The son of a satrap (governor) of Parthia, Darius I forcibly took the throne of Persia upon the death of Cambyses II in 522 BC. An administrative genius, during his reign Darius reorganized the sprawling Persian empire, greatly increasing its wealth and power. He also implemented many great construction works across Persia.
Much of our knowledge of Darius I comes from the early Greek historian Herodotus, as well as from Persian inscriptions commissioned by Darius himself. According to Herodotus, as a youth Darius was suspected by Persian king Cyrus the Great of plotting against him. Darius survived this suspicion, later becoming a general and bodyguard of Cyrus's son and heir, Cambyses II after Cambyses assumed the throne. Cambyses died in 522 BC while in Egypt. Upon his death Darius returned to Media and killed Cambyses' brother, Bardiya, who Darius claimed was an imposter who had usurped the throne.
After killing Bardiya (or the imposter, depending upon whose story you believe) Darius claimed the Persian throne. This did not go over well in the provinces, and Darius faced serious revolts in Babylon, Susiana, Media, Sagartia, and Margiana. Babylon revolted twice, in fact, and Susiana three times. The insurrections were uncoordinated, however, and Darius was able to suppress each separately. According to one of his inscriptions, Darius defeated nine rebel leaders in 19 battles. By 518 or so his throne was secure.
Securing Persia's BordersEdit
After establishing his position, Darius initiated a series of wars to expand and secure Persia's borders. In 519 he attacked the Scythians east of the Caspian Sea, and shortly after he conquered the Indus Valley. He later attacked northwest from Asia Minor, conquering Thrace and then Macedonia. He tried to expand his European bridgehead north across the Danube, but he was forced to withdraw by stubborn resistance of the Scythian nomads. Finally, he secured the Aegean islands of Lemnos and Imbros.
Persia now held the Greek colonies in Asia Minor, the straits of Bosporus (which gave them control over the Black Sea), Macedonia, which bordered Greece to the north, as well as a number of strategic islands in the Aegean. This inevitably led to conflict with the powerful but divided Greek city-states watching Persian expansion with jealousy and alarm.
Darius the RulerEdit
When not battling one of his empire's neighbors, Darius took a series of actions to unify the empire and to improve its administration. He completed the organization of the empire into satrapies (provinces) and set the annual tribute due from each. He improved the Persian road network and standardized coinage, weights and measures, greatly expanding the opportunities for trade throughout the empire. He funded exploration expeditions from India to Egypt, and he completed a canal in Egypt leading from the Nile River to the Red Sea.
Darius was the greatest builder in the Achaemenid Persian history. He constructed fortifications, a palace, and administrative buildings at Susa, his administrative capital. In his native Persepolis, Darius began construction of a new palace, as well as a council hall, treasury, and more fortifications (though these would not be completed until after his death).
While firmly putting down any attempts at insurrection within Persia, Darius showed a good deal of tolerance to his subject peoples' religious beliefs. He constructed a number of temples in Egypt honoring the Egyptian gods, and he ordered his Egyptian satrap to codify the Egyptian laws in consultation with the Egyptian priestly class. In 519 he allowed the Jews to begin reconstruction of the Temple at Jerusalem. Darius himself is thought to have been a follower of Zoroastrianism, which was eventually made the state religion of Persia.
War With GreeceEdit
In 499 BC the Greek city-states of Athens and Eretria supported a revolt of some Greek colonies in Asia Minor against Persia. Darius crushed the rebellion and began plotting a campaign against the meddling Greeks. In 492 BC Darius' son-in-law Mardonius was put in charge of an expedition against Greek, but his fleet was destroyed in a storm off of Mount Athos and he was unable to advance. In 490 another Persian force successfully invaded Greece, destroying Eretria and enslaving its inhabitants before being defeated by Athenian warriors at Marathon. Darius was in the middle of planning yet a third expedition when he died in 486 BC.