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And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old. [Daniel 5:31]

I have read much about the possible identities of Darius the Mede; to me, the most convincing alias is that of Gabaru (mentioned in Nabonidus Chronicle column iii line 20).

However, there are a number of other theories, and it causes me to wonder: Who exactly was Darius the Mede? I know we cant know for sure (?), but what would make the most sense, in light of our faith?

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    A Ph.D. thesis, apparently claiming a co-regency existed in 539 when Babylon was conquered, Cyrus became sole king in 537. academia.edu/9787699/Darius_the_Mede_A_Reappraisal – b and d restore Monica Oct 28 '15 at 6:49
  • Link. – Lucian Nov 15 at 15:35
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Prior to Cyrus the Great, a Persian, the Medians were overlords of the Persians and other tribes in what is now western Iran. Cyrus overthrew the Median king, Astyages, and founded the Achaemenid Empire, with the Media as part of the empire. Cyrus went on to conquer Babylon in 540 BCE and soon after allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, for which he is mentioned extensively in 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Isaiah (Second Isaiah) by the grateful Jews.

Cyrus was killed in battle in about 530 BCE, in Central Asia, and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses. In 522 BCE, while Cambyses was campaigning in the west, a usurper, Bardia or Smerdis, occupied the throne. He was quickly overthrown by Darius, who, although a Mede, was a military commander in the Persian empire. Darius I ruled Persia from 522 until 486 BCE and was succeeded by his son Xerxes (known as 'Ahasuerus' in the Bible).

The Cambridge Ancient History Volume III Part 2, page 395, says the Book of Daniel is generally considered to be a historically unreliable compilation of the second century BCE. Two of the historical errors in the Book of Daniel were to describe to Darius "the Mede" as the son of Xerxes and as the king who conquered Babylon, at the age of sixty two (18 years before he overthrew Smerdis and really became king):

Daniel 5:31: And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old.

An alternative view

Sara Raup Johnson (Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity, page 58) provides the background to another interesting explanation of "Darius the Mede". She tells us that Josephus, writing late in the first century CE, was baffled by the reference to "Darius the Mede", who ruled before Cyrus according to the Book of Daniel. Jewish Antiquities Book 10 closely follows the Book of Daniel, but Josephus is unable to identify another historical Darius who would preserve Daniel as a book of history. Johnson says that Josephus came up with a characteristically ingenious solution. Josephus wrote that Darius the Mede was a son of Astyarges the Mede, maternal grandfather of Cyrus "but was called another name among the Greeks", and that he assisted Cyrus in the overthrow of Babylon. She says (Page 59) that Josephus stands at the head of a line leading to modern scholarship's vain attempts to make historical sense of texts never written as pure history.

Steven Anderson (https://www.academia.edu/9787699/Darius_the_Mede_A_Reappraisal) looks at some options for 'Darius the Mede' to have taken part in the conquest of Babylon. A critical assumption in this dissertation is that 'Darius the Mede' either existed or he did not; Anderson does not consider the possibility that Daniel's author displaced King Darius I in time. At page 51, he acknowledges that mainstream scholarship says that the Book of Daniel was a compilation of the second century BCE, at the same time cautiously raising his own doubts on this. The problem is that if the Book of Daniel was a late, pseudepigraphical work, we have no reason to believe it to be historically accurate. Anderson acknowledges that Jerome cited Josephus, whom Anderson acknowledges (page 5) as appearing to have been the first to identify Daniel’s Darius the Mede with Xenophon’s Cyaxares II. Thus, Josephus was the only independent source for this claim, and he is already well known for taking a biased view of history when it suited.

  • So you're saying that a) the bible is errant and b) that Darius is misplaced/doesn't exist? – Conor O'Brien Oct 28 '15 at 12:45
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    @CONOR'OBRIEN. recently, a number of reference works have favored an identification of Darius with Gubaru (commonly identified with the Gobryas mentioned in Xenophon’s Cyropædia), who became governor of Babylon after the Medo-Persian conquest of that city – Kris Oct 28 '15 at 13:59
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    @ CONORO'BRIEN wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001124#h=14. – Kris Oct 28 '15 at 14:03
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    @CᴏɴᴏʀO'Bʀɪᴇɴ In this answer, I am not expressing an opinion; I am simply answering a question by providing some history. I can see two links that do effectively provide an opinion, because they start from the premise that Daniel is inerrant (even if that then conflicts with other books of the OT) and work backwards from that conclusion to 'find' a Darius who suits their objectives. – Dick Harfield Oct 28 '15 at 20:24
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    @CᴏɴᴏʀO'Bʀɪᴇɴ For benefit, I have added "An Alternative View" that shows how Josephus tried to reconcile Daniel with what he already knew about history. I did so without comment, but I could point out numerous historical errors and improbabilities in that alternative and in others put forward. – Dick Harfield Oct 28 '15 at 21:03
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One theory I have encountered is that Cyrus the Great is Darius the Mede and that Daniel is alluding to Cyrus's Median ancestry in part because Jeremiah 51:11,28 and Isaiah 13:17 suggest the Medes would play a crucial part in the overthrow of Babylon. This requires a reinterpretation of Daniel 6:28, 'So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian' so that the 'and' read 'even the reign of Cyrus the Persian'.

The advantages of this reading are historically Cyrus was present shortly after the overthrow of Babylon as far as I can tell everyone agrees with this (including the Bible, the Babylonian Chronicles, the Cyrus Cylinder, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, and Xenophon of Athens).

Secondly, from what we know of Cyrus from Cicero and Dinon, a fourth century historian, Cyrus would have been about 62 years old when he entered Babylon (being born in 600 BC, the conquest of Babylon taking place in 539 BC and Cyrus dying in 530 BC aged 70). This agrees with Darius age according to Daniel 5:30.

Thirdly, Herodotus gives a mythical(?) account Cyrus ancestry, suggesting that he was the grandson of the Median king Astyages by his daughter Mandine and Cambyses. This would lend credence to the idea that a Mede was involved in the fall of Babylon.

I would see the main problem with this theory being that Daniel speaks of Darius and Cyrus (why does he choose to use both names?) (Daniel 9, Daniel 10).

But also Daniel calls Darius 'the son of Ahasuerus' (Daniel 9:1) clearly this would make Darius a Persian and born several years later than the fall of Babylon if this was true. It could be that 'Ahasuerus' was a title applied to a number of Median and Persian rulers and that in context it refers to Astyages this would make sense of the context that tells us that Darius was a Mede by descent!

At the risk of presenting an opinion, let me explain where I am coming from on this: On balance, and at present, I favour this reading because try to approach the Bible with an assumption that it is trustworthy and true, and because I feel this makes most sense of the evidence of the Bible and history. I cannot imagine a mere general in Ugbaru writing laws into the statute book of the Medes and the Persians nor am I convinced of the chronology of other suggestions.

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From what I can tell in other answers, it is eluded to that Daniel is speaking to King Darius I. I would like to bring some evidence that the Book of Daniel was written around 600 BC (Dr. Bryan S. Rennie, REL 101: Understanding the Bible, Westminster University) to help us get back on track to finding out who this "Darius" truly is.

In the prophecy Daniel 11:1-4, he tells this "Darius" that there would be 3 more great kings and then a 4th king more powerful than his predecessors (Xerxes I: Encyclopedia Iranica, Xerxes). So if the Darius he is speaking with is King Darius I, wouldn’t the prophecy be more correctly worded “1 more king” rather than “3 more kings and then a 4th?” That would be after Cyrus' rule, about 500 BC, so that would put Daniel in a different era entirely. And the way he is speaking, he's talking from a perspective of about 600 BC (again referencing the fact that he is speaking of these rulers in future tense).

Now, the dates of Daniel’s prophecies have been debated many times to have been written in 200 BC and to be a scam rather than a prophecy. However, the research done by BibleArchaeology and History.com expresses just the opposite. The bronzed papyrus parchment for the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as some languages used in scholarly transcription date back to at least 150 BC. It is written in some forms called Qumran Hebrew, but mostly in Nabataean-Aramaic and New Greek which scholars say was not popular until that time (John C Reeves, Pursuing the Text). Latin and Arabic were also used. Thus, a popular supportive theory is that the documents were being transcribed from ancient languages hence the different levels of vocabulary and the fact that the many dialects in DS Scrolls were necessary to effectively translate what was being conveyed from the ancient languages in the original texts. 5 different Semitic languages and 7 Indo-Mediterranean languages died between the 7th and 4th centuries (LinguistList.com). And that's just what we know about. We don't know for sure which one Daniel spoke, but in light of this research, chances are high that it was a language put to death close to or by the time the DS scrolls were written. Alexander’s last will and testament was read and carried out between 221-146 BC (Roisman & Worthington - Ancient Macedonia). And because the DS Scrolls were transcriptions of ancient works rather than recent works the Book of Daniel would have been written at least 100 years before this era (DeadSeaScrollsOrganization) thus, qualifying at least the latter part of Daniel 11:1-4 as a prophecy.

There is plenty of legitimate, scholarly evidence in this post and outside of it to support Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 11:1-4 and its legitimacy. However, it is only enough to combat the myth that Daniel was written around 200 BC.

The Point – Based on the dating from this research for the Book of Daniel, Daniel was most likely NOT speaking with King Darius I in Daniel 11:1-4.

Other theories for consideration would be that the name Darius the Mede was a title rather than a name. Or that “Darius” is a rough translation for a different name noted in history. Also possible that it is the name of general rather than a king.

  • I appreciate your general thrust, but to claim that Daniel was written 600 B.C. is just plain wrong. Cyrus conquered Babylon 539 B.C. installing Darius the Mede to be the King of Babylon (as a Persian province important enought o retain a king) within the Persian Empire. "Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus" (Dan 1:21) most likely meaning 539 B.C. and furthermore meaning the book was written after this time. – Andrew Shanks Apr 16 at 13:23

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