DARIUS I: Ascending the Throne

(After the death of Cambyses II, a plot to over throw the imposter)

At last, among the chief Persians, rumors began to arise. These were sternly repressed at the outset, and a reign of terror was established, during which men remained silent through fear. But at length some of the principal nobles, convinced of the imposture, held secret council together, and discussed the measures proper to be adopted under the circumstances. Nothing, however, was done until the arrival at the capital of a personage felt by all to be the proper leader of the nation in the existing crisis. This was Darius, the son of Hystaspes, a prince of the blood royal who probably stood in the direct line of the succession, failing the issue of Cyrus. At the early age of twenty he had attracted the attention of that monarch, who suspected him even then of a design to seize the throne. He was now about twenty-eight years of age, and therefore at a time of life suited for vigorous enterprise; which was probably the reason why his father, Hystaspes, who was still alive, sent him to the capital, instead of proceeding thither in person.

Youth and vigor were necessary qualifications for success in a struggle against the holders of power; and Hystaspes no longer possessed those advantages. He therefore yielded to his son that headship of the movement to which his position would have entitled him; and, with the leadership in danger, he yielded necessarily his claim to the first place, when the time of peril should be past and the rewards of victory should come to be apportioned.

Darius, on his arrival at the capital, was at once accepted as head of the conspiracy, and with prudent boldness determined on pushing matters to an immediate decision. Overruling the timidity of a party among the conspirators, who urged delay, he armed his partisans, and proceeded, without a moment’s pause, to the attack. According to the Greek historians, he and his friends entered the palace in a body, and surprised the Magus in his private apartments, where they slew him after a brief struggle. But the authority of Darius discredits the Greek accounts, and shows us, though with provoking brevity, that the course of events must have been very different. The Magus was not slain in the privacy of his palace, at Susa or Ecbatana, but met his death in a small and insignificant fort in the part of Media called “the Maesan plain,” or, more briefly, “Nisaea,” whither he appears to have fled with a band of followers.

Whether he was first attacked in the capital and escaping threw him-self into this stronghold, or receiving timely warning of his danger withdrew to it before the outbreak occurred, or merely happened to be at the spot when the conspirators decided to make their attempt, we have no means of determining. We only know that the scene of the last struggle was Sictachotes, in Media; that Darius made the attack accompanied by six Persian nobles of high rank; [Otanes, Aspanthines, Gobryas, Megabyzus, Aspathines Hydranes, Intaphernes (CM)] and that the contest terminated in the slaughter of the Magus and of a number of his adherents, who were involved in the fall of their master.

Nor did the vengeance of the successful conspirators stop here. Speeding to the capital, with the head of the Magus in their hands, and exhibiting everywhere this proof at once of the death of the late king and of his imposture, they proceeded to authorize and aid in carrying out, a general massacre of the Magian priests, the abettors of the later usurpation. Every Magus who could be found was poniarded by the enraged Persians; and the caste would have been well-nigh exterminated, if it had not been for the approach of night. Darkness brought the carnage to an end; and the sword, once sheathed, was not again drawn. Only, to complete the punishment of the ambitious religionists who had insulted and deceived the nation, the day of the massacre was appointed to be kept annually as a solemn festival, under the name of the Magophonia; and a law was passed that on that day no Magus should leave his house.

The accession of Darius to the vacant throne now took place (Jan. 1, B.C. 521). According to Herodotus it was preceded by a period of debate and irresolution, [see NOTE 1] during which the royal authority was, as it were, in commission among the Seven; and in this interval he places not only the choice of a king, but an actual discussion on the subject of the proper form of government to be established. Even his contemporaries, however, could see that this last story was unworthy of credit and it may be questioned whether any more reliance ought to be placed on the remainder of the narrative. Probably the true account of the matter is, that, having come to knowledge of the facts of the case, the heads of the seven great Persian clans or families met together in secret conclave and arranged all their proceedings beforehand. No government but the monarchical could be thought of for a moment, and no one could assert any claim to be king but Darius. Darius went into the conspiracy as a pretender to the throne: the other six were simply is “faithful men,” his friends and well-wishers.

While, however, the six were far from disputing Darius’s right, they required and received for themselves a guarantee of certain privileges, which may either have belonged to them previously, by law or custom, as the heads of the great clans, or may have been now for the first time conceded. The king-bound himself to choose his wives from among the families of the conspirators only, and sanctioned their claim to have free access to his person at all times without asking his permission. One of their number, Otanes, demanded and obtained even more. He and his house were to remain “free,” and were to receive yearly a magnificent kaftan, or royal present. Thus, something like a check on unbridled despotism was formally and regularly established; an hereditary nobility was acknowledged; the king became to some extent dependent on his grandees; he could not regard himself as the sole fountain of honor; six great nobles stood round the throne as its supports; but their position was so near the monarch that they detracted somewhat from his prestige and dignity.

The guarantee of these privileges was, we may be sure, given, and the choice of Darius as king made, before the attack upon the. Magus began. It would have been madness to allow an interval of anarchy. When Darius reached the capital, with the head of the Pseudo-Smerdis in his possession, he no doubt proceeded at once to the palace and took his seat upon the vacant throne. No opposition was offered to him. The Persians gladly saw a scion of their old royal stock installed in power. The provincials were too far off to interfere. Such malcontents as might be present would be cowed by the massacre that was going on in the streets. The friends and intimates of the fallen monarch would be only anxious to escape notice. The reign of the new king no doubt commenced amid those acclamations which are never wanting in the East when a sovereign first shows himself to his subjects.

Reference:[TITLE:] Great Monarchies of The Ancient Eastern World [AUTHOR]: George Rawlinson [CONTRIBUTOR]: Callum McCormick

NOTE 1: Histories of Herodotus (Book III chapter 84) After this the six took too counsel together, as to the fairest way of setting up a king…..Concerning the appoint of a king, the resolve to which they came was the following-They would ride out together next morning into the skirts of the city, and he whose steed first neighed after the sun was up should have the kingship.

Darius I: Consolidation of Empire


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