Darius (ca. 522-486 B.C.)Darius (ca. 522-486 B.C.) - Darius reigned over Persia at the height of its power. But, he was not in line to succeed to the throne. Cyrus' son, Cambyses, ruled for eight years, dying in 522 B.C.. Darius was one of his royal guards. After Cambyses' death, a man named Smerdis (or Bardiya), who was said to be Cyrus' other son, claimed the throne. However, a group from Cambyses' court, of which Darius was a member, believed that Smerdis was actually a man named Gaumata and was merely a pretender to the throne. They conspired to kill the man, which they did, and install Darius as the new king. He was a great-great-grandson of Teispes, son of Achaemenes (see Persia at the beginning of this time line), and it was agreed that he was the rightful ruler in the absence of a clear successor. He also married Cyrus' daughter, Atossa, which strengthened his claim. It has been speculated that Smerdis really was Cyrus' son and Darius was the actual usurper, but with the lack of any concrete evidence, the truth is lost to history. Unlike many historical figures from the ancient world, we have a first-hand account of several of the events of Darius' life. He carved them into the side of a mountain in what is known as the Behistun Inscription.


Written in Old Persian Cuniform, this inscription was deciphered and translated by Henry Rawlinson (the same guy who calculated the date of the Assyrian eclipse) in 1849. In this inscription, Darius defends his removal of Smerdis and ascension to the throne. In addition to this carved record, Herodotus, as chronicler of the Persian Wars, wrote extensively about Darius. Since he became king under chaotic circumstances, a number of revolts arose almost immediately across the kingdom. He managed to squash them all. Then he set about expanding his empire. Pushing East into Bactria, he made the Indus River Persia's eastern border. Darius also undertook a number of construction projects. He transferred political power to Persepolis, made Susa the winter capital, and built palaces in both cities. He also either built or re-built the first canal connecting the Nile River to the Red Sea (see Nekau II of Egypt). But probably his greatest building project was the construction of the Royal Road. Persia was an empire unlike any the world had ever seen and Darius wanted to make travel over such vast distances easier. So he built a road from Susa in the Zagros Mountains to Sardis, capital of the conquered territory of Lydia; a distance of some 1677 miles (2699km). But Darius' reign got really interesting when the Greek colonies along the Anatolian Coast revolted against Persia (known as the Ionian Revolt) in 499 B.C., precipitating one of the most famous conflicts in antiquity, the Persian Wars