Darius, the name of several kings of the Persian empire. This great empire had its center in modern Iran, and included a vast territory to the west and east. It was founded by Cyrus the Great about 539 B.C., and lasted more than two centuries.

Darius I Hystaspis, Or Darius the Great (558?–486 B.C.)

Ruled 521–486 B.C. He belonged to the royal family, but had to seize the throne from a commoner who had usurped it. Darius organized his realm into 20 provinces, each under a satrap (governor). As a check on each of these powerful officials, Darius placed in each province a second-in-command and a general to report directly to him. Darius reformed the tax system, drew up a law code, introduced Persia's official coinage, and encouraged commerce. He built roads and reopened the canal between the Red Sea and the Nile River. He gave help to the Jews and tried to win the goodwill of his other subject peoples.

Darius extended his empire eastward to the Indus River (in modern Pakistan) and westward to Thrace (part of modern Greece). He had to fight the Scythians to keep them from breaking into his realm. He pursued them into what is now southern Russia, but his army was finally defeated. He failed also in two attempts to conquer the Greek city states. The first expedition turned back after the fleet was wrecked in a storm in 492 B.C. The second invasion was defeated by the Greeks at Marathon in 490. Darius planned a third attack, but died in 486 while putting down a revolt in Egypt.

Darius II Northus, Or Ochus (?–404 B.C.)

Ruled 424–404 B.C. He was an illegitimate son of Artaxerxes I. After the death of his father he gained power through murder. During his reign Egypt gained its independence. Darius spent much of his time putting down other revolts.

Darius III Codomannus (?–330 B.C.)

Ruled 336–331 B.C. He was a member of the royal family, and won the throne after the murders of the two preceding rulers. Darius then had to meet the invading army of Alexander the Great. His empire fell to the invader after the final Persian defeat at Arbela in 331. Darius fled eastward. He was killed by one of his men.