Darius. [Heb. and Aramaic Dareyawesh. "Darius" is the Latinized spelling of the Greek equivalent of the Old Persian royal name Da µrayavaush, spelled DaÃ†riyaÃ†wush in Babylonian texts.] The name of 3 Persian kings, 2 of whom are mentioned in the Bible, and 1 ruler called Darius the Mede, not yet identified conclusively with any ruler known from ancient contemporary documents.
1. Darius the Mede, son of Ahasuerus, unknown by that name except in Daniel. He "took the kingdom" from Belshazzar at about the age of 62 years at the time of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon (539 b.c.), and had at least one regnal year (Dan 5:31; 6:28; 9:1). He appointed various governors, making Daniel one of his three most intimate counsellors (ch 6:1-3). Tricked by Daniel's enemies into issuing a decree which the Hebrew statesman could not obey, he was forced to throw his friend Daniel to the lions, and was exceedingly happy when Daniel was miraculously saved (vs. 4-27).
Various modern attempts to identify this Darius have resulted in several theories, none of them free from difficulties. One theory equates him with Cambyses, Cyrus' son and successor, who ruled jointly with his father for a time; another equates him with Gobryas, the officer of Cyrus who actually took the city of Babylon, and may have ruled the conquered Babylonian kingdom under Cyrus for a year or so. Another explanation, plausible enough, is that Darius is another name for Cyaxares II, the son of Astyages, who according to the Greek writer Xenophon was Cyrus' uncle and father-in-law, and whom Cyrus might have retained temporarily as a figurehead king to please the Medes. The fact that the Persian account of the fall of Babylon to Cyrus begins Cyrus' reign in Babylon immediately, without any intervening reign of Darius the Mede, does not contradict the Biblical narrative. Darius was evidently recognised as a ruler in Babylon by courtesy of Cyrus, while it was Cyrus who actually held the power (see Is 45:1). It was natural that Daniel, in direct contact with Darius, should speak of him as the "king" and mention his "first year" (Dan 9:1). It seems evident that we are to consider the accession year and 1st year of Darius the Mede as coinciding with the same years of Cyrus. The lack of conclusive evidence as to the identity of Darius the Mede must not lead one to question the Bible statements concerning this ruler, for future finds may clarify the problem, as archaeology has already done for Belshazzar, who puzzled earlier historians.
2. Darius I Hystaspes, or Darius the Great, king of Persia (522-486 b.c.). Through his father Hystaspes, Darius belonged to the Achaemenid family, as did Cyrus and his son Cambyses, but to a different branch of this family. When Cambyses was in Egypt, during the last year of his reign, a certain Gaumata usurped the throne by pretending to be Smerdis, Cambyses' brother, who had been assassinated secretly before Cambyses started out for his Egyptian campaign in 525 b.c.. When Cambyses learned of this usurpation he immediately set out for Persia, but on the way, while in Syria, he died (July, 522 b.c.), as the result of either an accident or suicide, leaving no heir. Darius, a distant cousin of Cambyses, at once set out to gain the throne for himself. With some helpers he slew the false Smerdis in September, 522 b.c., and assumed the kingship. However, he had to fight against a number of other pretenders and rebels for many months longer before he finally emerged from the struggle the undisputed ruler of the Persian Empire. The story of his successes was engraved in three scripts and languages (Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite), accompanied by a sculptured relief, into a high rock wall of the Behistun mountain, which lies on the main highway between Iran and Iraq. This trilingual Behistun inscription, copied by Henry Rawlinson more than a century ago, became the first key to the decipherment of the cuneiform scripts used in ancient western Asia.
Darius proved to be a strong and wise ruler. He was tolerant toward other religions and cultures, promoted learning, agriculture, forestation, and the construction of highways. He also built the great palace cities of Susa and Persepolis. However, he made an extremely unwise choice when he began a war against the mainland Greeks, which ended in the defeat of the Persian army at Marathon (490 b.c.). This battle was the beginning of a series of defeats the Persians suffered under Darius' successors.
When Darius came to the throne the building of the Temple at Jerusalem had been suspended by the false Smerdis because of complaints against the Jews by their jealous neighbours. With the change of government the Jews took heart, and encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, resumed their building activity. When the matter was brought to the attention of Darius by the deputy satrap Tatnai, who had visited Jerusalem, the king had the whole case investigated, and after finding that the Jews had legal rights to rebuild their Temple, he issued a decree that favoured the Jews even more than the decree of Cyrus had done some 18 years earlier (Ezr 4:24 to 6:15). A number of prophetic utterances and visions of Haggai and Zechariah are dated in terms of regnal years of Darius (Hag 1:1, 15; 2:1, 10; Zec 1:1, 7; Zec 7:1).
3. Darius the Persian (Neh 12:22) is probably Darius II (424/23-405/04 b.c.), the son and successor of Artaxerxes I. The various lists of ecclesiastical officers given in the book of Nehemiah seem to have their terminal point in his reign. Many commentators identify him with Darius III (336-331 b.c.), who was defeated by Alexander the Great, on the basis of identifying Jaddua of Josephus (Ant. xi. 8. 4, 5) with the Jaddua of Neh 12:11 and 22. This identification, however, is very uncertain -- Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary.