- The Achaemenian dynasty had three kings by the name Darius. The most well known among them is Darius I or Darius the Great, who ruled from 521 to 486 B.C. After the accidental death of king Cambyses, there was no direct descendant of Cyrus. Rebellions spread throughout the Empire. An imposter seized power. At such a time, Darius, son of Hystaspes, a member of the royal family, quelled the rebellions and became the emperor.
- Darius was a brave warrior, a benevolent monarch, and a wise and skilful administrator. He had capitals at Persepolis, Susa, Ecbatana and Babylon. He continuously fought against the Greeks. He won many battles but was badly defeated at Marathon in about 499 B.C. The modern Marathon race is named after this battle.
- His Empire was divided into 30 administrative districts called Satrapies, each of which had three independent heads – the Satrap (Administrator), the Military Commandant, and the Treasurer. The Emperor maintained secret services called “the King’s Eyes and Ears.” Special tribunals paid surprise visits to the provinces. They had powers to investigate and prescribe remedy or punishments for any irregularities found.
- He built roads and bridges and dug canals to connect his vast Empire. The famous Royal Road, about 2550 kilometres (1,500 miles) long, was built as the highway connecting Susa with Sardis, with rest houses on the way.
- Darius was the first to introduce postal system in the world. Along important roads, postal stages were fixed at an interval of about 24 kilometres (14 miles). The post was carried by mounted couriers. New couriers were ready with fresh horses at every stage. A dispatch from Susa reached Sardis in five or six days, covering a distance of about 2500 kilometres (1,500 miles). Describing this postal system, Herodotus had said: “Nothing mortal travels as fast as these Persian messengers.”
- Darius commissioned the construction of a canal connecting the Red Sea with the Nile. Remains of the same along with inscriptions in four languages were discovered while excavating for the Suez Canal.
- Darius the Great passed away at the age of 65 years in 486 B.C. His last remains are at Naksh-i-Rustam close to his palace at Persepolis. He left a number of inscriptions which shed light on ancient Persian history. The main one is at Behistun/Bisutun in Hamadan, which is the largest surviving historical document by any ancient Zoroastrian king. In one of the inscriptions the emperor proudly proclaims “I am Darius, the great king, the king of kings….. a Parsi, the son of a Parsi, an Aryan, of Aryan lineage.”
- Darius introduced the use of a gold coin called Daric. It was a thick coin with a standard weight of 8.4 grams bearing the image of the king as a warrior with a bow and arrow in the hand. It continued to be used till the end of the Achaemenian dynasty in 330 BC. After that, most of these coins were melted and reconstructed as Greek coins.
- The other two kings by the name Darius in the Achaemenian dynasty were Darius II (424-405 BC) and Darius III (336-331 BC). The latter was the last king of the Achaemenian empire. He was defeated at Gaugamela in the famous battle of Arabela by Alexander the Macedonian in 331 B.C. A year later Darius was killed by Bessus, the Satrap of Bactria, on the battlefield. Thereafter Alexander proclaimed himself the Emperor of Persia. The Greeks, under General Seleucus Nicator, ruled over Persia for the next 80 years.