Darius I – 510-486 BC

Monetary History of

Darius I

510-486 BC

Darius I, The Great was the son of the Persian noble Hystaspes who was a member of a royal Persian family, the Achaemenids. Darius I was born about 558 BC. Upon the death of King Cambyses II in 522 BC (his brother-in-law), Gaumata, a Magian priest, attempted to take the throne by pretending to be Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses II who was murdered about 523 BC. In 521, the battle for the throne of Persia came down to Darius I and Gaumata. In a heated battle, Gaumata was defeated and Darius I became king of Persia. He was married to Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great and Atossa bore Darius a son and successor Xerxes I.

At first, Darius I spent much of his time suppressing rebellions, the most important of which occurred in Babylonia. By the third year of his reign, Darius I went about securing the borders and instituting major internal organizational reform in his Persian empire. A major component of his reforms was to reorganized the empire into 20 satrapies, which could then be controlled more effectively. Darius I also began a major building road program and organized a postal system. Darius I also instituted a major monetary reform adopting the bi-metal system of the Asia Minor Greeks. All of his reforms were aimed at promoting commerce and economic growth. As such, the Persian economy prospered and Darius I won the goodwill of the people in the process. Darius I was even honored by the Jews, whom he permitted to complete the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem in 516 BC, due to the fact that he respected different religions.

Darius I also sought to expand the Persian Empire and as such conquered new territories along the Indus River in the east and in the Caucasus Mountains in the northeast. However, in 516 BC, Darius attempted the conquest of the tribes around the Danube River region but failed. In 499 BC, a rebellion broke out among the Ionian Greek cities in Asia Minor (Ionian Revolt), which was at least partly instigated by some of the mainland Greek cities. The Ionian Revolt was successfully suppressed in 493 BC, but it then placed Persia and Greece in direct conflict.

In 492 BC, Darius I launched an invasion of mainland Greece with an army under the command of Mardonius, his son-in-law. The Persians thus crossed the Bosporus and moved into Thrace. The invasion had to be abandoned because their supply ships were wrecked off Mount Athos, thus preventing the Persians from moving from Thrace into Greece itself. A second invasion of Greece was launched 2 years later. This time a major Persian force was sent under the joint command of Artaphernes, a nephew of Darius, and the Mede commander Datis. The Persian army invaded Greece from the north, but was defeated at the famous battle of Marathon, which resulted in the rise of Athens.

A third and final invasion was being prepared when Darius I died in 486 BC. Nonetheless, it would be his son Xerxes I (486-465 BC), who would carry out the greatest invasion of Greece in 480 BC, which marked perhaps the beginning of the end for the Persian empire. The Greek historian Herodotus gives as the combined strength of Xerxes’ land and naval forces the total number of 2,641,610 warriors. Xerxes crossed the Hellespont and moved into Thrace and then into Thessaly and Locris. At Thermopylae 300 Spartans made a courageously delayed the Persians for ten days. Xerxes then advanced into Attica and burned Athens. But at the Battle of Salamís, the Persian fleet was defeated and victory remained in the hands of the Greeks.

Note: Darius left a detailed account of his reign, inscribed in three languages on a towering rock. This Behistun Inscription, the first English transcription of which was complete in 1849, confirms many details of the life of Darius.

Monetary System


AU Daric (8.35 grams)
AU 1/12 Daric (0.69 grams)
AR Siglos (5.35 grams)
AR 1/2 Siglos (1.78 grams)

Monetary History of the World
© Martin A. Armstrong