Darius III was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia from 336 BCE to 330 BCE. It was under his rule that the Persian Empire was conquered during the Wars of Alexander the Great.
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 could not be controlled, however, Bagoas killed him off as well in 336 BCE and installed to the throne a man named Codomannus, the last surviving legitimate heir to the Persian throne.
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.
In the spring of 334 BCE, Alexander the Great invaded Asia Minor at the head of a combined Macedonian 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 was in Persepolis and thus did not take part in the battle as he believed that his satraps would deal with Alexander. He could not imagine that the young Greek would intend to capture all of Asia.
Darius did not take the field against Alexander’s army until a year and a half after Granicus, at the Battle of Issus in 333 BCE. 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 was at this battle that Alexander captured Darius's entire family. Circumstances were more in Darius’ favor at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. 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 lost to Alexander. When Darius perceived the fierce attack of Alexander, he turned his chariot around and was the first to flee, abandoning all of his soldiers and his property to be taken by Alexander.
Darius fled to Ecbatana and attempted to raise a third army while Alexander took possession of Babylon, Susa, and the Persian capital at Persepolis. He failed to raise an army comparable to that which had fought at Battle of Gaugamela, but Darius rather felt his land, his subjects, indeed his very empire, being taken away from him very quickly.
During Darius’s flight Bessus, his cousin and satrap of Bactria, betrayed him: At the first halt the Bactrians surrounded the tent of Darius, and in the quiet of the night , he was put in chains, to be carried off a prisoner into Bactria. In 330 BCE, Darius met his death at Bessus's hands, who stabbed him and left his dying body in a wagon to be found later by one of the Macedonian soldiers. This proved to be a disappointment to Alexander who had 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 BCE. With the old king defeated and given a proper burial, Alexander's rulership of Persia became official.
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This content has been peer reviewed and approved by Donald L. Wasson.
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c. 380 BCE - 330 BCE