Darius III (Artashata) (c. 380–330 BC, Persian داریوش Dāriūš, pronounced [dɔːriˈuːʃ]) was the last king of the
Achaemenid Empire of Persia from 336 BC to 330 BC. It was under his rule that the Persian Empire was conquered
during the Wars of Alexander the Great (for more information on the name, see the entry for Darius I).
Artaxerxes III of Persia and all of his sons except one, Arses, were killed off through the assassination plots
of a Vizier named Bagoas, 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 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, 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 satraps and inhabited by
disaffected and rebellious subjects, such as Khabash 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 as its Hegemon to initiate a sacred war
of vengeance against the Persians for desecrating and burning the Athenian temples during the Second Persian War.
He sent an advance force into Asia Minor under the command of his generals Parmenion and Attalus to "liberate"
the Greeks living under Persian control. After they took the Greek cities of Asia from Troy 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, 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. 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.
Darius did not actually take the field against Alexander’s army until a year and a half after Granicus, at the
Battle of Issus 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 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 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, 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 and attempted to raise a third army,
while Alexander took possession of Babylon, Susa, and the Persian capital at Persepolis. 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 Battle of 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 Statira 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 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, Bagoas (a different Bagoas
than the unfaithful minister mentioned above).