Atossa (Elamite Udusana) was the daughter of the Persian king Cyrus the Great (559-530 BCE) and the first wife of king Darius I the Great (522-486).

Achaemenid woman (or a beardless prince)
Achaemenid woman (or a beardless prince)

Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses (530-522). According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, he fell in love with one of his sisters, Atossa. This suggests that Atossa was born before 545 BCE, because in Antiquity, girls usually married after they were about fifteen years old.

Later, Atossa had to marry the Magian usurper Smerdis, who had seized power in March 522. In September 522, Darius, a member of the younger branch of the royal family, the Achaemenids, staged a countercoup and became king. To improve his claim to the throne, Darius married to Atossa, her sister Artystone, and her niece Parmys. There may have been another important element: the name Atossa is Zoroastrian, and it may be that Atossa belonged to a family that was connected to an important Persian faith.

Darius and Atossa had four sons:

Herodotus tells us that Atossa had Greek slaves and servants. He mentions the physician Democedes of Croton as one of her favorites. This Greek organized a reconnaissance expedition to the west, c.519.

Atossa's Elamite name was Udusana, which may be a rendering of Old Persian *Utautha. It is absent from the tablets found at Persepolis, which suggests that she died before 515, the year in which the oldest tablets were written. (Her absence cannot be coincidental; there are too many tablets.) Herodotus' statement that she helped Xerxes become king is therefore unlikely to be true. The same applies to Aeschylus' play The Persians, in which we see queen Atossa as a widow.

This page was created in 1999; last modified on 24 September 2020.