Best known for: Ruling the Persian Empire at its peak
Darius was born in 550 BC. He was not the son of a king, but was the son of a satrap of Persia. A satrap was a leader under the king who ruled a region of land. Legend has it that the king, Cyrus the Great, had a dream that Darius would one day rule the world. He ordered Darius' father to keep an eye on Darius and make sure that he did not try and kill Cyrus' son Cambyses II.
Darius, however, had no intention of killing Cambyses. He became a spearman in the army, and fought side by side in battle protecting Cambyses when he became king.
In 522 BC the people of Persia revolted against the rule of Cambyses II. A man named Gaumata pretended to be Cambyses' brother and seized the throne. Seven nobles, including Darius, gathered their forces and killed Gaumata.
The seven nobles now had to choose a new government. They discussed various governments including democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy. In the end, they decided that monarchy was the best form of government. In order to choose who would be king, the seven nobles decided to gather at dawn. Each man would arrive riding his horse. The first noble's horse that neighed would be the king of Persia. Darius' horse neighed first and he became king.
Expanding the Empire
Darius first had to squash revolts in his own empire. Early on in his reign there were conspiracies to overthrow him as well as major revolts like the Babylonian revolt led by Nebuchadnezzar III. After gaining full control over his empire, Darius began to expand it, conquering new lands such as Egypt and the Indus Valley. Soon the Persian Empire reached its peak and was one of the largest empires in the history of the world.
When the Greeks began to interfere with the lands of Ionia, Darius decided to invade Greece. In what would be known as the First Persian War, Darius led a huge army against the Greeks. However, he was defeated at the Battle of Marathon by the army of Athens.
Darius was a prolific builder. He constructed huge palace complexes in the cities of Persepolis and Susa. He also built many temples and irrigation systems throughout his empire. In Egypt Darius had a canal constructed that went from the Nile River to the Red Sea.
In order to help trade and communication, Darius had roads constructed throughout the empire. The most famous road was the Royal Road which stretched nearly 1,700 miles. A system of mounted couriers could enable messages to travel along the entire road in about seven days.
Darius died in 486 BC. His son Xerxes I succeeded him as king.
Interesting Facts about Darius I
He organized his empire by creating twenty provinces and assigning a leader to each called a satrap.
To raise funds, Darius registered who owned what land and then imposed taxes accordingly.
Darius was a strong believer in the religion of Zoroastrianism. He felt that the god Ahura Mazda had appointed him king.
He introduced a new monetary unit called the daric.
His son Xerxes I returned to conquer Greece ten years later, but he also failed when he was defeated at the Battle of Salamis.