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Darius I (c. 550–486 BCE)

Darius' father was a man called Hystaspes. Hystaspes was a satrap (a provincial governor), so the future king came from a noble family. The Persian empire was ruled over by Cyrus II until 530 BCE and then Cambyses II. Darius became Cambyses' personal lancer (cavalryman) and that might have been the sum total of his life, but it seems Darius had a grander future...

Dan the Info-man
BCE stands for Before Common Era (or Before Current Era) and is analogous with BC (Before Christ) but from a non-religious viewpoint.

From satrap's son to king

History is unclear on what happened to Cambyses II. He may have killed himself, possibly died from a wound or he could have been murdered. A usurper called Gaumata is believed to have seized power whilst Cambyses was away campaigning. Darius and some other nobles displaced the usurper, and the satrap's son was proclaimed king in 522 BCE. It wasn't long before a number of revolts sprung up...

Dan the Info-man
Darius was king of the Achaemenid Empire, also known as the First Persian Empire.

Darius I - Wikipedia

Revolts broke out in Persis, the homeland of the Persians and Darius and then in Elam and Babylonia, followed by in Media, Parthia, Assyria, and Egypt. By 522 BCE, there were revolts against Darius in most parts of the Achaemenid Empire leaving the empire in turmoil.

Conquering the interior and exterior

Darius I was successful in putting down the revolts in his own empire. His powerful army was loyal to him, which helped calm the turbulent interior. He then looked to expanding the empire, which he did by invading the Indus Valley (modern Pakistan) and defeating Egyptian armies. He brought Babylon back under his rule and attacked the Scythians (from Iranian Eurasia, to the north). Greece was also in his plans of conquest...

Dan the Info-man
By 500 BCE, the Achaemenid Empire covered 2,123,562 square miles. Darius I ruled over up to as many as 50 million people!

Setbacks in Greece

The first Persian invasion of Greece began in 492 BCE. The campaign started well for Darius, by taking Thrace and Macedon. However, things came unstuck for the great king at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. A force of Athenians and Plataeans defeated a much larger Persian army and the invasion of Greece was over. Darius started planning a second invasion, but he died before this could be accomplished.

Dan the Info-man
Around 11,000 Greeks faced about 26,000 Persians (commanded by an admiral called Datis) at Marathon.

Death and legacy

Darius died from ill health, aged around 64 years old. His son, Xerxes I, eventually succeeded him. Darius had managed to unify and centralize the empire he ruled over. Provinces were governed by satraps, and improvements were made to the infrastructure, such as roads and canals. The economy improved during his reign, and a common language (Aramaic) was chosen to unite the different peoples of the empire.

Dan the Info-man
This image shows the tomb of Darius I. It is in Marvdasht, Iran.

An ancient autobiography

Darius I created an autobiography, now known as the Behistun Inscription. It is carved into a cliff near Kermanshah in western Iran. This inscription helped scholars learn how to decipher cuneiform script. It gives a detailed history of Darius' battles and achievements.

Dan the Info-man
The inscription is in three languages: Old Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian.
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