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Smerdis of Persia

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Smerdis (Pers. Bardiya; by Ctesias, Pers. 8, called Tonyoxarces; by Xenophon, Cyrop. Vin. 7. ii, who takes the name from Ctesias, Tanooxares; by Justin i. 9, Mergis; in Aeschylus, Pers. 774, Mardos) was a Persian king of infamous memory. The prevalent Greek form Smerdis has assimilated the Persian name to the Greek (Asiatic) name Smerdis or Smerdies, which occurs in the poems of Alcaeus and Anacreon.

Smerdis was the younger son of Cyrus the Great who, according to Ctesias, on his deathbed appointed him governor of the eastern provinces (cf. Xen. Cyrop. vin. 7, if). Before Cambyses set out to Egypt, he secretly caused him to be murdered (Darius in the Behistun Inscription i. 10), being afraid that he might attempt a rebellion during his absence. His death was not known to the people, and so in the spring of 522 a usurper pretended to be Smerdis and proclaimed himself king on a mountain near the Persian town Pishiyauv~da.

Owing to the despotic rule of Cambyses and his long absence in Egypt, "the whole people, Persians, Medes and all the other nations," acknowledged the usurper, especially as he granted a remission of taxes for three years (Herod. iii. 68).

Cambyses began to march against him, but seeing that his cause was hopeless, killed himself in the spring of 521. The real name of the usurper was, as Darius tells us, Gaumata, a Magian priest from Media; this name has been preserved by Justin i. 9 (from Charon of Lampsacus?), but given to his brother (called by Herodotus Patizeithes), who is said to have been the real promoter of the intrigue; the true name of the usurper is here given as Oropastes; by Ctesias as Sphendadates.

The history of the false Smerdis is narrated by Herodotus and Ctesias according to official traditions; Cambyses before his death confessed to the murder of his brother, and in public explained the whole fraud. But, as Darius said, nobody had the courage to oppose the new king, who ruled for seven months over the whole empire. Some contracts dating from his reign have been found in Babylonia, where his name is spelt Barziya (for the chronology cf. Ed. Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte, ~i. 472 if.). Darius says that he destroyed some temples, which Darius restored, and took away the herds and houses of the people (Behistun Inscr. i. 14). We have no means of explaining this statement, nor can we fully understand all the incidents connected with his usurpation; but the attempts of modern authors to prove that Gaumata in reality was the genuine Smerdis and Darius a usurper have failed. It is certain that Smerdis transferred the seat of government to Media; and here in a castle iii the district of Nisaya he was surprised and killed by Darius and his six associates in October 521.

His death was annually celebrated in Persia by a feast called “the killing of the magian," at which no magian was allowed to show himself (Herod. ~ 79 Ctes. Pers. 15).

In the next year, another pseudo-Smerdis, named Vahyazdgta, rose against Darius in eastern Persia and met with great success. But he was finally defeated, taken prisoner and executed (Behistun Inscr. ~ 40 if.) Perhaps he is identical with the King Maraphis "the Maraphian," name of a Persian tribe, who occurs as successor in the list of Persian kings given by Aeschylus, Pers. 778).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.



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