Scholars do not recognize an intermediate monarch between the Babylonian Nabonidus/Belshazzar and Cyrus when the latter took Babylon in 539 BC. But before dismissing the Book of Daniel there are several options to consider. This article argues that Darius the Mede is another name for Cyrus the Great.
I. Cyrus the Great
I.A. Ancient Near Eastern name changes
The power behind names and changing them in ancient society isn't to be underestimated. An article from the UCLA Historical Journal tells us:
The changing of a person's name during life was a very common practice throughout virtually all of the ancient world. Significantly...the change of name occurred as the result of some important change in the person's status in society or before the gods...Although these name changes appear to have been largely informal as well as optional, they clearly served to distinguish the old person from the new or to accent the new life into which the person was entering. [Seymour, p.114]
He gives some well-known biblical examples such as Abram-Abraham (Gen. 17:5) and Jacob-Israel (Gen. 32:28). He also cites numerous name changes of Mesopotamian as well as Israelite kings upon accession - a very important for us point (e.g. Eliakim-Jehoiakim, Mattaniah-Zedekiah changed by Nebuchadnezzar) [Seymour, p.115; and the throne names the Persians themselves took (Darius, (Arta)Xerxes) are well-known] The same occurs with, for example, Simon's new name from Jesus - Peter. James and John are called Boanerges. Paul was originally Saul and so on.
This is the case with Sargon of Akkad, whose name means "The King is Legitimate," adopted to legitimize his rule because he usurped the throne of Kish. [Seymour, p.115] In addition, very importantly, Seymour writes:
It is known that when Tiglath-Pileser took the throne of Babylon in 728 b.c., he also took a new name, "Pulu," by which he was known in that city. Similarly, when Ashurbanipal took the Babylonian throne in 618 b.c., it was under the name "Kandalanu." Perhaps, unlike the normal succession of an established dynasty's heirs, the imposition of a foreign dynasty upon the Babylonian throne may have represented a break in political continuity significant enough to require the new king to have a special name in dealing with his new role and subjects. [Seymour, p.115]
I.B. Court Nicknames
Perhaps Darius the Mede was a nickname Daniel gave Cyrus. This is quite possible, even for Daniel to write Cyrus' name as "Darius the Mede" in his book. For example, Charlemagne's friends referred to him as "David" and he had nicknames for them too: Einhard, his biographer (Vita Caroli), was "Bezaleel," while the famous scholar Alcuin was "Flaccus". [Thorpe, Lewis. Einhard and Notker the Stammerer: Two Lives of Charlemagne (1969). Penguin Books. pp.13-14] This was true even in Charlemagne's official correspondence. [Ep. ad regem 85: "Beseleel, vester immo et noster familiaris adiutor...", Thorpe, ibid., p.173, n.16, who notes (p.174) that there were twenty such individuals with court nicknames by Charlemagne] Even long after the death of Charlemagne, who gave Einhard the nickname, in 829 Walahfrid Strabo calls Einhard "Bezaleel", while the poem's title is De Einharto Magno (vv.1-4)!
Daniel himself had a Babylonian court name, "Belteshazzar", and so did his three friends (whose names have been found). So no cuneiform evidence would be needed, because Cyrus would obviously use his official name in official documents, like Charlemagne did. If that's the case, the only question would be why Daniel (or someone) picked the name Darius the Mede. But that's a question only Daniel or the Persian court of Cyrus can answer. There are many possibilities, like a real or pretend (for politics and peace) connection to Media. It would be strangely coincidental for Cyrus to refer to himself as Darius before Darius I, so if historical, this would be a private nickname Daniel would have given him.
This is essentially what Jeremiah does, the only source to do so (which 2 Kings and 1 Chronicles follow), by calling Jehoahaz "Shallum", as well as Jehoiachin "Jeconiah/Coniah". Dio Cassius refers to the emperor Caracalla as Tarautas, an infamously vicious gladiator of the day, because of Caracalla's alleged bloodthristy character. An even more matching example is with the emperor Elagabalus:
As a private citizen, he was probably named Sextus Varius Avitus Bassianus. Upon becoming emperor he took the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He was called Elagabalus only after his death. [The first known instance is in the Chronography of 354, over 100 years later]
This doesn't mean Daniel must've lived generations after Cyrus, as we see it could be from a contemporary (Dio Cassius) or later. Similarly, in the tribute list for 802-796 BC of Adad-Nirari III, king of Assyria (811-783 BC), we hear of tribute from a "Mari', king of Damascus." Shuichi Hasegawa writes:
The name does not appear in the Aramaic inscriptions or the Bible. Mari's identification can therefore be determined only upon chronological consideration. Hazael's death and Ben-Hadad's enthronement must have preceded 804/3 BCE, the date of the Zakkur Stela where Ben-Hadad is mentioned. Hence, Hazael cannot be a candidate for Mari's identification. The old suggestion of identifying Mari' with the successor of Ben-Hadad cannot be excluded, but more plausible is to regard Mari' as a hypocoristicon [nickname] of the king's real name, and Ben-Hadad as a throne name. Māri', meaning "my Lord" in West Semitic, probably formed a part of the real name of Ben-Hadad, son of Hazael. [Hasegawa, S. Aram and Israel During the Jehuite Dynasty (2012), p.119]
Possibly Daniel gave this name to Cyrus for Cyrus' accession year (from conquest of Babylon until Nisan/Tishri 1, 538 BC), similar to the struggle Babylonian scribes of the time had to date their documents in this interim period. [Shea, p.248]
I.C. Why "Darius the Mede, son of Xerxes"?
Perhaps Daniel didn't see Cyrus the way later Jews did, having known him personally. For one, prices immediately skyrocketed under him, compared with Nebuchadnezzar and the early years of Nabonidus when the quality of life reached unprecedented heights, especially due to Persian taxation. [Waerzeggers and Seire (eds). Xerxes and Babylonia (Peeters, 2018), pp.22-26] There seems to be a coolness towards him, shared by his attitude toward Nebuchadnezzar and other monarchs (Dan. 5:16-17). Maybe age and experience made him realize all despots were the same, usually on the side of death and destruction. As much as Napoleon is remembered for the Napoleonic Code and his well-treatment (comparatively for the time) of Jews, those close to him knew he was a capricious tyrant and were afraid of him to the point of not daring to beat him at chess! Cyrus was certainly not a stranger to propaganda and tried to cover up massacres against the Babylonians.
In that light, Darius the Mede could be a minor slight: not Cyrus, but Darius and his vast empire; not of Persia but a Mede. Son of Xerxes would allude to Darius' descendant, perhaps Daniel's way of saying who's greater by reversing the order of monarchs. From the internal evidence Daniel likely did not see the end of Cyrus' reign into Darius'. Certainly not Xerxes' which would make him over 100 years old. But he is a prophet who knows of them (Dan. 11:2-3). Or it could have been a redactor of his who organized his notes, similarly to Jeremiah's editing from his Babylonian source in chapter 52 and/or Baruch himself. Hence why Daniel is in the third person a lot of the time. The slights could have been changed to "Darius" and "Xerxes" during the reign of Xerxes. Or maybe they weren't slights and alluded and connected Cyrus to his two great successors. Therefore, the original court name or perhaps personal nickname Daniel had for Cyrus could've been different.
Darius, son of Xerxes (Dan. 9:2) can easily be a descriptive name to signify Cyrus as a conqueror like Darius I and Xerxes I, under whose reigns the Achaemenid Empire reached its territorial zenith.
Maybe a literary device to signify the Medo-Persian nature of the empire, attested by the near-equality between Persian and Median nobles (e.g. the Persepolis Reliefs of Darius I). The stress would be on Cyrus' matrilineal lineage, as his mother was Median according to Herodotus; but it's not necessary for Cyrus to be a direct descendant of a Mede, any more than for him to have had the name Darius - these literary devices could have been employed to show the dual nature of the new, Medo-Persian empire. Both from Herodotus (Histories 7.11) and the Behistun Inscription we know that one could trace the monarch's lineage from the mother (or wife) when relevant. Whether Darius invented this royal lineage in the Behistun Inscription or not doesn't matter: everyone would've known he wasn't connected to Cyrus by blood and could only include him as a predecessor in his "dynasty" by marriage to his daughter, Atossa.
The emphasis on Darius the Mede (never called king of Media as Wiseman notes, but I feel this is speculative) is contrasted with Cyrus the Persian. The fact that Nabonidus refers to a "king of Media" in 546 BC, which must be Cyrus [Shea, p.240], means a Babylonian official like Daniel could've easily seen him as a Mede first and Persian second (Persia being one province that was ruled by Cyrus and his father in their kingdom, but later became a name of their whole kingdom). I have found no evidence that the name "Darius" could've been a title or a (Median) throne name. Son of "Xerxes", Shea suggests refers to his grandfather Cyaxares I, perhaps because he and the Babylonian Nabopolassar together conquered Nineveh [Shea, p.253]. Cyrus was known as king of Persia in his day, so Daniel must be distinguishing him by the name "Darius the Mede" (not Cyrus the Mede) for some reason, whether personal, factual (e.g. chronological), or symbolic.
There's nothing to speak for or against the theory that it was the angels who called him this and Daniel was in some places following their lead, which makes it too speculative of any use (cf. Jer. 20:3-4). Daniel must've consciously used the nickname if it was one, or he would've used only one name out of habit and consistency, as well as to avoid confusion, if the name change wasn't intentional on his part.
I.D. Internal Evidence
At first, Dan. 6:28 seems to distinguish the two rulers. But D.J. Wiseman points out that the grammar doesn't differentiate them, but is an explanatory reiteration of two different names for the same person for clarity's sake, just like 1 Chronicles 5:26 and other examples do (e.g. Gen. 4:23, Joshua 5:4). [Wiseman, p.12; Gesennius, Hebrew Grammar, § 154a-1b] The objection that Daniel 6:28 is Aramaic, whereas 1 Chron. 5:26 is Hebrew is irrelevant - this type of expression wasn't only limited to Hebrew, which is a very close relative to Aramaic, and is presumably an accurate translation. [Wiseman, p.12, n.21] Moreover, an author who knew both Hebrew and Aramaic could translate (or in this case write) into Aramaic the Hebrew, as does the Targum of Lamentations 3:16-18. [Alexander, Philip S. The Targum of Lamentations (2007), p.147, n.27]
The plural "kings of Persia" in Daniel 10:13 can't be used to suggest that Cyrus is at least the second Persian king, along with Darius the Mede, because Darius isn't considered a Persian if we are to take him literally as another king (Dan. 9:1). The whole prophecy in that chapter refers to the line of Persian kings as the silent skip from Xerxes I to Darius III's day in Dan. 11:2 vs 11:3ff (also 10:20 makes it seem like this will happen in Cyrus' day - such is the nature of expression sometimes, especially in prophetic writings).
Steven Anderson says that Daniel presents the reigns of Darius and Cyrus consecutively throughout the book, which means he intended two separate individuals. [Darius the Mede: A solution to his identity] But Daniel's book is far from consecutive. Chapter 6 begins the stories with Darius the Mede, but Chapter 7 relates a vision in the first year of Belshazzar (7:1), and Chapter 8 in his third (8:1). Cyrus is actually mentioned only three times by name and alluded to by the angel a couple of times in chapter 10, so it's rather hard to see how Daniel is producing any kind of strict sequence with Cyrus and Darius the Mede. Cyrus is actually tantalizingly mentioned before Darius the Mede as a sort of fast-forward flashback in 1:21. Aside from the reference in 6:28, there's nothing to suggest any kind of consecutive progression.
One little curiosity is that Daniel remains in Babylon until the first year of Cyrus (Dan. 1:21), not Darius the Mede. If he needed relocation, why wasn't this done under Darius, if he's a separate ruler? Why does Cyrus move him if he didn't need it? But I feel this is too speculative. Perhaps Cyrus reassigned him, or perhaps Daniel moved, maybe because of a personal dislike of Cyrus; he doesn't seem to fawn over his achievements, which are well-known as exaggerated propaganda that Daniel would've easily detected, given that much of it are smoothed over borderline lies.
I.E. Cyrus' Age
The age of Cyrus the Great (aka Cyrus II) matches the age of Darius the Mede given in Dan. 5:31 as 62. There is a slight kink in that Cyrus' father, Cambyses I, is sometimes given a birthdate in c.600 BC because of the fact that his brother Ariaramnes was the grandfather of Darius I who was born c.550 BC. This would make Ariaramnes and presumably also Cambyses I born c.610 BC. But there's no need to make them contemporaries, and the evidence actually contradicts such a suggestion, necessitating an older age for both Cambyses I and Cyrus II. [Encyclopedia Iranica: CYRUS ii. Cyrus I] His grandfather, Cyrus I is noted as a king who paid homage to Assurbanipal in 639 BC. This means Cyrus I couldn't have been born much later than 660 BC. Even if that's not Cyrus I, Cambyses I must've begun reigning by 600 BC, as that's about the end date of the reign of his father. [Encyclopedia Iranica: Ariyaramna] If he was old enough to rule by 600 BC, Cyrus could've been born around then - 602/1 BC (Daniel 5:31 if Cyrus=Darius the Mede).
In addition, Cicero, citing Dinon (4th century BC), mentions that Cyrus died at 70, having begun his reign at 40. [Loeb Classical Library, Cicero: De Divinatione (Vol. XX, 1923), I 23.46] This actually contradicts Daniel by at least one year because Cyrus began his reign in 559 BC, which means he would've been born 600/599 BC. If so, he couldn't have been older than 60/61 when Babylon fell. But of course, Cicero's source cannot be taken this literally or accurately. The numbers are obviously rounded, and Cyrus technically reigned a little over 29 and a half years: from Nisan 1 (April 14), 559 BC - (presumably) early December 530 BC. On the other hand, if we presume Dinon to be 200% accurate, it could be Daniel who was rounding. According to Dinon, Cyrus' birthday must've been past March/April (Nisan 1), for him to be 40 when beginning his reign, and 70 at its end, 29 years later. The fall of Babylon occurred in October, so it could've been close enough to it. At any rate, Cyrus certainly wasn't something like 40 at the fall of Babylon, which would be a genuine problem for this theory.
Steven Anderson objects to this by saying that Herodotus [1.123], Xenophon [Cyropaedia, 1.5.4], and cuneiform evidence [by this he means only the Dream Text of Nabonidus] describe Cyrus as a young man when he begins his attack on the Medes in the 550's, implying an age of no more than 40-45 at the fall of Babylon. [Darius the Mede: A solution to his identity]
He objects to the evidence from Cicero by saying that Dinon wasn't meant to be a strictly historical chronicle. Cicero was merely interested in the dreams described without ascribing any kind of historical reliability to his source.
But the problems outweigh these conclusions. It is true that Herodotus and Xenophon agree in making Cyrus a young man when he begins the war with Media. But in Herodotus' case, this is part of his Cyrus legend regarding his origins and childhood; the story's flow doesn't allow Cyrus to be any older. This legend is so pervasive for Herodotus here, that he denies Cyrus' father, Cambyses, to have been a king merely to fit the stereotypical eastern legend about a great king with obscure, unimportant origins. [Encyclopedia Iranica. Cyrus According to Herodotus] If anything, Herodotus assumed this age for him. As for Xenophon, it's strange that Anderson casts doubt on Dinon for exactly the same reasons that make the Cyropaedia untrustworthy, especially on such minor details, which he unconvincingly defends as more historical than should be taken as we've noted.
It is true that Dinon seems to have "composed his work for readers with a taste for fabulous, strange, and erotic elements." [Encyclopedia Iranica, Dinon] But he certainly attempted to be historical where he could for the purpose of his work (like Xenophon). He was in the same vein as Ctesias, whom he continuated. And although the latter enjoyed a poor reputation among the ancients, Dinon didn't. This may not mean much, but it means he couldn't have been some kind of complete fabulist. If one had to compare Xenophon's Cyropaedia and Dinon's work, which are contemporaneous, the scales should weigh more toward Dinon because of the latter's more probable access to sources in preparation of his work, evidenced by the ancient popularity, which should support historicity unlike the modern (and ancient) assessment of Ctesias. This bigger reliability specifically on Cyrus' age would be the case seeing some of Herodotus' more gossipy legends such as I.123. If Ctesias claimed to use official archives and Dinon built upon his work, it's more likely that Dinon is correct about Cyrus' age than either Herodotus or especially Xenophon.
As for the Dream Text or Sippar Cylinder of Nabonidus, according to some translations the relevant text says:
...when the third year came to pass...he (Marduk) made rise against them Cyrus, king of Anshan, his young servant, and he (Cyrus) scattered the numerous Ummān-manda with his small army and captured Astyages... [L. Oppenheim in H. Tadmor, "The Inscriptions of Nabunaid: Historical Arrangement," Assyriological Studies 16 (Chicago, 1965), p.351; emphasis mine of course]
This makes Cyrus be a "young servant" when he attacked the Medes in 553/0 BC, and so an age of younger than 40 is inferred, making him no older than ~50 at the fall of Babylon 11-14 years later. There are many copies of the source for this (at least 75!). Other translations have it say "second in rank" instead of "young servant". [Livius.org: Nabonidus Cylinder from Sippar] Anderson himself notes that there is uncertainty as to the meaning of the phrase and whether it refers to the relationship between Cyrus and Marduk.
But how impossible is it for Nabonidus to call a ~40-45 year old Cyrus, a young man? The Dream Text was written c.541 BC. Nabonidus himself must've been over 70 because his mother, Addagoppe of Harran, was around 100 when she died (born c.648 BC by her own autobiography: Addagoppe of Harran). One cannot brush this aside as an entirely fictional autobiography. Aside from a kernel of truth it must contain, Nabonidus' mother must've been of a very advanced age. She dies in Nabonidus' 9th year (=547 BC) according to the Nabonidus Chronicle. Belshazzar mourns with the army, and if Belshazzar has been in charge of Babylon since his father's leave to Taima 6 years earlier, he must be close to 30 in Nabonidus' 9th year, making him close to 40 when Cyrus takes Babylon 8 years later with the Dream Text written within a year or two prior. This would make Nabonidus his father at least ~60-70 when referring to a 45 year old Cyrus (since Nabonidus is writing in 541 BC about an event 12-15 years earlier). Nabonidus was likely older than this, especially if the Labynetus who mediated peace in Nebuchadnezzar's 20th year (585 BC) in Herodotus is a corruption of Nabonidus. [Raymond Philip Dougherty, Nabonidus and Belshazzar (2008), pp.34ff.] There is nothing implausible about this. And Nabonidus may not have known or remembered Cyrus' actual age anyway, but merely known that he was younger by quite a bit in his day, let alone over 10 years earlier.
Moreover, for Belshazzar to play a pivotal role in his father's accession in 556 BC, he must've been at least ~25, or he wouldn't have been experienced enough to be so central and would've probably been marginalized by his co-conspirators who were part of the old Babylonian aristocracy, whereas he wasn't. [Albertz, Rainer (2003). Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E. Society of Biblical Literature. ISBN 9781589830554. p.63] This would make his birth no later than 580 BC, and his father's no later than c.610 BC. At this point, the two inscriptions at Harran that say Nabonidus' mother was born in the 20th year of Ashurbanipal (=648 BC) can't be disregarded, which would make Nabonidus' birth quite supported as no later than c.620 BC, making him 80 years old when referring to Cyrus as a "young man" of ~45 or even 50. Albertz notes [ibid., p.64] that Nabonidus must've been at least 60 when he ascended the throne in 556 BC, making him ~75+ when the Dream Verse was written c.541 BC.
I.F. Received the Kingdom
In Daniel 5:31 Darius "receives" the kingdom, and in 9:1 he "was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans". How could this apply to Cyrus who took the whole thing over? As George Rawlinson put it, writing over a hundred years ago,
No one would say of Alexander the Great, when he conquered Darius Codomannus, that he "was made king over Persia." The expression implies the reception of a kingly position by one man from the hands of another. [George Rawlinson, Egypt and Babylon from Sacred and Profane Sources (1885), p.90]
William Shea too struggles to explain this by having Cyrus being "handed/receiving" the kingdom as from his general Gubaru, or generally ascribing it to the complexities of events in 539-538 BC, including Cambyses II's brief coregency. [Shea, p.250] But this is how scribes wrote. For example, when Mithradates the Great of Parthia took Babylonia in 141 BC, the sources say, "Arsaces, appointed great king". [Astronomical Diaries III, p.134, no.-140A rev.9 - cite from Livius - "Arsaces VI, Mithradates I the Great"] Note, he used the name of the founder of the Parthians, Arsaces I, as a title on his coins, and the sources like this one also call him by the same. The expression probably intends "appointed" from a divine power, like in Daniel: given a kingdom by God's power, who can also take it away (Dan. 2:21, etc).
Another possibility from the Wiki on Bel and the Dragon (n.5):
In the Greek version that has survived, the verb form parelaben is a diagnostic Aramaism, reflecting Aramaic qabbel which here does not mean "receive" but "succeed to the Throne" [F. Zimmermann, "Bel and the Dragon" Vetus Testamentum 8.4 (October 1958), p. 440]
In this case it would be Cyrus/Darius "succeeding" the previous Babylonian king, Belshazzar, which is how Cyrus, like previous conquerors of Babylon as we noted, painstakingly presents his usurpation in the Cyrus Cylinder and other cuneiform anyway.
The point is moot since whether Darius the Mede is Cyrus or not, Daniel clearly believed he took over the Babylonian regime and wasn't "handed it over" from any previous ruler in any literal sense as a successor. And so the phrase is certainly only an expression.
I.G. Other Evidence
Ancient Jewish writers of the post-Exilic era were quite knowledgeable about the general history of the Persian and Babylonian empires. One of the non-canonical writings found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Testament of Nabonidus (50 BC) has such accurate information about Nabonidus that Michael E. Stone speculates the author might've had reliable, early information. [Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (Fortress Press: 1984), p.36] The author of Bel and the Dragon himself knows the Median ruler who preceded Cyrus was Astyages (1:1 = Dan. 14:1). So again, it's unlikely Daniel intended for an intermediate ruler between Belshazzar and Cyrus, especially an otherwise unattested one and with a Persian name (when every educated author, even a fabulist, who knew of Belshazzar, for example, would've known Astyages was a Mede and who the Medes were). It is strange that C. C. Torrey notes that,
...The simple fact is this, that according to the accepted view of the Jewish scholars and writers, in the Greek period and still later, a kingdom of the Medes preceded that of the Persians, and Darius I Hystaspis [Darius the Mede] was the monarch of this Median kingdom. Aside from this one important error, the Jewish writers made no mistake in regard to the Persian kings, but everywhere preserved their true order. [Torrey, p.178, n.1]
Yet later claims that Daniel made an error by equating Xerxes I with Darius III based on Dan. 11:2-3. [Torrey, p.185] No author, even in the 2nd century BC, could've mistaken anyone else for Xerxes I, who was extremely well-known because of Herodotus amongst others. Xerxes I actually stirred up Persia against Greece unlike Darius III who never made any attempt to invade the Greeks. Nor did any Persian king following Xerxes himself, who gave up the idea even when the Greeks liberated Ionia at the Battle of Mycale (479 BC) - the very intention that got Darius I mixed up with them in the first place. To suppose this is a euphemism in that Alexander the Great was stirred up in the reign of this king is a very poor interpretation in this case. The correct number of kings between Cyrus and Xerxes I (Dan. 11:2) shows that Daniel was knowledgeable, as Torrey admits of Jewish writers. There is an unmentioned skip between Dan. 11:2 and 3, just like in Dan. 10:20, which if interpreted as pedantically as Torrey's reading, would mean Alexander the Great appeared in Cyrus' day.
Perhaps the Jewish writers of those times presupposed a Median kingdom between Babylon and Persia, as well as Darius the Mede/Darius I Hystaspis, because of their reliance on and incorrect interpretation of Daniel? They know something as specific as every Persian king in his correct order, even Astyages (Bel and the Dragon; Josephus), but they don't know about a Median kingdom not existing between Babylon and Persia, even if it's for a few years (some of the Persian emperors reigned less than a year, such as Smerdis, yet he's perfectly known (Dan. 11:2)). It's clear Bel and the Dragon, Baruch, and Josephus were dependent upon Daniel. The last of these mentions Darius the Mede, but changes his father's name to Astyages, who was known as the previous Median king that Cyrus succeeded (e.g. Bel and the Dragon).
If the dual names reflect these ideas we could perhaps explain the mysterious Cyaxares II of Xenophon's Cyropaedia. If, like Augustus and many Roman emperors with the name Caesar, Cyrus wanted to connect himself to the Medes with as little friction as possible and took some kind of nickname or (Median) throne name such as Cyaxares (like Astyages' father), some foreigner could've easily mixed the story up as him being a different king. Perhaps this is how the Greek legend from Aeschylus down to Xenophon spread: this is, at any rate, what scholars think of the Greek tradition in Herodotus and Xenophon who claim Cyrus took Babylon by a siege. [Beaulieu, Paul-Alain. The Reign of Nabonidus, King of Babylon, 556-539 B.C. (1990), p. 226] Xenophon might have been to Persia (briefly), but he clearly inserts Greek thinking into the Cyropaedia, such as the Persian education's emphasis on the centrally-held Greek value of temperance (Book I, 2.8).
Some ancient sources seem to equate Darius the Mede with Cyrus, lending support to the reading of the Hebrew text of Dan. 6:28 as a waw explanatory, not consecutive. The story of Bel and the Dragon, for example, where it's Cyrus who throws Daniel in the lion's den. [Miller, p.176] Miller also notes that the LXX and Theodotion for Daniel 11:1 have it say Cyrus. [Miller, p.176] It's possible this second case was the LXX's occasional correction of its Hebrew source in that one specific place (Darius the Mede is still mentioned, e.g. Dan. 5:31).
On the other hand, The Story of the Three Youths changes the area it interpolated from Cyrus to Darius, but not for this reason: the author meant Darius I (=Darius II Nothis). [Torrey, p.178] This change from Cyrus to Darius also reflects how simplistic and unrealistic the 2nd century forgeries could be (especially Bel and the Dragon) compared to Daniel. They try to simplify (e.g. Dariuses become Cyruses, and vice versa) unlike Daniel, which makes better sense for a Babylonian official. But in the major details such as the order of Persian kings, none of them can be faulted, as Torrey admits; so again, it's strange that Daniel should've thought of a Darius the Mede (whom he didn't overtake from tradition apparently), and/or invented him. He would've been in a position to have enough sources to know that a king like this didn't exist, and it's not an unverifiable claim.
The suggestion that Jewish legendary memory had Darius I be placed before Cyrus is ridiculous not only because of the evidence in other Old Testament books Daniel would've known if written in the second century BC, but also because Dan. 11:2 knows of the 3 Persian kings between Cyrus and Xerxes I, and one of these must have been Darius I. This is aptly shown by The Story of the Three Youths which, obviously based on other Old Testament passages, changes mentions of Cyrus to Darius I in their (well-known and later) connection to Zerubbabel; and this work was written in the early 2nd century BC. [Torrey, pp.177-8]
For more information, see the Wiki: Gobryas
Gobryas was Cyrus' general who took Babylon in the summer of 539 BC. Since Cyrus wasn't present, he was installed instead until the former's actual arrival in October of the same year. Some suppose this could explain the mysterious Darius the Mede between Belshazzar and Cyrus. Here are the main points of support:
- governor (same word as "king") of Babylon at this time
- installed leaders to govern over all Babylon (BM 35382) (Dan. 6:1)
- inscriptions cite him as the final authority in the region
- was old enough to pass away soon after the fall, which could make him 62 years old (cf. Dan. 5:31)
- Darius was a title meaning "Holder of the Scepter" (=King)
Intriguing, but a closer look evaporates this attractiveness. Gobryas was a temporary, military governor of the city and new territories; not some kind of unofficial or impermanent co-regent of Cyrus'. His authority was not unlimited. He was no ruler of the entire empire as the decrees in Dan. 6:8-9, 25-26 need him to be. He was simply the highest authority figure installed there until Cyrus arrived, regardless of the fact that the word for ruler and governor is interchangeable, or that inscription cite him as the final authority. In that sense he was a "ruler" or temporary governor (and later a permanent one by appointment). And he certainly couldn't have made the decrees in Cyrus' stead, even if the latter approved of their content somehow.
If Cyrus was at pains to vilify Nabonidus as he does in the Nabonidus Chronicle, it's unlikely he would've given such authority to one of his generals for no reason with the possible effect of having an usurper. Belisarius was sacked by a jealous Justinian for much less and under much more justifiable conditions. As Tony Bath observes why Antiochus III didn't go along with Hannibal's clever plan in the Greek campaign, "Antiochus himself was a typical Eastern tyrant [ie monarch], afraid to entrust anyone with overmuch power lest it was turned against him". [Tony Bath, Hannibal's Campaigns (1992), p.127]
Regarding "Darius" being a title, George Rawlinson over 100 years ago objected saying, "how are we to understand the expression "King Darius," which occurs in ch. vi. 6, 9, 25? Does it mean "king, king"?" [Rawlinson, George. Egypt and Babylon from Sacred and Profane Sources (1885), p.90] This objection is a little obtuse and reminds one of comical objections to using Leonardo Da Vinci as a name for the famous Renaissance thinker because "Da Vinci" simply means "from Vinci"! Clearly etymology and denotation do not determine connotation. But for a Median king to have used a Persian title is, of course, absurd; it must've been a joking slight from Daniel, much like the suggestion of the change of Nebuchadnezzar's name in the same book from the original Nebuchadrezzar. Rawlinson does admit that Cyrus could've given a Median such authority that could equal a king, something that explains the Persepolis Reliefs. [Rawlinson, p.90]
At any rate, the cuneiform name only Cyrus as a king, until his son, Cambyses II, briefly became co-regent as king of Babylon in 538 BC. So there is no room for Gobryas/Gubaru.
III. Cyaxares II
For more information, see the Wiki: Cyaxares II
This idea has Darius the Mede be a hypothetical Median king called Cyaxares II. Taken mainly from Xenophon's Cyropaedia, instead of a Persian conquest of Media in the 550's BC, the Medes and Persians formed an alliance in a sort of dual monarchy where Cyaxares II was the main regent with Cyrus like a Crown Prince. Perhaps something similar to the Austro-Hungarian Empire; or the situation in the Hundred Years' War where the crown would pass to Henry V after the death of Charles VI of France - though this was only after a war between England and France, which could perhaps explain the wars of conquest mentioned by the contradictory evidence.
Most scholars do not accept this person to have ever existed:
- Herodotus, the Cyrus Cylinder, and the Nabonidus Chronicle tell us Cyrus conquered the Medes, meaning no Median king between Belshazzar and Cyrus
- Babylonian documents are dated only to Cyrus and no one else, allowing no one named "Darius the Mede"
- Xenophon could be confusing the alleged successor and son of Astyages', Cyaxares (II) with his father, who was also called Cyaxares.
The responses to the above aren't without merit:
- The Cyrus Cylinder and Nabonidus Chronicle are heavily biased sources, albeit accurate and authentic for much. Cyrus could've easily omitted any reference to the Median kingdom to solidify his rule, just as he vilifies Nabonidus; Darius and Xerxes I both make up many things for similar, much smaller reasons (including possibly the death of the successor to the throne after Cambyses II)
Herodotus says he had four versions of how Cyrus ascended the throne and he probably picked the official Persian account, which would be inaccurate if it was propaganda. Either way, he's probably not an independent source, and he's occasionally wrong about such smaller details (e.g. makes Darius' father, Hystaspes, to have been governor of Persis, whereas he was of Bactria)
The Babylonians would've considered Cyrus as their king, since he was the one who physically appeared in Babylon, much like how his general Gobryas was temporarily in command of the city until he arrived. The king of the Medians, being old, probably was easily marginalized other than official decrees and such, even if physically present in Babylon.
Additionally, it's possible that tablets bearing Darius the Mede's name have been assigned to any of the subsequent Dariuses.
Xenophon isn't necessarily confusing Cyaxares II with Astyages' father (Cyaxares I), because many kings' names were repeated or imitated (Darius I, II, III; Xerxes/Artaxerxes); Cyrus' son was named Cambyses just like his father, and Cyrus' own grandfather was also Cyrus (Cyrus I, Cambyses I, Cyrus II (the Great), Cambyses II).
These scenarios are possible enough to my mind, except the issue with the Babylonian Tablets. If Darius the Mede was present, and was important enough for those envious of Daniel to seek him and not Cyrus to make decrees, it's unlikely that anyone would've issued tablets in Cyrus' Year 1 instead of his. If he wasn't in Babylon, but stayed in Ecbatana in Media, then we disagree with Daniel where the two have a close personal relationship. One can suppose that historically Daniel could be wrong on this point, but the overall strength of the Babylonian tablets remains. Nor could any of the other tablets identified as one of the three subsequent Dariuses be of any Darius the Mede, because there is no time for this, let alone a Year 1 for this intermediate regent. Cyrus couldn't have ever so quietly and peacefully replaced and erased his senior co-regent if the latter was still alive and had the power. Did Darius basically give Cyrus all the power and authority (contrary to Daniel)...almost as if he didn't exist...? He's just not presented this way in Daniel, who would've been knowledgeable enough to know he didn't wield any power if he actually knew of him and he actually existed.
On the other hand, the arguments for the existence of Cyaxares II are as follows:
- Xenophon's Cyropedia has been proven to be quite accurate on many details and shouldn't be automatically discredited
- Herodotus mentions that Astyages, whom Cyrus fought according to him, gave his daughter in marriage to Cyrus. This makes more sense as friendship if not alliance, not conquest
- The Harran Stele, made after the alleged conquest of Media by Cyrus, mentions a king of Media
- The Persepolis Reliefs made by Darius I show Median noblemen as equals with the Persians, contrary to a Persian conquest
- Aeschylus mentions Median kings, a father and son, who along with Cyrus forged a Medo-Persian alliance that attacked its enemies
- Eusebius cites an epitomizer of Berossus who mentions a contemporaneous with Cyrus king called Darius
- Valerius Harpocration, a 2nd century Roman lexicographer, when giving an origin for the Persian gold coin, the daric, says that its name derived not from Darius I as everyone assumed, but from "another, more ancient king of the same name"
- Darius I was an usurper and would've taken a name a previous king had - hence indirect proof for a previous Darius; the same with his son Xerxes (cf. Dan. 9:1), and these kings were all followed by Dariuses/(Arta)Xerxes, which would support this
- Two Median rebels under Darius I claimed lineage from Cyaxares (not Astyages) in the Behistun Inscription
Again, these arguments aren't very attractive to me. Herodotus is quite simply vindicated by the cuneiform evidence as we mentioned above. Steven Anderson supposes an unmentioned coregency. [Darius the Mede: A solution to his identity] This is not only unconvincing, but contradicts his thesis that Cyaxares II was the senior regent in the co-regency. And this isn't royal propaganda which the Cyrus Cylinder and Nabonidus Chronicle among others certainly contain. These are cuneiform tablets from Babylonians dated to his reign starting in October 539 BC. This is what actually led a shift from equating Xenophon's Cyaxares II with Darius the Mede to denying the former's existence in the late 19th century. Both Xenophon and Aeschylus obviously reflect the same tradition, but if Herodotus knew of four different versions of Cyrus' accession, clearly they picked the wrong one.
The cite from Berossus is probably not original, because Josephus quotes the same exact fragment (Against Apion I.20) and mentions nothing of the sort. Valerius Harpocration's mention is obvious hearsay and a pure legend if for no other reason than the fact that the daric was certainly first minted under Darius I in his own honor, [Herodotus, 4.166] and he admits everyone thought this. Nor does he suppose this to be a Darius the Mede of 539 BC, but presumably just some previous Darius of who knows when.
As for the indirect evidence, the Median king mentioned in the Harran Stele is generally taken to refer to Cyrus. The fact that it mentions Medes and not Persians could've been Babylonian indifference that a Persian takeover occurred, since Persia/Anshan was the smaller kingdom as the Dream Text of Nabonidus tells us.
The Median rebels mentioned in the Behistun Inscription said they were of the "family/dynasty of Cyaxares". They must be referring to Cyaxares I, father and predecessor of Astyages, who was a much more powerful and well-known Median king. They might not have even been direct descendants of Astyages.
The mother of Darius I was a daughter of Cyrus, so he was an actual grandson of his. He claims to have removed an usurper, and even if this is false, he would've never taken the name of a Median king, especially as he doesn't even honor a Darius in his list of royal (Persian) predecessors in the Behistun Inscription.
The Persepolis Reliefs showing Median nobles on the same level as Persian ones does not contradict a Persian takeover because we know from Herodotus that Cyrus himself had Medes in high-ranking positions. [Histories 1.156, 162] The defeated Croesus becomes Cyrus' adviser afterwards. This wasn't the first, nor would it be the last time a conqueror showed prudence by not suppressing a defeated people, a recipe for revolt. Muhammad did much the same with the Meccans once he took the city. And he would've wanted to marry a daughter of the king of the people he recently conquered to keep them pacified, much like Alexander the Great with Roxana. Much like Empress Josephine's affection for the Hungarians was a factor that led to the Austro-Hungarian empire, marrying this person who was their princess could easily turn the Medes' opinion in favor of Cyrus, a fact the ancient writers note.
This site presents some interesting arguments in favor of Cyaxares II's existence and this possibly being Darius the Mede:
Anderson claims (for no reason) that it doesn't make sense for Daniel to describe a Mede with Persian names ("Darius, son of Xerxes"), if this be an alternate name for Cyrus, yet this is exactly what he maintains a Median king decided to call himself.
If we were to weigh the evidence on this issue, it would be very even-handed except for one factor. The cuneiform evidence is enough to determine who had the real power, and it was apparently Cyrus. Anderson explains this by saying there was a coregency and that only Cyrus' name was put on the cuneiform. This is very problematic, because Darius is supposed to be the senior regent here. He's in Babylon according to both Daniel and Xenophon, so why is it Cyrus' name acknowledged only? If he was installed by Cyrus and it was Cyrus who was the main regent, he wouldn't have begun his reign until Nisan 1, 538 BC, but by then it was Cyrus' son, Cambyses II, who became coregent and king of Babylon. The idea that Darius the Mede was Cambyses II is explored and found unconvincing below.
Because of the positively negative evidence of the cuneiform, there simply isn't a basis to presume an overlord called Darius the Mede at this point.
IV. Other Suggestions
The problem with any theory other than those above, such as an unknown individual briefly reigning with Cyrus shortly after the fall of Babylon is that the cuneiform evidence refers to Cyrus and Cyrus only. Darius the Mede, on the other hand, makes appointments and decrees as if he's the highest authority (despite the fact that Gubaru was considered the final authority in inscriptions - this wouldn't have been throughout the empire as Dan. 6:26 says).
Again, the suggestion that Daniel was correct about the individual, but wrong about the extent of his power makes it unlikely that he had so much knowledge about this otherwise obscure person and his co-regency, but fell short of knowing the actual extent of his power. A coregency with anyone after Nisan 1, 538 BC is especially unlikely, as that was when Cambyses II became coregent, and as Shea notes, a "tri-regency" is just implausible. [Shea, p.238] Any time after this is just too late. There's no record of anyone between Gubaru and Cambyses II other than Cyrus himself, and again this person must've had enough power to make decrees. But let us explore two serious candidates.
IV.A. Cambyses II
This option actually has more merit in some ways than either the Gubaru or Cyaxares II suggestions. Neither Cambyses II's existence is doubted, nor his reign for a part of the year 538 BC beginning in Nisan 1. But even if we assume Darius the Mede's reign wasn't meant as consecutive with Cyrus' in Daniel, there's a problem: Cambyses II is never called a Mede by any author, and wasn't 62 years old in 538 BC, which would've been basically Cyrus' age.
It's unlikely Daniel was trying to be insulting by calling him a Mede and saying he was the specific, random age of 62. We can't really suppose that Daniel was wrong about this detail only, because if he screwed up on such an obvious detail, giving an age for Cyrus' son and eventual successor that was basically Cyrus' own, he couldn't have known or meant anything authentic like Cambyses II's coregency for us to equate it with the reign of Darius the Mede's. It just seems unlikely to me that Daniel would be knowledgeable enough of this coregency, yet not know that this was Cyrus' son and not some 62 year old Median king; even if someone claims a 2nd century writer preserved some kind of memory of this (no one else did).
The main problem with identifying Darius the Mede with Astyages is that all the evidence points to his being taken down from the throne by Cyrus in 550 BC. It is therefore unthinkable that the latter, who removed his own son as coregent (perhaps due to ideological differences) within less than a year and took the title "king of Babylon" for himself, would set up Astyages as a partner-king, or even a vassal. There's no mention of Astyages after his defeat by Cyrus from the ancient sources, so we have to discard this theory.
- Encyclopedia Iranica. Ariyaramna
- Encyclopedia Iranica: CYRUS ii. Cyrus I
- Horn, Siegfried H. "The Babylonian Chronicle and the Ancient Calendar of the Kingdom of Judah", Andrews University Seminary Studies Vol.5, No.1 (1967)
- Miller, Stephen R. Daniel (1994)
- Shea, William H. "Darius the Mede in His Persian-Babylonian Setting" Andrews University Seminary Studies Vol. 29, No. 3 (Autumn 1991)
- Seymour, Timothy P. "Personal Names and Name Giving in the Ancient Near East" UCLA Historical Journal Vol. 4, No.0 (1983)
- Torrey, C. C. "The Story of the Three Youths", American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures Vol.23, No.3 (April, 1907)
- Wiseman, Donald J. "Some Historical Problems in the Book of Daniel" in Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (Tyndale: 1965), pp.9-18