Darius II


Darius II was the fourth Achaemenid king of kings (r. January 423-March 404 BCE), son of Artaxerxes I and a Babylonian by name of Cosmartidene. Before becoming king and adopting the throne name of Darius, he had been satrap of Hyrcania and been named Ochos, at least according to Classical sources (Ktesias FGrH 588 F15.47). His actual Old Persian name may have been either *Vauka (Schmitt, 1977, 422-23; 1982, 84) or more likely *Va(h)uš (Stolper 1985, 115; van der Spek 1993, 94 n.14). According to Ctesias (FGrH 688 F15.47-51), Darius II ascended the throne after the short reigns of two of his half-brothers, Xerxes II (425-24) and Sogdianus (424). However, no trace of these struggles has found its way into the Babylonian documentary sources of the time, suggesting that Darius ascended to the throne with Babylonian support and then had to contend with his brothers' claims (visible in increased military expenditure: Stolper 1999a, 372; Briant 2002, 588; Kuhrt 2007, 312; but cf. Diod. 11.69.6; 12.7.1; 12.64.1). The conflict seems to have involved several powerful players at court, including the wealthy Parysatis, Darius' wife and half-sister, the eunuch Pharnakyas, the prince Menostanes and the exiled eunuch Artoxares.


Darius' reign is conspicuous in the Greek sources mainly for the allegedly frequent revolts, led partly by satraps who had acquired a power base in regions where their families had ruled for generations. It is difficult to determine how unusual this level of unrest was, but it is also clear that strife between court factions weakened Darius' standing in the centre. The eunuch Artoxares, for instance, attempted a coup at an uncertain date (Ktesias FGrH 688 F15.54). Ktesias further mentions a revolt by Darius' full brother Arsites, assisted by Artyphios, son of the satrap Megabyzos, who had previously mounted a revolt during the reign of Artaxerxes I. In addition, the novelistic tale of the insubordination of Teritouchmes, married to a daughter of Darius II, may well mask a more serious threat to the throne (Ktesias FGrH 688 F15.55f.).

The crushing of a Median revolt in the core of the Empire (408/7 BCE) was followed by a successful reestablishment of Cadusian fealty in mountainous northern Iran, southwest of the Caspian Sea (405 BCE; Xen. Hell. 1.2.19; 2.1.13; cf. also Plut. Art. 24; Ktesias FGrH 688 F15.55f.; see Kuhrt 2007, 346). In the West, the revolt of the satrap Pissouthnes at Sardis was crushed by Tissaphernes (422 BCE), who took over as satrap (Ktesias FGrH 688 F15.53). With Tissaphernes' appearance in Asia Minor Persian monetary and diplomatic interference in the Aegean affairs and the Peloponnesian War intensified, eventually contributing to its end. Finally, there is tenuous evidence of unrest in Egypt in 410 BCE, though it is unlikely to have been a prelude to the successful revolt in 404 BCE (Waters 2014, 176f.).


All extant inscriptions refer to building activities, but details are scarce. They reveal little more than that Darius II built at Susa (D2Sa, c), where he continued and completed projects begun by his father (D2Sb), thus asserting his legitimacy. Another project may be attested at Ekbatana, though the authenticity of that inscription remains questionable due to its generic content and uncertain provenance (D2Ha). If authentic and intentional, its generic quality might suggest that Darius wanted to echo his namesake Darius I, and his story of greatness arising from internal strife (Lewis 1977, 78 n. 182). One of the three uninscribed tombs at Naqš-i Rustam (Tomb IV) is further ascribed to him (Schmidt 1970, 96-99), probably making him the last Achaemenid to be buried there, though the ascription is very uncertain and has been contested in favour of Tomb II (Dodson 2016, 68). The very limited historical information to be found in the inscriptions and the scarcity of other documentary information necessitates undue reliance on the badly preserved Greek sources, notably Ktesias, which seriously limits our understanding of the reign of Darius II (Sancisi-Weerdenburg 1987, 34ff.).

Death and Legacy

Darius II died at Babylon in 404 BCE (Ktesias FGrH 688 F16.57). He was survived by Parysatis, who supported her younger, purple-born son, Cyrus the Younger, in his famously unsuccessful rebellion against his brother Artaxerxes II (404-359). Besides Artaxerxes and Cyrus, many other children of Darius II are attested, though their number and names are difficult to disentangle. Ostanes, grandfather of Darius III, and Amestris, wife of the aforementioned Teritouchmes, are the most secure (Diod. 17.5.5; Plut. Art. 1.1.5).


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Henry Heitmann-Gordon

Henry Heitmann-Gordon, 'Darius II', Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions online (ARIo) Project, The ARIo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 [http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/ario/rulers/dariusii/]

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