King Darius III, last of the Achaemenid kings of Persia, owes his three years of fame to his conqueror, Alexander the Great. He lost the great Battle of Issus in November 333 BC in a campaign that would have defeated any opponent who was less of a genius than Alexander. Alexander captured his pregnant wife and daughters, but not Darius himself, who had fled east, leaving his chariot behind. About six months later Darius sent a letter offering terms and asking for his family back. Alexander refused but continued to respect Darius’s family, later arranging for them to learn Greek. On 1 October 331 Darius lost the Battle of Gaugamela and again left the battlefield at high speed. He headed up towards modern Hamadan and Tehran, thinking, we are told, that Alexander would be diverted by the spoils in Babylon and Susa further south. In May 330 Alexander came after him and pursued him across the desert at a pace that killed many of the horses involved. In the summer of 330, Darius was murdered by some of his own satraps while trying to escape with them to the east of his empire, in what is now Afghanistan. One of them claimed to be king in his place, assuming the name Artaxerxes. Alexander found Darius already dead, and as a mark of respect covered him with his own cloak and ordered that he should have an honourable burial, probably in Persepolis.
Apart from stories of his origins and his early combat against a huge Cadusian warrior near the Caspian Sea, nothing much else is known about Darius. His finest memorial is his depiction in the Alexander Mosaic, found in the vast House of the Faun at Pompeii. Darius’s gaze fixes on