- References to specific year numbers for Darius and Cyrus in the Book of Daniel have led to all kinds of speculation and controversy.
- In the Book of Daniel Chapter 5, Babylon under Belshazzar falls to Darius the Mede. In Chapter 6, Darius organizes the kingdom and makes Daniel the leading minister. Chapter 6 ends with the assertion (verse 28, KJV): “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Chapter 7 backtracks to Year 1 of Belshazzar. Chapter 8 continues with Year 3 of Belshazzar. Chapter 9 is dated to Year 1 of Darius. Chapter 10 is dated to Year 3 of Cyrus. Chapter 11 then returns to Year 1 of Darius.
- This progression led at least one Jewish source to conclude that the reigns of Darius and Cyrus began in the same year, and that Darius ruled only for one year while Cyrus lasted three.
- Cyrus is generally credited with ruling for 7-10 years after the Fall of Babylon. Daniel’s “Darius the Mede” is however written off as either totally fictitious or confused with some other figure. It is variously proposed that he could have been the uncle of Cyrus the Great or should be equated with a leading nobleman such as Gobryas.
- Another perspective on the parallel reigns of Cyrus and Darius is gained from Xenophon’s biography of Cyrus.
- Xenophon’s history of Cyrus has been described as “broadly creative rather than narrowly historical”. (Larry Hedrick, editor of ‘Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War’)
- Xenophon’s Cyrus is the ideal king. His integrity and intelligence is contrasted with the corruption and incompetence of Darius and his successors.
- The name Darius is however not used by Xenophon. Darius is instead given the more exotic name of Cyaxares (II).
- The first wife of Darius was a daughter of Gobryas (who was related by marriage to Hystaspes). Xenophon uses the marriage of Darius and the daughter of Gobryas to further contrast his most excellent Cyrus with "spiritless" Darius. Xenophon’s Cyrus is offered a daughter of Gobryas, but tactfully declines to accept. Unlike Darius, a daughter of Gobryas was beneath the dignity of Cyrus.
- Cambyses (II), the “father” of Cyrus is kept alive in the narrative well beyond his actual death. He continues to mentor the young Cyrus and ensure his successful rise to power. Hystaspes, the true father of Cyrus (and Darius) is not mentioned. Astyges, the maternal grandfather of Cyrus, is also portrayed as patronizing the young prince. However, other histories make Astyges murderously paranoid of the newborn Cyrus. As an adult, Cyrus must capture and depose his grandfather in order to take his place as king. This kind of detail has no place in Xenophon’s work.
- According to Xenophon, Cyrus makes all the brilliant plans and does all the hard work of winning an empire, but Cyaxares is allowed to take all the credit. This also applies to Babylon, which is taken during a festival as in the Book of Daniel. Yet, Xenophon cannot resist a subtle jab at Darius. Instead of Cyaxares/Darius entering the royal palace of Babylon and killing Belshazzar, Xenophon ascribes this deed to a character called “Mandarus the eunuch”!
- Consistent with this, Xenophon’s Cyaxares is without a male heir. He does have a daughter, but seemingly for the sole purpose of being given in marriage to Cyrus so that he can, in the end, inherit all the dominions of Cyaxares. In reality, Darius had six high-ranking wives and a dozen leading sons. It was Cambyses II who had died without a (surviving) qualified heir. It would have been the daughter of Cambyses II that Cyrus coveted for the purpose of gaining the kingdom of Cambyses.
- Apart from Xenophon, it is evident that Cyrus had daughters but no sons that were qualified or strong enough to hold the kingdom against Darius. However, Xenophon’s Cyrus must not only have sons, but also a kingly successor. This successor is called Cambyses. In truth, the actual successor of Cyrus was Darius, who outlived Cyrus by between one and six years (see below). There is no indication that Darius the Mede also went by the Persian name of Cambyses. Xenophon has instead created a recursive succession. He was, perhaps unwittingly, reinforcing the notion that Cyrus and Darius had never shared power, but that the reign of Darius was separated from that of Cyrus.
- Cyrus was to Darius as Nebuchadrezzar had been to Assurbanipal in the previous generation. Nebuchadrezzar maintained the impression that he was the Great King in Babylon. Assurbanipal did the same in Assyria. However, Nebuchadrezzar deferred to Assurbanipal and cooperated when there was a mutual self-interest or mutual enemy (such as Taharqa and Tanuatamon).
- A third perspective on the real-life relationship between Cyrus and Darius is found in the person of Artaphernes satrap of Sardis under Darius. Artaphernes is acknowledged as the brother of Darius by the same father (Hystaspes). Recall also that the greatest glory of Cyrus was the defeat and capture of Sardis and its king of legendary wealth, Croesus.
- The Hellenized name Artaphernes (also spelled Artaphrenes), means “spirit of Arta” or “glory of Arta”.
- Apparently the original Persian form of this name is not known, so its meaning is somewhat uncertain. Arta was something akin to the Egypitan Maat.
- Artaphernes, like Cyrus, was a leader renowned for his discernment.
- Artaphernes also functioned in Sardis (in the district of Lydia) as an independent king. According to the playwright Aeschylus, Artaphernes came before Darius in the list of Great Kings. Artaphernes is equated by some with Intaphernes the “co-conspirator” that killed the “imposter” Bardiya/Gaumata and paved the way for Darius to become king. Another powerful figure in the court of Darius was called Artasyrus of Hyrcania. This name seems to combine both Cyrus and Arta-phernes.
- When the self-proclaimed democratic leader of Athens came to him seeking an alliance, Artaphernes required of him the offering of “earth and water” as a token of submission.
- When Darius sent the devious Histiaeus to Sardis, Artaphernes declared him an outlaw. Histiaeus was captured and his severed head boldly sent back to Darius. Although Darius denounced the action taken by Artaphernes, he did nothing about it. At other times, Artaphernes at least pretended to support the policies of Darius. For example, he relayed the order of Darius for Athens to reinstate the tyrant Hippias, but Athens was not compelled to obey. While Artaphernes ruled from Sardis, Greek affairs were set in order. When Darius later tried to take Greek matters into his own hands, the situation quickly deteriorated. In Greece, Cyrus was understandably thought of by posterity as the superior ruler.
- In the standard chronology, the last record of Artaphernes at Sardis is in the year 492, and the reign of Darius ended in 486. However, the death of Artaphernes is not recorded. It could have come as late as 487, and would have of course coincided with that of Cyrus (reputably beyond the Jaxartes River at the far eastern frontier of the empire).
- The Book of Daniel states that Darius was 62 years old when Babylon fell to him. More likely, Darius was 62 years old when Cyrus died and he became sole ruler of the Persian Empire. Opinion differs as to how long Cyrus ruled after the Fall of Babylon, and ranges from a minimum of seven years to a maximum of ten. Darius is considered to have ruled a total of 36 years. However, his kingship began prior to the Fall of Babylon and even prior to the Fall of Thebes (“Jerusalem”) in Egypt, at which time he was a pharaoh of the Libyan throne under the name Osorkon (V).
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