Who Was “Darius the Mede”?
THE Bible record tells us that a certain Darius was the “son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes.” (Dan. 9:1) At about sixty-two years of age he succeeded to the kingdom of Chaldean King Belshazzar following the conquest of Babylon by the forces of Cyrus.—Dan. 5:30, 31.
During the reign of Darius the Mede, the prophet Daniel was granted a high governmental position. Later, when Darius contemplated making Daniel prime minister, other high officials devised a scheme that led to Daniel’s being cast into the lions’ pit. But Daniel was miraculously delivered, whereas the conspirators and their families were themselves thrown to the lions. King Darius then had a proclamation made throughout the realm that “in every dominion of [his] kingdom, people are to be quaking and fearing before the God of Daniel.”—Dan. 6:4-27.
Aside from the information contained in the Holy Scriptures, nothing is definitely known about Darius the Mede. Not even the name has been found in ancient inscriptions. It might therefore be asked: If Darius did indeed exist, why is he not mentioned in extra-Biblical sources? Might he have been known by another name?
Certain scholars believe that Darius the Mede is referred to in ancient historical writings under another name. But their identifications often do not correspond precisely with the details of the Bible. Some have endeavored to associate Darius with Cyrus’ son Cambyses II, but this would not agree with Darius’ being “about sixty-two years old” when Babylon fell. Likewise the view that Darius is perhaps another name for Cyrus himself would not harmonize with the fact that Darius’ father was a Mede. In the Scriptures Cyrus is definitely called “Persian.” (Dan. 6:28) While his mother may have been Median (as some ancient historians claim), his father, according to the Cyrus Cylinder, was Cambyses I, a Persian.
Other scholars would identify Darius with a supposed “uncle” of Cyrus, presented by Greek historian Xenophon as “Cyaxares, son of Astyages.” But whether Astyages had a son named Cyaxares is subject to question, for the historian Herodotus claims that Astyages died sonless.
More recently a number of scholars have favored an identification of Darius with Gubaru (Gobryas), who became governor of Babylon after the Medo-Persian conquest of that city. Basically the evidence that they present is as follows:
After telling of Cyrus’ entering Babylon, the Nabonidus Chronicle states that “Gubaru, his governor, installed (sub-) governors in Babylon.” Other cuneiform texts indicate that Gubaru ruled over a region that basically embraced the former Babylonian Empire. Darius the Mede is spoken of as being “made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans” (Dan. 9:1), but not as “the king of Persia,” the regular form for referring to King Cyrus. (Dan. 10:1) The region ruled by Gubaru would therefore at least appear to be the same as that ruled by Darius.
Since Gubaru is nowhere called “Darius,” the suggestion is made that “Darius” was his title or throne name. In answer to the objection that the cuneiform tablets nowhere speak of Gubaru as “king,” those advocating Gubaru’s identification with Darius point to the fact that the title king is likewise not applied to Belshazzar in the cuneiform tablets, although the kingship had been entrusted to him by his father Nabonidus.
Along this line, Professor Whitcomb calls attention to Gubaru’s ‘installing (sub-) governors in Babylon,’ even as Daniel 6:1, 2 shows that Darius “set up over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps.” Whitcomb therefore concludes that Gubaru, as a governor of governors, was likely addressed as king by his subordinates.—Darius the Mede, pp. 31-33.
In harmony with the foregoing, some scholars consider it likely that Darius the Mede was a viceroy who, as a subordinate of the supreme monarch, Cyrus, ruled over the kingdom of the Chaldeans. Those who hold this view point to the fact that Darius is stated to have “received the kingdom” and that he was “made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans” as evidence that he was indeed subordinate to a superior monarch.—Dan. 5:31; 9:1.
Though possible, the identification cannot be considered conclusive. The historical records do not tell us Gubaru’s nationality nor his parentage, thus providing no basis for confirming whether Gubaru was indeed a “Mede” and the “son of Ahasuerus.” They do not show that, as indicated at Daniel 6:6-9, he had authority to the extent of being able to make an edict that made it unlawful to petition any god or man other than himself for thirty days. Moreover the Scriptures seem to indicate that Darius’ rule was comparatively brief and that Cyrus thereafter assumed the kingship over Babylon. (Dan. 6:28; 9:1; 2 Chron. 36:20-23) Gubaru, though, continued in his position for fourteen years according to cuneiform inscriptions.
That Darius the Mede cannot now be positively identified should not be surprising. The hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets unearthed in the Near East still present a very imperfect history having various gaps and blanks. And the accounts of the historians Herodotus, Xenophon, Ctesias and Berossus (as quoted by Josephus) all differ and in various points contradict one another concerning the reign of Cyrus and the events surrounding and subsequent to the fall of Babylon.
Another strong reason for such lack of information about Darius is provided by the book of Daniel itself. Darius’ favoring Daniel and his ordering that all in the kingdom should ‘fear before the God of Daniel’ doubtless caused deep dissatisfaction and resentment among the powerful Babylonian priests, under whose direction the scribes recorded the events of history. So it would not be strange that, if Darius’ reign was relatively short, the records were subsequently altered and evidence concerning him eliminated. Similar actions are known to have been taken in the history of those times. Such things are even done in our own time in some lands.
The historicity of Darius the Mede, of course, does not depend upon confirmation by secular sources. The Bible’s historical reliability has repeatedly been demonstrated by additional discoveries and stands out in sharp contrast with the often contradictory accounts of secular history. As noted by Assyriologist D. J. Wiseman about Daniel’s record of Darius: “ . . . the narrative has all the appearance of genuine historical writing, and in the absence of many historical records of this period there is no reason why the history should not be accepted.”—The New Bible Dictionary, p. 293.