Darius the Mede

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A depiction of Daniel in the lions' den with Darius the Mede above.

Darius the Mede is a figure in the Book of Daniel, chapters 6–11, who rules over "the kingdom of the Chaldeans" after the last king of the Babylonian Empire (Belshazzar) is deposed by the Medo-Persian armies. The author of Daniel indicated that Darius was about 62 years old when he "was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans".[5:31] He is best known for having been forced into throwing Daniel in the lions' den.


It is often stated that, outside of the biblical book of Daniel and sources derived from it, there is no ancient record of a Median king named Darius who was a contemporary of Cyrus the Great. As an example of this viewpoint, John J. Collins suggests that the author of Daniel inherited a schema of four kingdoms in which Media preceded Persia, and Collins thinks that Daniel created the figure of "Darius the Mede" to fit this schema.[1] However, the 19th century commentary on the Hebrew Bible by Keil and Delitzsch[2] makes reference to a statement by the Babylonian historian Berossus, cited in the Chronicon of Eusebius, where Berossus mentions a king named Darius, and Berossus associates this Darius with Cyrus’s victory over Nabonidus in 539 BCE. The passage, as given in Karst’s translation of Eusebius, is as follows: “To this one [Nabonidus] Cyrus gave, when he had taken Babylon, the governorship of the land of the Carmanians; [but] Darius the king took away some of the province for himself.”[3] The importance of this passage is not only that it names a king Darius who was a contemporary of Cyrus, but it implies that this king had authority to override the action of Cyrus with respect to Nabonidus.

C. F. Keil, in the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary,[2] provides another ancient reference to a king named Darius who preceded Darius I (the Great), but for whom no reference is found in the Histories of Herodotus, and who therefore is not listed in any of the traditional lists of Median and Persian kings. The reference is to Harpocration, a second century CE Greek lexicographer. Harpocration was associated with the Great Library of Alexandria, and thus had access to the extensive resources of that ancient library. His only surviving work is the Lexicon of the Ten Orators. In this work, Harpocration makes no reference to the Bible, nor does he show any interest in the usual biblical subjects. In an entry for the daric coin, he writes, “But darics are not named, as most suppose, after Darius the father of Xerxes, but after a certain other more ancient king.” This is consistent with the statement of Berosus that there was a Median king named Darius who was contemporaneous with Cyrus the Great, thus preceding Darius I Hystaspes, father of Xerxes, by about twenty years or more.

These references show that in antiquity there was a remembrance of a ruler of Persia or Media named Darius who preceded Darius the Great, and this remembrance was outside of and independent of the book of Daniel. However, almost all recent commentators[which?] on the book of Daniel either choose to ignore these ancient sources that name a king Darius before Darius I Hystaspes, or they are not aware of them[citation needed], incorrectly saying instead that Daniel’s Darius the Mede is not found in any ancient source except the book of Daniel or writings derived from it. For those who require extra-biblical verification before any passage in the Bible is accepted as true,[4] this leads to the statement that Daniel’s Darius the Mede is a historical fiction. Important to this position is the fact that Herodotus makes no mention of, and provides no room for, any Median ruler who was on the throne when Babylon fell to Cyrus.

Other commentators have attempted to identify Daniel’s Darius with some figure that is known from classical or inscriptional sources. Recent studies seem largely unaware of the citations in Berosus and Harpocration, and even if these are taken into account the paucity of information they give regarding this early Darius would lead to conjectures about his identity. Therefore there has been a series of attempts to identify Darius the Mede with such persons as Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great, or Gobryas.

Babylon fell to the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great in October of 539. According to a chronology based on the Histories of Herodotus, the Median Empire had been absorbed as early as 550 BCE. Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, however, presents a different scenario in which Media and Persia were still separate with separate kings when Babylon was captured.[5] Two or three years later the combined kingdom passed peaceably to Cyrus because Cyaxares II the last Median king had granted his daughter to Cyrus as wife, with the Median kingdom as her dowry.[6]

Identifying Darius the Mede[edit]


In the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon, verse 1 mentions Astyages the Mede, who was the last Median king before Cyrus the Great; but nearly the same verse is added in the Septuagint after the end of Daniel chapter 6, having the name "Darius" in place of "Astyages". (LXX Dan. 14:1 and Dan 6:29)[original research?]

Cyrus the Great[edit]

The theory that “Darius the Mede” is another name for Cyrus the Great was first proposed by Donald Wiseman in 1957.[7] [8] Various other scholars have adopted this view, including Andrew Steinmann.[9] Unlike Gubaru or Astyages, Cyrus the Great was the king who took over the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus was also married to a Mede, and had a Median mother.[10] Indeed, his maternal grandfather Astyages, to whom he owed fealty, was the so-called "Last King of the Median Empire." An analysis of variant early texts, particularly the Septuagint, reveals that the names "Darius" (דריוש DRYWS in Hebrew) and "Cyrus" (כורש KWRS) are reversed in 11:1, and may have been miscopied elsewhere.[citation needed] The appellation "Mede" (Heb. מדי MDY) may have been used as an ethnic term to apply to Persians as well, who were of the same race.[11] In addition, Dan. 6:28, "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian", could also be translated, "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian."[12] Furthermore, kings commonly took dual titles and Nabonidus referred to Cyrus as "the king of the Medes."[10]

The text of Daniel seems to indicate that Darius was somebody other than Cyrus, but somebody who reigned at the same time as Cyrus over one of the many kingdoms of the empire. Firstly, Cyrus is called 'king of Persia' [10:1], while Darius is called ‘king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans’ [9:1]. The kingdom of the Chaldeans” refers to historical Babylon, one of the kingdoms in the Persian Empire. Secondly, according to Daniel 5:30-31, 'that same night (after Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall) Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom'. The implication is that Darius received the kingdom immediately when Belshazzar was slain, while, according to the Nabonidus chronicle, Cyrus only arrived in Babylon two weeks later.[13] (To “receive” a kingdom does not mean to become king. It only implies that he took over rule on a temporary basis.) Thirdly, the kingdom Darius received is identified by 5:30 with its reference to “Belshazzar the Chaldean king” as the same as the kingdom he ‘was made king of’, namely ‘the kingdom of the Chaldeans’ [9:1]. In the context it is not the entire Persian kingdom, but only the additional territory gained through the conquest of the city Babylon. Fourthly, Darius 'was made king' [9:1] over 'the kingdom of the Chaldeans'[9:1]—by implication by someone else.

Extra-Biblical sources allow for a separate "King of Babylon"—other than Cyrus—during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE. The title "King of Babylon" was not used for Cyrus in the Neo-Babylonian contract tablets dated to him during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE. Only the title "King of Lands" was used for him, and this referred to him in his capacity as king of the Persian Empire, consisting of many “lands” or kingdoms. Late in 538 BCE, however, the scribes added the title "King of Babylon" to his titles, and it continued to be in use through the rest of his reign and those of his successors down to the time of Xerxes.[14] This creates space for a separate "King of Babylon"—other than Cyrus—during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE.

Darius the Great[edit]

Darius I reigned from 522 to 486 BCE. Scholars have argued that this is not the same Darius of Daniel chapter 6, at the very least, due to dating discrepancies.[15] Those who support this view are Tremper Longman and J. Daniel Hays.[16]

However, there are historians who view the presence of Darius in the Book of Daniel as simply a mistake of a much later author, or chronologist. The Persian King Darius I was perhaps placed at an earlier date than he actually reigned.[17] Three key pieces of information seem to support this. Firstly, Darius I, like Cyrus, also conquered Babylon and personally commanded the Persian army that took the city in 522 BCE to put down a rebellion. Secondly, Daniel's reference to Darius organizing the empire by appointing satraps and administrators fits Darius I perfectly: he is known in history as the Persian king par excellence who professionalized the empire's bureaucracy and organized it into satrapies and tax districts. Thirdly, Darius I was an important figure in Jewish history, remembered as a king associated with Cyrus, who permitted the returned exiles to rebuild the temple. (cf Ezra chapters 1-6)

The view that Darius the Mede = Darius I Hystaspes does not account for the references in Berossus and Harpocration that there was a Darius who preceded Darius Hystaspes, and this Darius was in just the right time (a contemporary of Nabonidus, according to Berossus) to qualify for Daniel’s Darius the Mede. The information in these two authors, just like the information in the Book of Daniel, still leaves open the question of just exactly who this Darius before “Darius I” was, since none of these three sources gives much information about him, except to definitely place him before the time of Darius Hystaspes.

Gobryas (Gubaru or Ugbaru)[edit]

Gobryas is mentioned in the Cyropaedia (7.5.24-32) of the Greek historian Xenophon as a general who led Cyrus's army that captured Babylon. The Nabonidus Chronicle agrees with this, but refers to both an ‘Ugbaru’ and a ‘Gubaru’. Both names are translated ‘Gobryas’ in Greek. The view that Darius the Mede was ‘Ugbaru’ or ‘Gubaru’ became popular in the middle of the 20th century.[18][19] An important advance was made in the monograph by John C. Whitcomb, in which he showed that the Nabonidus Chronicle distinguished between Ugbaru, Cyrus’s general, and Gubaru, who was appointed governor of the province of Babylon a few years after the capture of the city by the Medes and Persians.[20] Ugbaru, the general leading the conquest of Babylon, is described as from Gutium in the Nabonidus Chronicle, and he figures quite prominently in the Cyropaedia. There is no mention of him in Herodotus, despite his importance in the capture of Babylon and preceding events. Whitcomb’s view was quite popular for a while, but Lester Grabbe pointed out that Gubaru, the governor (distinct from Ugbaru conqueror of Babylon), is not mentioned as governor in any texts until the fourth year of Cyrus.[21] Steven Anderson comments, “In fact, as Grabbe has pointed out, Whitcomb’s Gubaru did not become governor of Babylon until the fourth year of Cyrus; various texts name a different man as governor of Babylon during the first three years of Cyrus ( see below) and Gubaru is not referenced as governor in any texts until the fourth year of Cyrus . . . The governor of Babylon who preceded Gubaru was the same person who held the position for the final eight years of the reign of Nabonidus, Nabu-ahhe-bullit.”[22]

Two weeks after the capture of the city Cyrus made his triumphal entry and eight days after that Gobryas died. It has been suggested that Cyrus may have rewarded Gobryas/Ugbaru with a regional governorship for capturing the capital of the Babylonian Empire and ending the war. In order to provide enough time for this to happen, William Shea originally proposed that Ugbaru died a year and three weeks after the fall of Babylon, rather than just three weeks after that event[23] Later, however, new evidence forced Shea to change his view and to conclude that the eight days between the entry of Cyrus and the death of Gobryas/Ugbaru were insufficient for all the events related to Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel.[24]

Jewish views[edit]

Talmudic and midrashic sources describe Darius the Mede as the uncle and father-in-law of Cyrus the Great,[citation needed] to whom Cyrus owed fealty. This is the view presented in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. After Darius's death, Cyrus took the throne. According to Josippon, the Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther was the son of Darius the Mede. The midrash Tanhuma describes the fall of Babylon as described in Daniel and adds to the narrative Darius taking Vashti, the daughter of Belshazzar, as a wife for his son Ahasuerus.


  1. ^ Collins, John J. (1998). The apocalyptic imagination: an introduction to Jewish apocalyptic literature (2. ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich. [u.a.]: Eerdmans. p. 86. ISBN 0-8028-4371-9. 
  2. ^ a b Keil and Delitzsch, Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 6, (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, no date, originally published in 1872) p. 548.
  3. ^ Josef Karst, ed., Die Chronik aus dem Armenischen übersetzt mit textkritischem Commentar. Vol 5 of Eusebius Werke . Die griechischen christlichen Schriftseller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, vol. 20 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911) p. 246.
  4. ^ As an example of this viewpoint, Collins writes regarding Belshazzar being called “son” or “descendant” of Nebuchadnezzar in the Book of Daniel, “It has been suggested that Nabonidus might have married a daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, as Nergilissar had done, but this is mere speculation, unsupported by any evidence.” (Collins, 1994, p. 32). For Professor Collins, the Bible has a unique status, since, unlike other ancient documents that he accepts, its statements are not to be regarded as evidence.
  5. ^ Cyropaedia 8.5.17-19.
  6. ^ Cyropaedia 8.6.22, 8.7.1.
  7. ^ Wiseman, D. J. (November 25, 1957). "Darius the Mede". Christianity Today. pp. 7–10. 
  8. ^ D. J. Wiseman, “Some Historical Problems in the Book of Daniel,” in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (London: Tyndale, 1965) pp. 9-18.
  9. ^ Andrew E. Steinmann, Daniel in the Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008) pp. 293-96.
  10. ^ a b Miller 1994, p. 149
  11. ^ e.g., as stated in Hippolytus' Diamerismos, §204, among other places.
  12. ^ Colless 1992, p. 115
  13. ^ The Search for Darius the Mede; William H. Shea; Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 12/1 (Spring 2001)
  14. ^ William H. Shea, "An Unrecognized Vassal King of Babylon in the Early Achaemenid Period," Andrews University Seminary Studies, vols. 9•10. Nos. 1•2 (Berrien Springs, MI. 1971•1972)
  15. ^ Shepherd, Michael B. (2009). Daniel in the context of the Hebrew Bible. Volume 123 of Studies in biblical literature. Peter Lang. pp. 86–8. ISBN 978-1-4331-0539-5. 
  16. ^ editor, J. Daniel Hays ; Tremper Longman III, general (2010). Message of the prophets : a survey of the prophetic and apocalyptic books of the Old Testament. [Grand Rapids, Mich.]: Zondervan. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-310-27152-9. 
  17. ^ Collins 1994, p. 30
  18. ^ Law, George R. (2010). Identification of Darius the Mede. North Carolina: Ready Scribe Press. p. x. ISBN 978-0-9827631-0-0. 
  19. ^ Gaston, Thomas E. (2009). Historical issues in the book of Daniel. Oxford: TaanathShiloh. pp. 111–132. ISBN 978-0-9561540-0-2. 
  20. ^ Whitcomb, Jr., John C. (1963). Darius the Mede. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 
  21. ^ Grabbe, Lester L. (1988). Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’. Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50 (2). pp. 206–7. 
  22. ^ Anderson, Steven D. (2014). Darius the Mede: A Reappraisal. Grand Rapids: Amazon/CreateSpace. p. 47. 
  23. ^ Shea, William. "Darius the Mede: an Update - Andrews University Seminary Studies". Andrews University Seminary Studies. Andrews University Press. p. 243. Retrieved 2015-02-07. 
  24. ^ Shea, William H. (2001), "The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or, The Time of the Answer to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death of Darius the Mede", Andrews University Seminary Studies 12 (1): 201–202