Darius—A King With a Sense of Justice
CONCERNING the construction projects he had undertaken, a famous king once boasted: “At the enclosure of Babylon I made an enclosure of a strong wall on the east side. I dug a moat . . . I built with bitumen and brick a mighty wall which, like a mountain, could not be moved.” Yes, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had engaged in an extensive building program and had worked hard to fortify the capital city of his empire. But the city of Babylon did not prove to be as impregnable as he had imagined.
Proof of this came on October 5, 539 B.C.E. Accompanied by the army of Media, the Persian ruler Cyrus II then conquered Babylon and executed its Chaldean ruler, Belshazzar. Who would now become the first ruler of this newly conquered city? God’s prophet Daniel, who was present inside the city when it fell, wrote: “Darius the Mede himself received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.”—Daniel 5:30, 31.
Who was Darius? What kind of ruler did he prove to be? How did he treat the prophet Daniel, who had been in exile in Babylon for over 70 years?
A KING WITH A SKETCHY HISTORY
Historical information about Darius the Mede is sketchy. The Medes left virtually no written records. Moreover, the hundreds of thousands of cuneiform tablets unearthed in the Middle East present an imperfect history with many gaps. Other ancient secular writings that have survived are few in number and are separated from the events involving Darius by a century or more.
Nevertheless, evidence suggests that after capturing Ecbatana, the capital of Media, Persian ruler Cyrus II was able to win the loyalty of the Medes. Thereafter, Medes and Persians fought unitedly under his leadership. Concerning their relationship, author Robert Collins observes in his book The Medes and Persians: “In peace the Medes were on an equal footing with the Persians. They were frequently appointed to high office in civic government and posts of leadership in the Persian army. Foreigners referred to the Medes and Persians, making no distinction between conquered and conqueror.” Media thus merged with Persia to form the Medo-Persian Empire.—Daniel 5:28; 8:3, 4, 20.
The Medes certainly played a major part in the overthrow of Babylon. The Scriptures present “Darius the son of Ahasuerus of the seed of the Medes” as the first king of the Medo-Persian Empire to rule over Babylon. (Daniel 9:1) His kingly power included the authority to establish statutes “according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which is not annulled.” (Daniel 6:8) What the Bible says about Darius also gives us a glimpse of his personality as well as a cogent reason for the lack of secular information concerning him.
DANIEL IS FAVORED
Soon after assuming power in Babylon, Darius set up “one hundred and twenty satraps, who were to be over the whole kingdom,” says the Bible, “and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one.” (Daniel 6:1, 2) However, Daniel’s high position was very distasteful to the other officials. His integrity undoubtedly tended to restrain corruption, likely causing resentment. Envy must also have influenced the high officials, since the king favored Daniel and contemplated making him the prime minister.
Hoping to put an end to this situation, the two officials and the satraps devised a legal trap. They went before the king and presented for his signature an edict that would prohibit the making of “a petition to any god or man” other than Darius for 30 days. They proposed that any violator should be thrown into the lions’ pit. Darius was led to believe that such an edict would be favored by all ranking government officials, and the proposal seemed to be an expression of their loyalty to the king.—Daniel 6:1-3, 6-8.
Darius signed the decree and soon came face-to-face with its effects. Daniel became the edict’s first violator, since he continued to pray to Jehovah God. (Compare Acts 5:29.) Faithful Daniel was thrown into the lions’ pit despite the king’s sincere efforts to find a way of circumventing the unchangeable statute. Darius expressed confidence that Daniel’s God had the power to preserve the prophet alive.—Daniel 6:9-17.
After a sleepless night of fasting, Darius hurried to the lions’ pit. How glad he was to find Daniel alive and unharmed! As retributive justice, the king promptly had Daniel’s accusers and their families thrown into the pit of lions. He also issued an order that ‘in every dominion of his kingdom, people were to be quaking and fearing before the God of Daniel.’—Daniel 6:18-27.
Clearly, Darius respected Daniel’s God and religion and was eager to right the wrong. Yet, punishing Daniel’s accusers must have incurred the animosity of the remaining officials. Moreover, Darius’ proclamation ordering all in the kingdom to ‘fear before the God of Daniel’ must have caused deep resentment among the powerful Babylonian clergy. Since the scribes surely were influenced by these factors, it would not be strange if secular records were altered to eliminate information about Darius. Yet, the brief account in the book of Daniel portrays Darius as a ruler with a sense of fairness and justice.