1. Family

Megabazus (Bakabadus) was a Persian noble and an official during the reign of Darius I (520-486 BC). Although his name is relatively common and is attested on the Persepolis tablets even among people of low social rank, Megabazus was certainly born in an important aristocratic family, especially if we accept the view that another Megabazus, commander of Xerxes' I fleet and son of Darius’ cousin, Megabates, was his relative.1 He was probably son of Oebares I.2 At any rate, the careers of his three sons confirm the prominence of his family: Oebares II was governor of Dascyleum during the Ionian Revolt(499-493 BC), Bubares was one of the two people in charge of the construction of Xerxes’ canal in Athos in 484-481 BC, while Pherendates was the satrap of Egypt during Darius’ reign, general in Xerxes' campaign in Greece (484-479 BC) and a commander in the Battle of Eurymedon (467 BC), where he died.

2. Darius and the Thracian campaign

Darius esteemed Megabazus highly, as confirmed by the following episode narrated by Herodotus: When the king’s brother Artabates asked Darius in a public meeting in Persia what he would like to possess in abundance (like the seeds of a pomegranate), he replied that he would have liked men like Megabazus, so as to conquer Greece with ease.3

Megabazus participated in the Scythian campaign (514-511 BC). After his retreat to Asia (511 BC), Darius appointed him karanos and entrusted him with an army of 80,000 men with the purpose of conquering Thrace and subduing the cities of the Hellespont which had not yet allied themselves to the Persians.4 Notwithstanding his important successes in the region, like the capture of Perinthus and of the greater part of coastal Thrace, as well as the subduing and relocation of the Paeonians (ordered by Darius), he failed to seize Byzantium, Lampsacus and the revolting cities of the Troad; he also failed to incorporate the lands east of the river Strymon.5 Judging by the extent of the operations, we must accept that he needed to remain in Thrace for at least two years, from 511 to 509 BC. Herodotus ascribes to him the proverbial saying on the blindness of the settlers who founded Chalcedon instead of choosing the much superior site that later became Byzantium; other sources attribute this saying to the oracle at Delphi.6

At some stage of the campaign Megabazus succeeded in incorporating Macedonia into the Achaemenid Empire, accepting earth and water by king Amyntas I, although he never invaded that kingdom. The story narrated by Herodotus was probably a fabrication of Macedonian propaganda: Megabazus sent seven envoys to Amyntas, who were put to death by the Macedonians. When the Persian army under Bubares, son of Megabazus, reached the Macedonian borders, Alexander I, the son of the Macedonian king, bribed him by giving him his sister Gygaea as a bride, thus averting the imminent invasion and punishment. Amyntas was born of his wedding, later receiving Alabanda as a gift from Darius. This marriage, which apparently materialized after a suggestion of the Macedonian side, was certainly approved by Darius, and sealed the submission of the kingdom of Macedonia.7

In the middle of the Thracian campaign, Megabazus was recalled by Darius and replaced by Otanes.8 It has been argued that this recall shows Darius’ discontent for the relevant failure of the campaign.9After leading the Paeonians to Phrygia, Megabazus met Darius at Sardis. In his discussions with the king, Megabazus warned against Histiaeus, whom Darius had rewarded for his services during the Scythian campaign with the region of Myrcinus on the Thracian coast. He convinced Darius that it was in his best interests not to allow Histiaeus to acquire such a powerful base in Europe, where he could muster limitless material and human resources to build up a force capable of turning against the Persian king. He also advised him to keep Histiaeus close to him by offering him an honorary office, but in a way that would not allow him to return among the Greeks. Darius followed his advice.

We know nothing else about Megabazus. However, given that such an important official could have hardly retired or never given any other office, especially as his family continued to enjoy Darius' trust, we must accept that he died soon after his meeting with Darius at Sardis. The only alternative would be to identify him with Megabazus, satrap of Arachosia and Gadara between 501 and 494 BC, who is mentioned in the Persepolis tablets. This administrative post, however, relatively unimportant, would be hard to reconcile with Megabazus’ earlier high-rank appointments and the esteem Darius apparently had for him. It is more likely that the said satrap, who later became a naval commander, was a son of Megabates or a different person altogether.10

1. Megabazus, son of Megabates: Hdt. 7.97.Megabates, cousin of Darius I: Hdt. 5.32. Megabazus, brother of Megabates and uncle of Megabazus: Badian, Ε., "Herodotus on Alexander I of Macedon", in Hornblower, S. (ed.), Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994), p. 111. Familial connections in general: Burn, A.R., Persia and the Greeks. The Defense of the West, circa 546-478 B. C. (London 1962), p. 335. A certain Megabazus, probably son of Megabates, was sent by Artaxerxes as an ambassador to Sparta in 456 BC: Thuc. 1.109. On the name ‘Megabazus’ in Persepolis see Lewis, D.M., Sparta and Lakonia (Leiden 1977), p. 50, n. 3. The name ‘Megabazus’, together with that of Darius, is mentioned by Aristophanes, Av. 484.

2. Kubler, P., Die persische Politik gegeniiber dem Griechentum in der Pentekontaetia (Diss. University of Heidelberg 1950), no. 241, 266; Balcer, J.M., Sparda by the Bitter Sea (Providence 1984), pl. 23.

3. Hdt. 4.143.

4. That Megabazus received the command of the campaign implies that he held the office of karanos. See Petit, T., Satrapes et satrapies dans empire achéménide de Cyrus le Grand a Xerxes Ier (Bibliothèque de Philosophie et Lettres de l'Université de Liège CCLIV, Genève 1990), pp. 136-137.

5. The Thracian campaign of Megabazus is described in detail by Hdt. 5.1-2,10,12,14, 16, 17, but we have no other sources on it. On the extent of the lands conquered and the significance of this campaign, see Merker, I., "The Ancient Kingdom of Paionia", Balkan Studies 6 (1965), pp. 35-54; Castritius, H., "Die Okkupation Thrakiens durch die Perser und der Sturz des athenischen Tyrannen Hippias", Chiron 2 (1972), pp. 1-15; Hammond, N.G.L., "The Extent of the Persian occupation of Thrace", Chiron 10 (1980), pp. 53-62; Samsaris, D., "Les Péoniens dans la vallée du bas Strymon", Klio 64.2 (1983), pp. 340-377; Balcer, J.M., "Persian Occupied Thrace (Skudra)", Historia 37 (1988), pp. 1-21.

6. Hdt. 4.143. This saying is attributed to the oracle at Delphi by Strabon 7.6.2, Tac., Ann. XII, 63, Steph. Byz., s.v. Βυζάντιον, while it is also mentioned by Hesychius of Melitus, FgrHist. III. Β, 390 F4, 21, and Eust. 804, without any reference as to who coined it.

7. Hdt. 5.17-21. This episode is also narrated with romantic undertones by Just., Epit. 7.4.1. Some historians prefer dating this marriage to 492 BC, during the campaign of Mardonius. The correct view, however, correlates this event with Megabazus’ Thracian campaign. See Badian, Ε., "Herodotus on Alexander I of Macedon", in Hornblower, S. (ed.), Greek Historiography (Oxford 1994), p. 108-115.

8. Megabazus' failure or inability to capture Byzantium is deduced by modern scholars by the fact that the city was taken by his replacement. See Grundy, G.B., The Great Persian War and its Preliminaries (London 1901), pp. 65ff. We cannot rule out the possibility, however, that Megabazus did capture Byzantium and that the city revolted anew after his departure. See Schwen, B.G., Historia Byzantiorum civitatis (Diss. University of Halle 1875), p. 14. Some historians, in order to explain how Megabazus conducted a campaign so deep into Asia without having secured his rear, supposed that this campaign was concurrent either with the Scythian campaign, therefore preceded Byzantium’s revolt, or with Otanes' activities. On the first view see Macan, R.W., Herodotus IV-V (London 1895), pp. 59-60. On the second view see Heinlein, S., "Histiaios von Milet", Klio IX (1909), pp. 341-351.

9. Blamire, Α., "Herodotus and Histiaeus", CQ 9.2 (1959), pp. 142-154.

10. On Megabazus, satrap of Arachosia and Gadara, see Lewis, D.M., "Postscript", in Burn, A.R., (ed.), Persia and the Greeks. The Defense of the West, c. 546-478 B.C.2 (London 1984), pp. 599, 601.