Darius III of Persia

Darius III of Persia

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Darius III also known by his given name of Codomannus, was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

 of Persia from 336 BC to 330 BC.

After Artaxerxes III of Persia and all of his sons were killed by the vizier
Vizier
A vizier or in Arabic script ; ; sometimes spelled vazir, vizir, vasir, wazir, vesir, or vezir) is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in a Muslim government....

 Bagoas
Bagoas
Bagoas was a eunuch who became the vizier to Artaxerxes III. In this role, he allied himself with the Rhodian mercenary general Mentor, and with his help succeeded in once again making Egypt a province of the Persian Empire...

, the vizier installed a cousin of Artaxerxes III, Codomannus, to the Persian throne as Darius III. When Darius tried to act independently of the vizier, Bagoas tried to poison him, but Darius was warned and forced Bagoas to drink the poison himself. The new king found himself in control of an unstable empire, large portions of which were governed by jealous and unreliable satraps and inhabited by disaffected and rebellious subjects. However, he lacked the skills and experience to deal with these problems. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great began his invasion of the Persian Empire and subsequently defeated the Persians in a number of battles before taking the capital Persepolis
Persepolis
Perspolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire . Persepolis is situated northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid...

 in 331 BC. With the Persian Empire now effectively under Alexander's control, Alexander then decided to pursue Darius, but Darius was killed by a satrap Bessus
Bessus
Artaxerxes V, also known as Bessus was a prominent Persian nobleman and satrap of Bactria, and later self-proclaimed king of Persia...

 before Alexander reached him.

Early reign


Artaxerxes III of Persia
Artaxerxes III of Persia
Artaxerxes III of Persia , was the Great King of Persia and the eleventh Emperor of the Achaemenid Empire, as well as the first Pharaoh of the 31st dynasty of Egypt. He was the son and successor of Artaxerxes II and was succeeded by his son, Arses of Persia...

 and all of his sons except one, Arses, were killed off through the assassination plots of a vizier
Vizier
A vizier or in Arabic script ; ; sometimes spelled vazir, vizir, vasir, wazir, vesir, or vezir) is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in a Muslim government....

 named Bagoas
Bagoas
Bagoas was a eunuch who became the vizier to Artaxerxes III. In this role, he allied himself with the Rhodian mercenary general Mentor, and with his help succeeded in once again making Egypt a province of the Persian Empire...

, who installed Arses on the throne as a puppet king. When he found out Arses couldn’t be controlled, however, Bagoas killed him off as well in 336 BC, and installed to the throne a man named Codomannus, the last surviving legitimate heir to the Persian throne. Codomannus was a distant relative of the royal house who had distinguished himself in a combat of champions in a war against the Cadusii
Cadusii
The Cadusii were an ancient Iranian people living in north-western Iran.-Geography:The Cadusii lived in a mountainous district of Media Atropatene on the south-west shores of the Caspian Sea, between the parallels of 39° and 37° North latitude, called for its inhabitants Cadusia...

 and was serving at the time as a royal courier. Codomannus was the son of Arsames, son of Ostanes, one of Artaxerxes's brothers, and Sisygambis
Sisygambis
Sisygambis was the daughter of king Artaxerxes II Memnon, who married Arsames of Ostanes and was the mother of Darius III of Persia, whose reign was ended during the wars of Alexander the Great....

, daughter of Artaxerxes II Memnon. He took the throne at the age of 46.

Codomannus took the regnal name Darius III and quickly demonstrated his independence from his assassin benefactor. Bagoas then tried to poison Darius as well, when he learned that even Darius couldn't be controlled, but Darius was warned and forced Bagoas to drink the poison himself. The new king found himself in control of an unstable empire, large portions of which were governed by jealous and unreliable satrap
Satrap
Satrap was the name given to the governors of the provinces of the ancient Median and Achaemenid Empires and in several of their successors, such as the Sassanid Empire and the Hellenistic empires....

s and inhabited by disaffected and rebellious subjects, such as Khabash
Khabash
Khabash, also Khababash or Chababash, resided at Sais in the fifth nome of Lower Egypt in the fourth century BC. During the second Persian occupation of Egypt he led a revolt against the Persian rule in concert with his eldest son, from ca. 338 to 335 BC , a few years before the conquest of...

 in Egypt. Compared to his ancestors and his fellow heirs who had since perished, Darius had a distinct lack of experience ruling an empire, and a lack of any previous ambition to do so. Darius was a ruler of entirely average stamp, without the striking talents and qualities which the administration of a vast empire required during that period of crisis.

In 336 BC Philip II of Macedonia was authorized by the League of Corinth
League of Corinth
The League of Corinth, also sometimes referred to as Hellenic League was a federation of Greek states created by Philip II of Macedon during the winter of 338 BC/337 BC after the Battle of Chaeronea, to facilitate his use of military forces in his war against Persia...

 as its Hegemon
Hegemony
Hegemony is an indirect form of imperial dominance in which the hegemon rules sub-ordinate states by the implied means of power rather than direct military force. In Ancient Greece , hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states...

 to initiate a sacred war of vengeance against the Persians for desecrating and burning the Athenian
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 temples during the Second Persian War. He sent an advance force into Asia Minor
Anatolia
Anatolia is a geographic and historical term denoting the westernmost protrusion of Asia, comprising the majority of the Republic of Turkey...

 under the command of his generals Parmenion
Parmenion
Parmenion was a Macedonian general in the service of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great, murdered on a suspected false charge of treason....

 and Attalus
Attalus (general)
Attalus , important courtier of Macedonian king Philip II of Macedonia.In 339 BC, Attalus' niece Cleopatra Eurydice married king Philip II of Macedonia. In spring of 336 BC, Philip II appointed Attalus and Parmenion as commanders of the advance force that would invade the Persian Empire in Asia Minor...

 to "liberate" the Greeks living under Persian control. After they took the Greek cities of Asia from Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 to the Maiandros river, Philip was assassinated and his campaign was suspended while his heir consolidated his control of Macedonia and the rest of Greece.

Conflict with Alexander



In the spring of 334 BC, Philip's heir, Alexander the Great, who had himself been confirmed as Hegemon by the League of Corinth
League of Corinth
The League of Corinth, also sometimes referred to as Hellenic League was a federation of Greek states created by Philip II of Macedon during the winter of 338 BC/337 BC after the Battle of Chaeronea, to facilitate his use of military forces in his war against Persia...

, invaded Asia Minor at the head of a combined Macedonian and Greek army. This invasion, which marked the beginning of the Wars of Alexander the Great, was followed almost immediately by the victory of Alexander over the Persians at Battle of the Granicus
Battle of the Granicus
The Battle of the Granicus River in May 334 BC was the first of three major battles fought between Alexander the Great and the Persian Empire...

. Darius never showed up for the battle, because there was no reason for him to suppose that Alexander intended to conquer the whole of Asia, and Darius may well have supposed that the satraps of the ‘lower’ satrapies could deal with the crisis, so he instead decided to remain at home in Persepolis and let his satraps handle it. In the previous invasion of Asia Minor by the Spartan king Agesilaus, the Persians had pinned him in Asia Minor while fomenting rebellion
Corinthian War
The Corinthian War was an ancient Greek conflict lasting from 395 BC until 387 BC, pitting Sparta against a coalition of four allied states; Thebes, Athens, Corinth, and Argos; which were initially backed by Persia. The immediate cause of the war was a local conflict in northwest Greece in which...

 in Greece. Darius attempted to employ the same strategy, but the Spartans were defeated at Megalopolis
Battle of Megalopolis
The Battle of Megalopolis was fought in 331 BC between Spartan led forces and Macedonia. Alexander's regent Antipater led the Macedonians to victory over King Agis III.-Background:...

.

Darius did not actually take the field against Alexander’s army until a year and a half after Granicus, at the Battle of Issus
Battle of Issus
The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, in November 333 BC. The invading troops, led by the young Alexander of Macedonia, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia in the second great battle for primacy in Asia...

 in 333 BC. His forces outnumbered Alexander's soldiers by at least a 2 to 1 ratio, but Darius was still outflanked, defeated, and forced to flee. It is told by Arrian
Arrian
Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon , known in English as Arrian , and Arrian of Nicomedia, was a Roman historian, public servant, a military commander and a philosopher of the 2nd-century Roman period...

 that at the Battle of Issus the moment the Persian left went to pieces under Alexander’s attack and Darius, in his war-chariot, saw that it was cut off, he incontinently fled – indeed, he led the race for safety. On the way, he left behind his chariot, his bow, and his royal mantle, all of which were later picked up by Alexander. Greek sources such as Diodorus Siculus' Library of History and Justin's Epitoma Historiarum Philippicarum recount that Darius fled out of fear at the Battle of Issus and again two years later at the Battle of Gaugamela
Battle of Gaugamela
The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The battle, which is also called the Battle of Arbela, resulted in a massive victory for the ancient Macedonians and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.-Location:Darius chose a flat, open plain...

 despite commanding a larger force in a defensive position each time. At the Battle of Issus, Darius III even caught Alexander by surprise and failed to defeat the Greek forces. Darius fled so far so fast, that Alexander was able to capture Darius’s headquarters, and take Darius’s family as prisoners in the process. Darius petitioned to Alexander through letters several times to get his family back, but Alexander refused to do so unless Darius would acknowledge him as the new emperor of Persia. In 331 BC, Darius' sister-wife Statira
Stateira I
Stateira I was the wife of Darius III of Persia of the Achaemenid dynasty. She was known as the most beautiful woman on Earth and, as was the custom for royal Persian women, accompanied her husband while he went to war. It was because of this that she was captured by Alexander the Great after the...

, who had otherwise been well-treated, died in captivity, reputedly during childbirth.

Circumstances were more in Darius’s favor at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. He had a good number of troops who had been organized on the battlefield properly, he had the support of the armies of several of his satraps, and the ground on the battlefield was almost perfectly even, so as not to impede movement. Despite all these beneficial factors, he still fled the battle before any victor had been decided and deserted his experienced commanders as well as one of the largest armies ever assembled. Another source accounts that when Darius perceived the fierce attack of Alexander, as at Issus he turned his chariot around, and was the first to flee, once again abandoning all of his soldiers and his property to be taken by Alexander. Many Persian soldiers lost their lives that day, so many in fact that after the battle the casualties of the enemy ensured that Darius would never again raise an imperial army. Darius then fled to Ecbatana
Ecbatana
Ecbatana is supposed to be the capital of Astyages , which was taken by the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great in the sixth year of Nabonidus...

 and attempted to raise a third army, while Alexander took possession of Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, Susa
Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

, and the Persian capital at Persepolis
Persepolis
Perspolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire . Persepolis is situated northeast of the modern city of Shiraz in the Fars Province of modern Iran. In contemporary Persian, the site is known as Takht-e Jamshid...

. Darius reportedly offered all of his empire west of the Euphrates River to Alexander in exchange for peace several times, each time denied by Alexander against the advice of his senior commanders. Alexander could have declared victory after the capture of Persepolis, but he instead decided to pursue Darius.

Flight, imprisonment and death


Darius did attempt to restore his once great army after his defeat at the hands of Alexander, but he failed to raise a force comparable to that which had fought at Gaugamela, partly because the defeat had undermined his authority, and also because Alexander’s liberal policy, for instance in Babylonia and in Persis, offered an acceptable alternative to Persian domination.

When at Ecbatana, Darius learned of Alexander's approaching army, he decided to retreat to Bactria where he could better use his cavalry and mercenary forces on the more even ground of the plains of Asia. He led his army through the Caspian Gates, the main road through the mountains that would work to slow a following army. The Persian forces became increasingly demoralized with the constant threat of a surprise attack from Alexander, leading to many desertions and eventually a coup led by Bessus, a satrap, and Nabarzanes, who managed all audiences with the King and was in charge of the palace guard. The two men suggested to Darius that the army regroup under Bessus and that power would be transferred back to the King once Alexander was defeated. Darius obviously did not accept this plan, and his conspirators became more anxious to remove him for his successive failures against Alexander and his forces. Patron, a Greek mercenary, encouraged Darius to accept a bodyguard of Greek mercenaries rather than his usual Persian guard to protect him from Bessus and Nabarzanes, but the King could not accept for political reasons and grew accustomed to his fate. Bessus and Nabarzanes eventually bound Darius and threw him in an ox-cart while they ordered the Persian forces to continue on. According to Curtius' History of Alexander, at this point Alexander and a small, mobile force arrived and threw the Persians into a panic, leading to Bessus and two other conspirators, Satibarzanes and Barsaentes, wounding the king with their javelins and leaving him to die.

A Macedonian soldier found Darius either dead or dying in the wagon shortly thereafter—a disappointment to Alexander, who wanted to capture Darius alive. Alexander saw Darius’s dead body in the wagon, and took the signet ring off the dead king’s finger. Afterwards he sent Darius’s body back to Persepolis and ordered that he be buried, like all his royal predecessors, in the royal tombs. Alexander gave Darius a magnificent funeral and eventually married Darius' daughter Stateira
Stateira II
Stateira II , possibly also known as Barsine, was the daughter of Stateira I and Darius III of Persia. After her father's defeat at the Battle of Issus, Stateira and her sisters became captives of Alexander of Macedon. They were treated well, and she became Alexander's second wife at the Susa...

 at Opis in 324 BC.

With the old king defeated and given a proper burial, Alexander's rulership of Persia became official. So ended Darius’s life, with his last purpose being to serve as a vehicle for Alexander’s ascension to the throne of Asia. Although he may have possessed certain virtues, he was regarded by some historians as cowardly and inefficient, as under his rulership, the entirety of the Persian Empire fell to a foreign invader.

After killing Darius, Bessus
Bessus
Artaxerxes V, also known as Bessus was a prominent Persian nobleman and satrap of Bactria, and later self-proclaimed king of Persia...

 took the regal name Artaxerxes V and began calling himself the King of Asia. He would later be captured by Alexander, and subsequently tortured and executed. Another of Darius' generals would ingratiate himself to Alexander by giving the conqueror Darius' favored companion
Catamite
A catamite was a handsome youth kept as a sexual companion in ancient Rome, usually in a pederastic relationship. The word derives from the proper noun Catamitus, the Latinized form of Ganymede, the beautiful Trojan youth abducted by Zeus to be his companion and cupbearer...

, Bagoas
Bagoas (courtier)
Bagoas was a eunuch in the Persian Empire in the 4th Century BCE, said to have been the catamite of Darius III, and later the Eromenos of Alexander the Great.-The Famous Kiss:...

 (a different Bagoas than the unfaithful minister
Bagoas
Bagoas was a eunuch who became the vizier to Artaxerxes III. In this role, he allied himself with the Rhodian mercenary general Mentor, and with his help succeeded in once again making Egypt a province of the Persian Empire...

 mentioned above).

Further reading

  • Prevas, John. Envy of the Gods: Alexander the Great's Ill-Fated Journey across Asia. Da Capo Press, 2004.

External links