Darius the Great of Persia

Relief of Darius receiving tribute, from the Palace at Persepolis, Iran

In today’s first reading, we read of the magnanimous gesture of King Darius of Persia (modern Iran) towards the Jews:

King Darius issued an order to the officials
of West-of-Euphrates:
“Let the governor and the elders of the Jews
continue the work on that house of God;
they are to rebuild it on its former site.
I also issue this decree
concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews
in the rebuilding of that house of God:
From the royal revenue, the taxes of West-of-Euphrates,
let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay.
I, Darius, have issued this decree;
let it be carefully executed.”

The elders of the Jews continued to make progress in the building,
supported by the message of the prophets,
Haggai and Zechariah, son of Iddo.
They finished the building according to the command
of the God of Israel
and the decrees of Cyrus and Darius
and of Artaxerxes, king of Persia.
They completed this house on the third day of the month Adar,
in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.
The children of Israel–priests, Levites,
and the other returned exiles–
celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.
For the dedication of this house of God,
they offered one hundred bulls,
two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs,
together with twelve he-goats as a sin-offering for all Israel,
in keeping with the number of the tribes of Israel.
Finally, they set up the priests in their classes
and the Levites in their divisions
for the service of God in Jerusalem,
as is prescribed in the book of Moses.

Ezra chapter 6

 

Darius, who ruled the vast Persian Empire from 522-486 BCE, is here enforcing the decree of Cyrus the Great, deliverer of the Jews. He even adds to it in his new decree, ordering that the Jews be left alone in their work, that the project be funded out of the taxes on the “Beyond the River” province Syria and Judea), that the Persian state provide a steady stream of animals and other products necessary to the continued offerings of the Jewish national worship in Jerusalem, and that violation was punishable by death.

Seal of Darius I, agate, British Museum

Seal of Darius I slaying lions from his chariot, a standard depiction of royal power, agate, British Museum

Darius seems to have been a fairly enlightened ruler who respected the religions of his subject peoples, created the first Persian coins, organized the government bureaucracy, constructed royal roads throughout the empire, and reformed the Babylonian calendar that is still used by the Jews to this day.

Darius the Great's Behistun Inscription

Darius the Great’s Behistun Inscription

Much of our information about his reign comes to us from his own words carved in the Behistun Inscription, which lists his titles and conquests. He is also the Persian ruler whose armies invaded Greece and were defeated by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE, written about by the Greek historian Herodotus.

Drawing of an Image of Darius I from a Greek Vase

Drawing of an Image of Darius I from a Greek Vase

 

Darius was planning another invasion of Greece that he would lead himself, but he died before this plan could be carried out. His embalmed body was buried in this tomb, dug from the cliffs at Naqsh-e Rustam alongside the tombs of other Persian kings.

 

Tomb of Darius I at Naqsh-e Rustam

Tomb of Darius I at Naqsh-e Rustam

 

 

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