The Preparations of Darius. - Revolt of Egypt. - Dispute for the Succession to the Persian Throne. - Death of Darius. - Brief Review of the leading Events and Characteristics of his Reign.
I. While, under the presiding genius of Themistocles, Athens was silently laying the foundation of her naval greatness, and gradually increasing in influence and renown, the Persian monarch was not forgetful of the burning of Sardis and the defeat of Marathon. The armies of a despotic power are often slow to collect, and unwieldy to unite, and Darius wasted three years in despatching emissaries to various cities, and providing transports, horses, and forage for a new invasion.
The vastness of his preparations, though congenial to oriental warfare, was probably proportioned to objects more great than those which appear in the Greek historians. There is no reason, indeed, to suppose that he cherished the gigantic project afterward entertained by his son - a project no less than that of adding Europe as a province to the empire of the East. But symptoms of that revolt in Egypt which shortly occurred, may have rendered it advisable to collect an imposing force upon other pretences; and without being carried away by any frantic revenge against the remote and petty territory of Athens, Darius could not but be sensible that the security of his Ionian, Macedonian, and Thracian conquests, with the homage already rendered to his sceptre by the isles of Greece, made it necessary to redeem the disgrace of the Persian arms, and that the more insignificant the foe, the more fatal, if unpunished, the example of resistance. The Ionian coasts - the entrance into Europe - were worth no inconsiderable effort, and the more distant the provinces to be awed, the more stupendous, according to all rules of Asiatic despotism, should appear the resources of the sovereign. He required an immense armament, not so much for the sake of crushing the Athenian foe, as of exhibiting in all its might the angry majesty of the Persian empire.
II. But while Asia was yet astir with the martial preparations of the great king, Egypt revolted from his sway, and, at the same time, the peace of Darius was imbittered, and his mind engaged, by a contest among his sons for the succession to the crown (B. C. 486). Artabazanes, the eldest of his family, born to him by his first wife, previous to his own elevation to the throne, founded his claim upon the acknowledged rights of primogeniture; but Xerxes, the eldest of a second family by Atossa, daughter of the great Cyrus, advanced, on the other hand, a direct descent from the blood of the founder of the Persian empire. Atossa, who appears to have inherited something of her father's genius, and who, at all events, exercised unbounded influence over Darius, gave to the claim of her son a stronger support than that which he could derive from argument or custom. The intrigue probably extended from the palace throughout the pure Persian race, who could not but have looked with veneration upon a descendant of Cyrus, nor could there have seemed a more popular method of strengthening whatever was defective in the title of Darius to the crown, than the transmission of his sceptre to a son, in whose person were united the rights of the new dynasty and the sanctity of the old. These reasonings prevailed with Darius, whose duty it was to nominate his own successor, and Xerxes was declared his heir. While the contest was yet undecided, there arrived at the Persian court Demaratus, the deposed and self-exiled king of Sparta. He attached himself to the cause and person of Xerxes, and is even said to have furnished the young prince with new arguments, founded on the usages of Sparta - an assertion not to be wholly disregarded, since Demaratus appeared before the court in the character of a monarch, if in the destitution of an exile, and his suggestions fell upon the ear of an arbiter willing to seize every excuse to justify the resolution to which he had already arrived.
This dispute terminated, Darius in person prepared to march against the Egyptian rebels, when his death (B. C. 485) consigned to the inexperienced hands of his heir the command of his armies and the execution of his designs.
The long reign of Darius, extending over thirty-six years, was memorable for vast improvements in the administrations of the empire, nor will it, in this place, be an irrelevant digression to glance briefly and rapidly back over some of the events and the innovations by which it was distinguished.