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Darius the Mede

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Lambrechtshagen Kirche Empore4

A depiction of Daniel in the lions' den with Darius the Mede above.

Darius the Mede is a biblical person in the Book of Daniel, Chapters 6-11, who rules over "the kingdom of the Chaldeans" after the last king of the Babylonian Empire (Belshazzar) is deposed by the Medo-Persian armies. The author of Daniel indicated that Darius was about 62 years old when he "was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans".[5:31] He is best known for having been forced into throwing Daniel in the lions' den.

No such person as Darius the Mede is known outside the book of Daniel.[1] There have been attempts to identify Darius the Mede with such persons as Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great or Gobryas.[2][3]


Although mentioned in the Book of Daniel and works based on it, such as the histories of Flavius Josephus and Jewish midrashic material, Darius the Mede is not known from any primary historical sources, and neither the Babylonian nor the Persian histories record such a person. Babylon fell to the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great in 538, and the Median Empire had been absorbed as early as 550 BCE. The author of Daniel inherited a schema of four kingdoms in which Media preceded Persia, and it is highly probable that Daniel created the figure of "Darius the Mede" to fit this schema.[1]

Identifying Darius the Mede


In the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon, verse 1 mentions Astyages the Mede, who was the last king before Cyrus the Persian; but nearly the same verse is added in the Septuagint after the end of Daniel chapter 6, having the name "Darius" in place of "Astyages". (LXX Dan. 14:1 and Dan 6:29)[original research?]

Cyrus the Great

This theory was first proposed by Donald Wiseman in 1957.[4] Unlike Gubaru or Astyages, Cyrus the Great was the king who took over the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus was also married to a Mede, and had a Median mother.[5] Indeed, his maternal grandfather Astyages, to whom he owed fealty, was the so-called "Last King of the Median Empire." An analysis of variant early texts, particularly the Septuagint, reveals that the names "Darius" (דריוש DRYWS in Hebrew) and "Cyrus" (כורש KWRS) are reversed in 11:1, and may have been miscopied elsewhere. The appellation "Mede" (Heb. מדי MDY) may have been used as an ethnic term to apply to Persians as well, who were of the same race.[6] In addition, Dan. 6:28, "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian", could also be translated, "So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian."[7] Furthermore, kings commonly took dual titles and Nabonidus, Cyrus' cousin, referred to Cyrus as "the king of the Medes."[5]

The text of Daniel seems to indicate that Darius was somebody other than Cyrus, but somebody who reigned at the same time as Cyrus over one of the many kingdoms of the empire. Firstly, Cyrus is called 'king of Persia' [10:1], while Darius is called ‘king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans’ [9:1]. The kingdom of the Chaldeans” refers to historical Babylon, one of the kingdoms in the Persian Empire. Secondly, according to Daniel 5:30-31, 'that same night (after Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall) Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. So Darius the Mede received the kingdom'. The implication is that Darius received the kingdom immediately when Belshazzar was slain, while, according to the Nobanidus chronicle, Cyrus only arrived in Babylon two weeks later.[8] (To “receive” a kingdom does not mean to become king. It only implies that he took over rule on a temporary basis.) Thirdly, the kingdom Darius received is identified by 5:30 with its reference to “Belshazzar the Chaldean king” as the same as the kingdom he ‘was made king of’, namely ‘the kingdom of the Chaldeans’ [9:1]. In the context it is not the entire Persian kingdom, but only the additional territory gained through the conquest of the city Babylon. Fourthly, Darius 'was made king' [9:1] over 'the kingdom of the Chaldeans'[9:1]—by implication by someone else.

Extra-Biblical sources allow for a separate "King of Babylon"—other than Cyrus—during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE. The title "King of Babylon" was not used for Cyrus in the Neo-Babylonian contract tablets dated to him during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE. Only the title "King of Lands" was used for him, and this referred to him in his capacity as king of the Persian Empire, consisting of many “lands” or kingdoms. Late in 538 BCE, however, the scribes added the title "King of Babylon" to his titles, and it continued to be in use through the rest of his reign and those of his successors down to the time of Xerxes.[9] This creates space for a separate "King of Babylon"—other than Cyrus—during the first year after Babylon's conquest in October 539 BCE.

Darius the Great

Darius I reigned from 522 to 486 BCE. Scholars have argued that this is not the same Darius of Daniel chapter 6, at the very least, due to dating discrepancies.[10] Those who support this view are Tremper Longman and J. Daniel Hays.[11]

However, there are historians who view the presence of Darius in the Book of Daniel as simply a mistake of a much later author, or chronologist. The Persian King Darius I was perhaps placed at an earlier date than he actually reigned.[12] Three key pieces of information seem to support this. Firstly, Darius I, like Cyrus, also conquered Babylon and personally commanded the Persian army that took the city in 522 BCE to put down a rebellion. Secondly, Daniel's reference to Darius organising the empire by appointing satraps and administrators fits Darius I perfectly: he is known to history as the Persian king par excellence who professionalised the empire's bureaucracy and organised it into satrapies and tax districts. Thirdly, Darius I was an important figure in Jewish history, remembered as a king associated with Cyrus who permitted the returned exiles to rebuild the temple. (cf Ezra chapters 1-6)

Gobryas (Gubaru or Ugbaru)

Gobryas is mentioned in the Cyropedia of the Greek historian Xenophon as a general who actually led Cyrus's army that captured Babylon[13][unreliable source?]. Two weeks later Cyrus made his triumphal entry into Babylon and a week after that Gobryas died. It is possible that Cyrus may have rewarded Gobryas with a regional governorship for capturing the capital of the Babylonian Empire and ending the war.

The Nabonidus Chronicle refers to both an ‘Ugbaru’ and a ‘Gubaru’. Both names are translated ‘Gobryas’ in Greek. Ugbaru is described as from Gutium, the general leading the conquest of Babylon and the ruler of the region, dying within a year after the conquest of Babylon — similar to Xenophon’s Gobryas. Gubaru was made governor of Babylon a few years later.

Some authors have identified Ugbaru and Gubaru,[14] making Gobryas/Gubaru/Ugbaru an ideal candidate for Darius the Mede. He would qualify for all the criteria mentioned in the discussion of Cyrus — he was “king” over Babylon, he was present in Babylon when the city was captured, and could have ‘received the kingdom’ and he “was made” king. Additionally, both Ugbaru — according to the chronicle — and Darius (Dan 6:1-2) appointed governors.

If Darius is Gobryas, the narrow time frame of regional governorship of one week may explain why historians have not found other evidence for Darius. But if Darius was Gobryas, then all the events of Daniel 6 and 9 would have occurred within one week, which has been argued to be possible.[8]

Jewish views

Talmudic and midrashic sources describe Darius the Mede as the uncle and father-in-law of Cyrus the Great, to whom Cyrus owed fealty. After Darius's death, Cyrus took the throne. According to Josippon, the Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther was the son of Darius the Mede. The midrash Tanhuma describes the fall of Babylon as described in Daniel and adds to the narrative Darius taking Vashti, the daughter of Belshazzar, as a wife for his son Ahasuerus.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Collins, John J. (1998). The apocalyptic imagination: an introduction to Jewish apocalyptic literature (2. ed. ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich. [u.a.]: Eerdmans. p. 86. ISBN 0-8028-4371-9. 
  2. Law, George R. (2010). Identification of Darius the Mede. North Carolina: Ready Scribe Press. p. x. ISBN 978-0-9827631-0-0. 
  3. Gaston, Thomas E. (2009). Historical issues in the book of Daniel. Oxford: TaanathShiloh. pp. 111–132. ISBN 978-0-9561540-0-2. 
  4. Wiseman, D. J. (November 25, 1957). Darius the Mede. Christianity Today. pp. 7–10. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Miller 1994, p. 149
  6. e.g., as stated in Hippolytus' Diamerismos, §204, among other places.
  7. Colless 1992, p. 115
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Search for Darius the Mede; William H. Shea; Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 12/1 (Spring 2001)
  9. William H. Shea, "An Unrecognized Vassal King of Babylon in the Early Achaemenid Period," Andrews University Seminary Studies, vols. 9•10. Nos. 1•2 (Berrien Springs, MI. 1971•1972)
  10. Shepherd, Michael B. (2009). Daniel in the context of the Hebrew Bible. Volume 123 of Studies in biblical literature. Peter Lang. pp. 86–8. ISBN 978-1-4331-0539-5. 
  11. editor, J. Daniel Hays ; Tremper Longman III, general (2010). Message of the prophets : a survey of the prophetic and apocalyptic books of the Old Testament. [Grand Rapids, Mich.]: Zondervan. p. 241. ISBN 978-0-310-27152-9. 
  12. Collins 1994, p. 30
  13. Lendering, Jona. "Cyrus takes Babylon: the Nabonidus chronicle". self published. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  14. (William H. Shea; The Search for Darius the Mede; Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 12/1 Spring 2001


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