Darius’ Delegation Strategy and Achaemenid Persian Mutilation Practice

Melissa Benson, University College London

This paper is an analysis of §16-50 of Darius’ Behistun inscription, which detail the suppression of the revolts and the executions of rebel leaders in 522 BCE. Darius’ delegation strategy constitutes a significant innovation in royal representation in the ancient Near East, where rulers were more likely to attribute all heroic actions to themselves in order to enhance their military prowess and prestige. Analysis of Darius’ divergent strategy demonstrates that it serves a similar purpose, and also constructs a strict hierarchy between himself and his generals (his most threatening rivals for rule). Although Darius admits to his generals’ involvement, he constructed the inscription to present his generals not as autonomous heroic agents, but as mere extensions of the king himself.

Deconstruction of §16-50 elucidates this underlying aim of Darius’ delegation strategy. I have singled out for analysis the protagonists in the battle narratives, the executions of rebel leaders and the regions in which these actions take place. This has shown a certain pattern of the representation of the acts of the king and those of his generals, supporting a reading of the inscription as a carefully constructed fiction, which places the king above not only the rebel kings that he defeats but also his own generals.

This analysis also elucidates Persian mutilation practices, suggesting that the mutilation, particularly of an enemy leader, was the preserve of the king himself. While 16 out of 19 battles are won in his absence, he carries out 7 of 11 of the eventual executions. What is more, the most gruesome punishments described are attributed to the king himself, facial mutilations and impalements. This speaks for a hierarchy of punishment, according to Persian royal ideology, these tortures were the preserve of the king himself.