Old Testament

Who was Darius the Mede in Daniel?

In Daniel 5:31 we are introduced to Darius the Mede, who is said to rule after Belshazzar when Babylon falls to the Persian kingdom under Cyrus (cf. 2 Chron 36:22). Darius also shows up in Daniel 6 as the king who puts Daniel in the lion’s den. Finally, the vision of Daniel 9 is also said to take place in “the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede.” The identity of Darius has boggled many Bible interpreters because we have no record of a Darius ruling during this time. Who was Darius the Mede?

Darius the Mede threw Daniel in the Lion's Den
Briton Rivière, 1890, Daniel in the Lions’ Den

The following charts display the typical understanding of the Median and Achaemenid/Persian dynasties. Note that there is no Darius at the appropriate time period.

The Median Dynasty

Deioces 700–647 BC
Phraortes 647–625 BC
Scythian Rule 624–597 BC
Cyaxares 624–585 BC
Astyages 585–549 BC

The Achaemenid/Persian Dynasty

Cyrus the Great 550–529 BC
Cambyses I 529–522 BC
Bardiya (Pseudo-Smerdis) 522 BC
Darius I (the Great) 522–486 BC
Xerxes I/Ahasuerus 486–465 BC
Artaxerxes I 465–425 BC
Xerxes II 425–424 BC
Darius II 424–405 BC
Artaxerxes II 405–359 BC
Artaxerxes III 359–338 BC
Arses 338–336 BC
Darius III 336–330 BC

The only Darius listed in the Achaemenid dynasty is far too late to fit with the book of Daniel. In order to deal with the absence of a clearly identifiable king named Darius, scholars have put forward the following proposals for the identity of Darius.

Darius the Mede is a Title for Cyrus, King of Persia

Almost everyone would agree that Darius is likely a throne name and not the king’s actual name. This is backed up by the fact Darius is listed as the son of Ahasuerus (Dan 9:1), which seems to be some sort of throne name (cf. Esther 1:1). It would not be uncommon for kings to have multiple names.

Further support for this view comes from the fact that the Jewish author of Bel and the Dragon (a pseudepigraphal work) says it was Cyrus who cast Daniel in the lion’s den. Similarly, the Old Greek translation of Daniel 11:1 reads Cyrus instead of Darius (our English versions read Darius, following the MT).

Although there is certainly a case to be made for equating Cyrus and Darius, Daniel 6:28 seems to mention a coregency of Cyrus and Darius. Although Daniel 6:28 could be understood as a restatement of the same individual, it does not seem normal in biblical history to keep changing the name of a main character. Historical considerations also argue for seeing a distinction between these two individuals as we will examine later.

Darius the Mede is Cambyses I, Son of Cyrus

Although this is a viewpoint held by some, it doesn’t have much to commend it. On the one hand, Cambyses I is called the king of Babylon in some ancient texts, but he would have been much younger than 62 years old in 539 BC when Babylon was taken (cf. Dan 5:31). Cambyses would also not have any relationship to the Median empire, although Darius is labeled as a Mede.

Darius the Mede is Gobryas, Governor of Babylon

This viewpoint is held by many evangelical scholars. Ancient records (such as the Nabonidus Chronicle) state that Gobryas was appointed as city governor by Cyrus after the fall of Babylon. This is taken as support for the statements in Daniel 5:31, “Darius received the kingdom” and 9:1, where Darius “was made ruler.” It is possible, according to this viewpoint, that this passive reception of the kingdom corresponds to Gobryas being appointed by Cyrus.

Furthermore, the ancient records indicate that Gobryas installed sub-governors (cf. Dan 6:1-2). Gobryas was also described as being a “man well advanced in years” (Cyropaedia 4.6.1), which could correspond to the 62 years old of Daniel 5:31.

Although there are some good arguments to be made for Gobryas being Darius the Mede, there are two major problems with this view. First, the Nabonidus Chronicle seems to indicate that Gobryas died 3 weeks after the fall of Babylon. Although it might be possible to read it as a year and three weeks later, it most likely refers to 3 weeks after Babylon’s fall. Second, Xenophon, a 4th century (BCE) Greek historian, noted that Gobryas was Assyrian, not Mede.

All three of these possible identifications of Darius the Mede seem to have shortcomings. In 2014, Steven Anderson published a dissertation advocating a different identity for Darius the Mede. The next post deals with the proposal that Darius the Mede is Cyaxares II, the last king of Media.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

6 Comments

  • Rusn

    If Xerxes (Ahasuerus) had been in Bactria or another region at the time of Cyrus demise, then Darius son of Ahasuerus being over only the Chaldea region at the time could have assumed the kingship as his father stayed in Bactria as an example. Then after Darius demise after at least six years of rule then his father could have left Bactria to assume the kingship.

  • Jim

    I’m not convinced that Cyrus the Persian is the same person as Cyrus the Great.

    There’s little to no secular history on Darius but doesn’t mean he didn’t exist or that he’s someone else. The bible is the historical authority on Darius.

    This is something I’ve researched because I don’t accept that Medo-Persia is the arms of silver in Daniel 2. The Medes are the ‘arms of silver’ AKA – the ‘inferior kingdom’. What kingdom was inferior to Babylon? Can Medo-Persia be the ‘inferior kingdom’? Absolutely not! The Median Empire was not only much smaller it was also short lived, about 6 years. The Persian Empire was one of the largest empires of that time.

    Before Darius and the Medes invaded Babylon, they and Persians had their own separate kingdoms and language. They were allies.  Cyrus married Darius’ sister Mandane. Darius is the one who went into battle as it was the custom of that day for the elder to be first in battle. Also, Daniel quotes Darius and the Medes as ruling first. Then they combined their efforts under Cyrus which became the ‘Ram.’ Darius was then placed as a vassal over the northern province of the kingdom and Cyrus the southern part.

     The Median kingdom occupied Babylon for only a few years (about 6) before the Persian’s under Cyrus had what I would call a family coup, where only about 100 people died (mostly in the ruling castle) to take over the kingdom.  Then they combined their efforts under Cyrus and the empire became the ‘Ram’ or the Persian empire who is the third kingdom of brass that was conquered by Greece. 

    Daniel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah’s prophecies ascribe the conquest and destruction of Babylon to the Medes.

    Daniel 5:31
    “And Darius the Median took the kingdom, (Babylon) being about threescore and two years old.”

    Isaiah 13:17
    “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them.” (Babylon)

    Jeremiah 51:11 Make bright the arrows; gather the shields: the LORD hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes: for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it; because it is the vengeance of the LORD, the vengeance of his temple.

    After reading the above, people usually quote –

    Daniel 8:19-21
    “And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end [shall be]. The ram which thou sawest having [two] horns [are] the kings of Media and Persia.”

    Daniel 8:3 shows that the Ram emerged from two kingdoms. The smaller INFERIOR kingdom of the Medes rose first, and the larger kingdom of the Persians rose afterwards, then the two eventually merged into ONE kingdom – the Ram.

    The Medes were superior warriors compared to the Persians but the Persians were better engineers and nation builders than the Medes. Cyrus married Darius’ sister. (some say his cousin, some say his daughter) Their father was Ahasuerus. They were confederate, but Darius is the one who went into battle as it was the custom of that day for the elder to be first in battle.

    The Median kingdom occupied Babylon for only 6 years before the Persian’s under Cyrus had what I would call a family coup, where only about 100 people died to take over the kingdom. Then they combined their efforts under Cyrus which became the ‘Ram’ of Daniel 8. Darius was then placed as a vassal over the northern province of the kingdom and Cyrus the southern part.

    Darius ruled Babylon before Cyrus.

    Daniel 6:28 So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, AND (afterwards) in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

    Daniel 9:1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;

    The Medes under Darius ruled for 6 years…

    Daniel 6:1
    It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom an hundred and twenty princes, which should be over THE WHOLE KINGDOM the whole kingdom;

    Daniel 9:1
    In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;

    Daniel 11:1
    Also I in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm and to strengthen him.

    Ezra 6:15
    And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.

    Daniel 6:28
    So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, AND (afterwards) in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

  • Joe Elledge

    It would appear that Ezra considered Cyrus’ first year of rule over Babylon to be 535 BC. We can know this because Josephus mentions in book 11 of The Antiquities of the Jews that Cyrus was moved to permit the Jews to return and rebuild the temple during the final or 70th year of the exile.

    “In the first year of the reign Cyrus which was the 70th from the day that our people were removed out of their own land into Babylon…”

    There is an excellent piece by Peter Mason at Religious Tolerance that establishes the 70 years of exile were actually 70 years of servitude to Babylon (Jeremiah 25:11) . That servitude for Judea began in 605 BC when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem for the first time and deported some of the people to Babylon including Daniel. The corresponding end of the 70 years of servitude would be 535 BC. So when Ezra 1 says “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus King of Persia so that he made a proclamation…”, he may be referring to 535 B.C as opposed to the 539 or 538 date usually given. So I would suggest that Darius the Mede ruled Babylon from its subjugation by Cyrus in 539 to 536/535 when Cyrus apparently began to exercise direct rule over Babylon following Darius’s death. Peter, what problems do you see with my line of thought? Thanks for your response!

    • Peter Goeman

      It is an intriguing idea. The only thing that jumps out at me is the necessity of 535 BC being the date of importance. That is definitely a minority position (which in itself does not disqualify it). But, I personally am not convinced how that could be possible. I will have to read Peter Mason’s article to get a sense of the best arguments for the position. Thanks for the comment and making me aware of Mason!

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