What does the rise of the Persian Empire 2000 years ago have to do with fake news? In fact, the crowning of Darius the Great may be history’s first example of a fake news campaign.

When the first ruler of the Persian (or Achaemenid) Empire, Cyrus the Great, died, his eldest son, Cambyses, took over. The younger son, Bardia, was given his own territory so he wouldn’t feel the urge to challenge his brother.

After taking over the empire, Cambyses was believed to suffer from an alcoholic madness, and – maybe because of this – he made a lot of mistakes. He lost a 50,000-man army in the desert, he angered the Egyptians by slaughtering their prized bull (who was seen as a godly avatar), and then even worse, he was accused of killing his own brother and of replacing him with an imposter.

One of Cambyses’ “loyal” guards, also a man of very noble blood, took a team of assassins to remove the imposter. The guard fought the magician’s evil spells and went on to kill all those who had not raised the alarm about this magical double. All who declared that Bardia was the genuine article were in on the conspiracy and had to be killed.

Darius the Great

Cambyses died soon after. Some say he killed himself and others say he cut himself while carving a piece of wood. But the loyal guard was willing to take over and keep the empire running. That was Darius, who later became known as Darius the Great.

There’s only one problem with this story. It’s probably all fake news.

Cambyses’ drinking was probably not as bad as people said. The loss of the huge army was never proven. Other records outside those from Darius suggest the bull was never killed. Then there’s the idea that Cambyses killed his own brother and replaced him with a lookalike magician – how’s that for fake news?

From Darius to Today …

Darius had created a network of lies to not only remove Cambyses from power but also to kill Bardia, who was next in line to the throne. He assumed power to right the ship and to stop illegitimate rulers from driving the empire into chaos. It was a perfectly executed plan based on lies and intrigues.

Fake news has been a weapon of political warfare used for thousands of years. It is just as strong today as in the days of Darius and Cambyses.

After 2,000 years, we finally see that Darius used social convention and falsehoods to steal power that was not rightly his. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another 2,000 years before we realize the same plots and intrigues are happening right here, right now.