The Fall of Intaphrenes

Darius I (Old Persian Dârayavauš): king of ancient Persia, whose reign lasted from 522 to 486. He seized power after killing king Gaumâta, fought a civil war (described in the Behistun inscription), and was finally able to refound the Achaemenid empire, which had been very loosely organized until then. Darius fought several foreign wars, which brought him to India and Thrace. When he died, the Persian empire had reached its largest extent. He was succeeded by his son Xerxes.

Intaphrenes on the Behistun Relief
Intaphrenes on the Behistun Relief

In the following text, Herodotus of Halicarnassus tells how one of the seven conspirators that killed the usurper Gaumâta fell from grace. There is more to this story than meets the eye, however. Intaphrenes was a very powerful man and it is likely that Darius wanted to get rid of him. After his ascession, he had done many concessions; now that his reign was secure, he wanted to have more autocratic powers. Sections 3.118-119 of the Histories were translated by Aubrey de Selincourt.

Soon after the rising of the seven Persians against the Magian [Gaumâta], one of their number, Intaphrenes, was executed for a failure to show proper respect for the king's authority.

Having business to transact with Darius, he wished to enter the palace. Now it had already been agreed that any of the conspirators might visit the king unannounced, provided that he was not, at the moment, in bed with a woman; and in view of this Intaphrenes refused to have his name sent in by a messenger, and claimed it as his right, as one of the seven, to walk straight in. He was, however, stopped by the king's chamberlain and the sentry on duty at the palace gate, who told him that Darius had, in fact, a woman with him at the time. Thinking this was only a trumped-up excuse to keep him out, Intaphrenes drew his scimitar and cut off their ears and noses, strung them on his horse's bridle, tied the bridle around their necks, and sent them packing

The poor fellows showed themselves to Darius and explained the reason for their plight, which at once suggested to the king the alarming possibility of a fresh conspiracy. Thinking his six former confederates might all be in this business together, he sent for each of them in turn, and sounded them to see if they approved of what Intaphrenes had done. None of them did; so as soon as he was satisfied that Intaphrenes had acted entirely on his own initiative, he had him arrested together with his children and all his near relations, in the strong suspicion that he and his family were about to raise a revolt. All the prisoners were then chained, as condemned criminals.

[Herodotus continues his narrative with a story about Intaphrenes' wife, who manages to secure a pardon for her brother, and concludes]

The rest of the family were all put to death. This then, was the early end of one of the seven confederates.