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?
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
|Scythian Rule||624–597 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|
|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.