Darius is really Persian for "Lord-King" and was applied to many of the Persian rulers; there were at least three principle rulers of the Persian Empire denoted by that name. However history suggests, and I aim to show that the Bible suggests, that none of those three are the Darius of Daniel 6, and that finding the actual Darius enables us to unpick some of the behavior we see in this chapter.
The three King Darius' known from historic literature are:
Darius I: otherwise known as Darius Hystaspes who reigned from 521BC-486BC. Spoken of in Ezr 40-7:28, Haggai, and Zechariah, as the king who renewed the permission to rebuild the temple, given to the Jews by Cyrus and afterwards recalled. He succeeded Smerdis, the Magian usurper, B. C. 521, and reigned thirty-six years. He removed the seat of government to Susa, whereupon Babylon rebelled against him; but he subdued the rebellion and broke down the walls of Babylon, as was predicted, Jer 51:58. He was also referred to as Darius the great and took part in the famous battle of Marathon.
Darius II: Otherwise known as Darius the Persian or Darius Ochos. He reigned from 423-404BC.
Darius III: Otherwise known as Darius Codomannus who reigned from 336BC-330BC and was defeated in battle on a number of occasions by Alexander the Great.
Clearly none of these three could be the Darius of Daniel 6 who we know was 62 in 538BC.
So if Darius the King wasn't actually a king called Darius then who was he?
The Power Bible Commentators generally favor Cyaxares II, the uncle and father in law of Cyrus. Under this scheme Cyrus was actually the powerhouse yet he allowed Darius to have the title to appease the Medes. This is certainly the line of XENOPHON and has much to commend it.
However, Dan 9:1 bothers me, "In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans". If Darius really were ruler of the empire why would he just refer to the Chaldeans? Also why would he call himself son of Ahasuerus if he were son of Astyges whom everyone would have known? Moreover, how does his first year of reign and Cyrus' third match up? A solution to the difficulties mentioned is provided in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible and alluded to in Easton's. The suggestion is that Gubaru, the leader of the army that took Babylon and the administrator who then ran Babylon and appointed administrators is Darius the Mede.
To me this fits squarely with the statement in 5:31 that he took Babylon and with 9:1 that he received it. He took it as a leader of an army, and received it as a vassal of Cyrus.
I think Daniel 6 also shows several signs that we are dealing here with an administrator rather than a born king:
I think that looking at things from this angle we also see that the appointment of Daniel would have infuriated the other leaders for a number of reasons:
In conclusion, the truth is we cannot categorically state whom Darius the Mede was. Sometimes we have to accept that the Bible is a little ahead of us and it will take time for archaeology to catch up.
I believe that it was probably the administrator Gubaru and I have shown that this theory certainly fits with the biblical information we have.
Perhaps the lesson we can draw is this: -
We don't know Darius' pedigree or his right to his position, what the Bible records is what he did, and actions speak louder than titles. His character was a little weak and non-committal and thus he didn't leave enough of a mark for us to really know what he was. If someone had written down all that we had done this year would people know unequivocally that we were born again disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ or would some poor student be trying to piece together fragmentary and inconclusive evidence?