Persia 02: The Wives of Darius

In this clear and present confusion, let us now take a look at the royal marriages of Darius. Stick with this one to the end, it ends with a heck of a punch!

- Prior to becoming co-emperor with Cyrus II, Darius had been married to an unnamed daughter of Gobryas (Pharaoh Apries) by which he had (or received) three sons. Although prominent, these sons were later excluded (with minimal protest) from the succession.

- Gobyras in turn had married an (unnamed) sister of Darius by whom he had (or received) two sons, the most notable being General Mardonius. Mardonius was further distinguished as the son-in-law of Darius after being given Artozostra in marriage.

- After becoming co-emperor, Darius married Phaidime/Phaedymia the daughter of Otanes. Phaidime can be associated with the Gods Wife of Amun, Ankheneferibre (daughter of Tanuatamon/Psamtik II/Cambyses II), who had been adopted by Nitocris II as her successor in the highest queenly office. In this capacity she also seems to have been considered consort of her own father (along with other leading royal men).

- Darius also married two daughters of his brother Cyrus II, namely Atossa and Artystone. The elder daughter Atossa, like Phaidime, had been a consort of Cambyses II. But according to Herodotus, both Atossa and Phaidime were taken into the harem of a new overlord, Smerdis. This would have occurred around the time of the final attack on Egypt by Assurbanipal (Smerdis), in which he was joined by the forces of Nebuchadrezzar (Bardiya). Tanuatamon/Cambyses was forced to abandon Thebes for Nubia, and then to regroup in Elam. The royal ladies were inevitably caught up in the tug-of-war between Cambyses, Astyges, and the allies Bardiya and Smerdis.

- Cambyses/Otanes managed to have Bardiya killed, perhaps even with the help of Darius if Bardiya is to be equated with another liar-king named Vahyazdata/Bardiya listed in the Behistun relief as vanquished by Darius (see Pierre Bryant, From Cyrus to Alexander, p 120-121)). (Compare also Vahyazdata and Datuvahya, father of one of the co-conspirators.) After the murder of Bardiya, Smerdis (as a "new Bardiya") remained very much a threat and a target.

- In the account of Herodotus, Otanes makes the strange request that his daughter Phaidime find out the identity of her new overlord. This new husband after the death of Bardiya/Nebuchadrezzar would have been Smerdis/Assurbanipal, who was renowned as a great scholar (Magus). In his inscription at Behistun, Darius claimed that after the death of Bardiya and before the death of Cambyses a Magian named Gaumata claimed to be Bardiya and persuaded all of Media and Persia to reject the rule of Cambyses and follow him.

- A king with this kind of reach is not consistent with a body-double of Bardiya that continued to act on his behalf in the months after his master's death. Rather, Gaumata appears to have been an epithet Darius applied to Assurbanipal for the purpose identifying him as a rebel from the perspective of himself and also Cambyses. The name Smerdis (used by Herodotus) was probably avoided by Darius.

- According to Herodotus, the true identity of the mystery king was confirmed to Otanes/Cambyses by his daughter Phaidime and a plan was formulated to assassinate him. Otanes/Cambyses was however captured by the forces of Assurbanipal first and put to a humiliating death. Darius was later able to surprise and kill Assurbanipal in his own palace (or according to Darius at a fortress). Unlike Otanes, Darius may have not been considered a serious threat to Assurbanipal. Darius father Hystaspes (Mentuemhet) by all accounts had remained (or at least gave the impression of being) a faithful steward to him.

- Darius also married Parmys the daughter of Bardiya. Nebuchadrezzar is known to have had a prominent daughter who was married first to the Babylonian king Nergalissar (Biblical Nergal-Sharezer). It is not known if Assurbanipal/Smerdis had royal daughters, but they would also have likely been claimed by Darius and/or Cyrus II.

- Another wife of Darius was Phratagune the daughter of his brother Artanes. Artanes could be an epithet of Cyrus II. However, Darius and Cyrus also had two other brothers or half-brothers (see Chart 26).

- Phaidime (as Gods Wife) would have initially been the highest-ranking wife of Darius. However, if she did not produce children, especially sons, her status would have eventually been jeopardized. The inclination would also have been for Darius to elevate one of his brothers daughters as leading queen. No children of Phaidime are known, and the eventual successor of Darius was a son of Atossa.

- The Book of Esther describes the replacement of Medio-Persian Queen Vahshti with Hadassah/Esther (Atossa), and the replacement of Prime Minister Haman with Mordecai. The Book of Esther calls King Darius son of Hystaspes by the pseudonym Ahasuerus, Brother of Cyrus.

- In the Book of Esther, the father and mother of Esther/Hadassah (Atossa) are said to be deceased, but it was actually Phaidime (Ankheneferibre) who was by then fatherless and perhaps also motherless. The father of Atossa, Cyrus II, was still very much alive. However, the two kings obviously had an understanding not to publicly acknowledge the others existence and to carry on as if they each ruled alone.

- We do not know the fate of Queen Vahshti/Phaidime. Perhaps she preferred the court of Cyrus II and produced children for him. According to Herodotus, the family of Otanes was granted certain diplomatic immunity. This may have allowed certain descendants of Otanes to remain in power or temporarily free from the Power. Although Cambyses was said to have died without a male heir, Otanes had two sons called Ariaramnes and Datames.

- In the Book of Esther the leading minister Haman is executed and replaced by Mordecai (cousin of Hadassah/Atossa). Haman may have been too closely aligned with one of the kings superseded by Darius and Cyrus II, and so it was decided to remove him. The name Mordecai is similar in form to Merodach (Marduk). A contemporary king of Babylon was called Amel-Marduk. A leading minister under Darius was called Mardonius, who would have in fact been a cousin of Atossa/Esther since he was considered the son of the sister to both Darius and Cyrus II. As noted above, Mardonius was also the kings son-in-law.