Smerdis (Old Persian Bardiya): Persian prince, son
of king Cyrus.
According to several ancient sources, Smerdis was
the only one who was strong enough to draw a bow
sent to the Persian court by an enemy; the Greek
researcher Herodotus says that this enemy was the
Kushite king (from Sudan), others state that it was
a leader of the nomads living in Central Asia.
Another Greek author, Ctesias of Cnidus, who calls
this prince Tanyoxarces, says he became satrap in
charge of the northeastern border.
Darius and Gaumâta
When his brother, king Cambyses, was conquering
Egypt, someone calling himself Smerdis rebelled and
became sole ruler of the Achaemenid empire after
Cambyses' had died of natural causes. According to
the Behistun inscription, this Smerdis' rule started
on 11 March 522 BCE, and this is corroborated by the
dating of letters in Babylonia; on 1 July he
formally became king. The new king was killed,
however, by the Persian prince Darius, on 29
September in a stronghold in Media called
Darius states in the Behistun inscription that
the man he had now succeeded was not the real
Smerdis (who he claims was killed before Cambyses
set out for Egypt) and that the rebel was a
lookalike named Gaumâta. This man was a Magian and
there are some indications that 'Magians' were not
Persians but Medes.
For instance, Herodotus states explicitly that
the Magians were a Median tribe. It is also
remarkable that the new king took Sikayauvati as his
residence: this stronghold has been identified with
Ziwiye near Îrânshâh, a little south of Lake Urmia
in the northwest of modern Iran - almost as far away
from Persia as possible. From Herodotus (Histories
3.67) we know that he proclaimed a three years'
remission of taxes and military service to every
nation within his dominion: a measure that can
probably best be explained when we accept that the
king felt a warm sympathy for the subject nations
and cherished no particularly warm feelings about
Although we do best never to trust ancient texts
at face value, we may probably believe Darius' story
that the Smerdis he killed was indeed a false
Smerdis, someone who did not belong to the
Achaemenid dynasty and may have been a Mede by
birth. It should be stressed that Darius had the
Behistun inscription engraved at a place where no
human being could possibly read it; only the gods
were witness to his claim that he had killed an
impostor. Unless we accept the implausible
hypothesis that Darius lied to his god Ahuramazda,
we must believe that he spoke the truth.
Later, a Persian named Vahyazdâta proclaimed
himself king, also claiming to be the real Smerdis.
He seized the Persian palace (probably at
Pasargadae) and was able to subdue Arachosia. But
one of Darius' generals, Artavardiyâ, defeated this
king on 24 May 521 BCE, after which he was forced to
flee to the east. Vahyazdâta was defeated again on
14 July and crucified.