In 522 BC Cambyses had died and there was no heir to the throne. Darius was a cousin of Cambyses and he decided to seize power before someone else did. First, he had to deal with Bardiya who claimed to be Cambyses brother, but was an imposter. Darius had him killedbut had to put down a number of other related conflicts in his empire before he could call himself king
Darius then led the Persian Empire for 35 years between 522 BC and 486 BC. He was the third king in the Achaemenian family.
Under Darius, the Persian Empire expanded even further. He moved east and built upon the conquests of Cyrus by moving into and controlling areas in the north of India. He also moved west with his eye on Greece as a future territory.
In 514 BC Darius crossed the Black Sea and even went as far as Eastern Europe to challenge a group called the Scythians. This was one step too far though. Darius was unable to consolidate his position, so his army was forced into retreat. Still, he had built what was at that time the largest empire in the world.
Darius was aware of leaving his mark in terms of building projects. He ordered the construction of the new capital city of Persepolis. In that city he built a grand palace which was designed to remind people about his glorious period of rule.
He did the same in other cities and built temples and irrigation systems among his many projects.
He employed scribes to record on various monuments all his great military conquests to be passed down to future generations.
Darius was very effective when it came to control his vast empire and he did this by establishing a new form of government.
He set up 20 different provinces called satrapies. Each satrapy was led by a governor called a satrap. The satrap would collect taxes and make sure there was law and order in the given region. Darius also appointed a military commander for each satrapy to keep an eye on the satrap.
Darius had a large royal road network constructed during his reign. This was also important for communication and connecting his empire. The road network, which amounted to around 8000 miles, included the so-called “Royal Road” itself which stretched for almost 1700 miles.
Darius also developed communication by establishing a royal postal service to keep close contact with all the provinces. On each road there were postal stations where couriers would change horses as letters made their way to the king.
War with Greece
The lengthy Greek-Persian Wars took place between 429 BC and 449 BC. They involved two Persian invasions and several famous battles.
Darius was worried about the security of his western border. The main problem came from Ionians who were a Greek tribe that rebelled and began, or inspired, several uprisings among the Greek people living in this area who felt that the Persians took away their freedoms.
Darius wanted to silence the unruly Greeks once and for all and decided to invade mainland Greece in 490 BC. At the battle of Marathon, the Persian army, which was larger by at least 70,000 men, was defeated. The Greeks were well armed and, more importantly, they employed thoughtful tactics to outwit the Persians who were taken by surprise.
The Persians thought that by sending in their long-range archers, they would be able to defeat the Greek soldiers quickly and effectively. However, the Greeks, using their huge bronze shields, managed to create a formidable defensive wall. They held a strong line with spears and swords that were longer and heavier than those belonging to the Persians.
Darius did not expect the cobbled-together Greeks to be so dangerous. The Greek general, Miltiades, fooled the Persians by deliberately weakening the centre of his battle line.
He knew that the Persians would focus on the centre so when the Greeks spread out and attacked the startled Persians from the wings, Darius’s men were not prepared. The Greeks then got in behind them and destroyed the Persians.
Darius lost around 6400 soldiers; the Greeks lost 192.
The most unfinished part of Darius’s rule was his failure to defeat the Greeks and he died without having achieved this in 486 BC. In 480 BC his successor King Xerxes assembled a massive army to lead a further attack against the Greeks. This campaign also ended in defeat.