC), commonly known as Darius the Great, was one of the greatest kings of Persia (modern day Iran) and one of the great kings that ruled Persia in the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the Persian Empire (c. 550-330 BC).
He ascended the throne in 521 BC, having killed the previous king, Gaumata the Magian, who he regarded as an usurper. Darius’ version of these events may still be read in the monumental Behistun Inscription, near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran.
Darius ruled the Persian Empire at its peak, when it extended from the Indus River (modern day Pakistan) through Central and Southwest Asia to Egypt and part of Europe. He faced down many revolts throughout the Empire such such a revolt by the Babylonians. He further extended the Empire by conquering the Scythians, Thrace and Macedon.
The Ionian Revolt (499-498) – and associated revolts in Aeolis, Caria, Cyrus, and Doris – rose against the Persian Empire.
Darius sent two punitive expeditions against the Athenians to punish them for supporting the Ionian Revolt but these, unusually, were defeated: the first through the wreck of the Persian naval fleet in a storm off Mt Athos (492) and the second ending a military disaster at the Battle of Marathon (490).
The Athenians had also wrought destruction in Persia during the Ionian Revolt – for example, they destroyed Sardis, political capital of the western province of the Persian Empire.
According to the ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, Darius vowed never to forget the destruction of Sardis. In his Histories (Book 5: 105), Herodotus relates the following: “And he [Darius] commanded one of his servants to repeat to him the words, ‘Master, remember the Athenians’, three times whenever he sat down to dinner.”
Darius’ conquests were noted for the humane way in which he treated the peoples he conquered.
Darius reformed the administration and finances of the Persian Empire. He divided his empire into 20 administrative provinces called “satrapies”, each one ruled by a “satrap” (governor). He watched over his Empire’s revenues with an eagle eye: for example, each satrap had a secretary who watched the actions of the satrap and reported back directly to Darius.
He levied a new annual tax and brought in a new standardized currency. He encouraged commerce – for example, by constructing roads and canals, by building a powerful navy, and by sending out expeditions of exploration.
Darius was known as a great lawgiver, who was severe but fair, and he standardized the laws across the whole of the Persian Empire. Even foreigners recognized his great qualities as a lawgiver. In the Bible (Daniel 6:8), is written: “the law of the Medes and Persians which alters not”. Darius created a codification of laws for Egypt.
Darius the Great was a follower of the Zoroastrian god, Ahura Mazda, and under Darius Zoroastrianism became the state religion. But in religious matters Darius was, unusually for his time, noted for his religious tolerance.
Darius the Great was a great architect. He built Susa, a beautiful new capital city (located near Shustar, in modern day Iran). He also built the terrace and the great palaces of the magnificent city of Persepolis (518-516), the Persian Empire’s ceremonial capital whose ruins still amaze modern visitors (in 1979 UNESCO declared the citadel of Persepolis a World Heritage Site)..