“That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.” Daniel 5:30-31
Daniel wrote that Darius the Mede received the Kingdom of Babylon, but Herodotus wrote that Cyrus received it. Who is right?
In the last part of our series we looked at how archaeological discoveries from ancient Babylon support many of the historical claims found in the Book of Daniel in the Bible. There is support for the co-regency of Belshazzar (with his father Nabonidus) and Belshazzar’s death at the hands of the Persians. However, what archaeological support is there for a 62-year-old Darius the Mede receiving the kingdom?
That’s where I had Christians when I was an atheist. All I had to do was ask Christians to ‘prove it’ and they were stuck. They were not able to present any proof that Darius the Mede received the Kingdom of Babylon. In fact, Darius didn’t even become king until almost 20 years after Persia defeated Babylon. Right? Well …
Archaeologists have discovered evidence for two leaders named Darius during the 6th century BC. One is known as Darius the Mede and the other is known as Darius I. Let’s begin with a look at the history of “Darius.”
Archaeologists have discovered that several ancient rulers used the name “Darius.” They include Darius I, The Great (522-486 BC); Darius II, Ochus (423-404 BC); and Darius III, Codomannus (336-330 BC). Even though each of these men ruled during different centuries, they all had the same title name – Darius. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Darius II Ochus “adopted the name of Darius on his accession to the throne.”
Darius the Mede
Daniel mentioned Darius the Mede by name eight times (Daniel 5:31; 6:1, 6, 9, 25, 28; 9:1; 11:1). Daniel described Darius’ lineage in 9:1 – “Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans.” Daniel also mentioned that he had served during the reigns of Darius and Cyrus the Persian (Daniel 6:28), which would appear to present them as different rulers, though some archaeologists (e.g. Donald J. Wiseman, former Professor of Assyriology at the University of London and head of the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities of The British Museum) have said that the word “and” in Hebrew can be translated as “even” – “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” One theory is that the same ruler had two names because of the mixed empire of the time (Median/Persian); Darius the Mede for the Median part of the empire and Cyrus for the Persian part of the empire.
The name Ahasuerus is found multiple times in the Old Testament: once in Daniel, once in Ezra and 28 times in Esther. The Hebrew name comes from an old Persian name, Khshayarsha, and may have been a royal title name similar to Darius. Some historians believe Ahasuerus, the father of Darius the Mede, may have been Astyages, the last king of the Median empire (died 550 BC). Others believe Ahasuerus may have been Cyaxares I (died 585 BC). The Ahasuerus mentioned in Esther and Ezra may have been Xerxes I (died 465 BC). Esther is described in the Book of Esther as the wife of Ahasuerus/Xerxes.
One key to look at historically is that Daniel listed Darius the Mede’s age at the time of Belshazzar’s death and Babylon’s defeat (539 BC) as 62-years-old. That means Darius would have been born about 601 BC. Mentioning his age is a specific detail not mentioned for other people listed in Daniel, so it may have been listed there to help identify Darius the Mede or for some other reason known to Daniel.
Dates for the birth of Cyrus II range from 600 BC to 575 BC. The earlier date of 600 BC, if true, would mean he would have been about 62-years-old when he defeated Babylon in 539 BC. That could also support theories of some archaeologists (like Professor Wiseman) that Cyrus II and Darius the Mede were the same person.
Another theory is that Darius the Mede was a satrap of Babylon named Gobryas. Greek historian Xenophon (5th century BC) in his Cyropaedia recorded that the military leader who led Cyrus’s army into Babylon was General Gobryas (also spelled Ugbaru and Gubaru). Xenophon described him as an “old man” who was still able to lead the army, which might fit with the description of a 62-year-old Darius the Mede.
The Nabonidus Chronicle also mentions Ugbaru as leading the army of Cyrus into Babylon.
These ‘possibilities’ concerning the identity of Darius the Mede were enough for me to continue investigating the historical reliability of the Old Testament.
In the next part of Convince Me There’s A God, we will look at archaeological support for Ezekiel who was taken captive from Judah to Babylon in the early part of the 6th century BC.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.