Alabaster is a fine-grained, massive, translucent
variety of gypsum, a hydrous calcium sulphate.
Alabaster occurs naturally in many shades of
color, from pure white to reddish-tan. Like all
other forms of gypsum, alabaster forms by the
evaporation of bedded deposits that are
precipitated mainly from evaporating seawater.
Indigenous to Egypt, alabaster has been quarried
for more than seven thousand years from a
source just a few miles behind the Valley of the
Kings in ancient Thebes. This stone was prized
by the pharaohs for its luminous properties.
When held up to the light, the stone absorbs the
glow and spreads it evenly throughout its
structure, becoming almost translucent if carved
thinly enough. The Ancient Egyptians used this
wonderful material for many purposes, including
household items, ritual objects, and for a number
of different funerary uses such as sarcophagi and
Although little is known about the first Persian
occupation of Egypt, from what evidence remains
it is clear that this colony was more prosperous
under the wise rule of Darius than during the
reigns of any of his followers. When King
Cambyses II sought to expand his empire into
Africa, he conquered the Egyptians in 525 B.C. at
the Battle of Pelusium and established the
Persian controlled satrapy that would last until
404 B.C. Thus the kings of Persia ruled Egypt as
the 27th Dynasty.
Darius I, one of the most noted Persian rulers
and a relative of Cyrus the Great, assumed the
throne upon the death of Cambyses after a brief
struggle for power. He ruled from 521 to 486
B.C., a relatively lengthy reign of thirty-six years,
during which time he tried to legitimize his rule
of Egypt by associating himself with the
pharaohs of the Saite Period. The inscription on
this magnificent alabastron has been translated
as: "King of Upper and Lower Egypt, ruler of the
two lands, Darius who will live eternally, year 33
of his reign."
Darius was a noble statesman and effective
administrator who expanded the borders of the
kingdom into Europe and Northern India. Darius
was not merely concerned with wealth and
power; but expressed a real interest in the
heritage of the ancient civilization he ruled over.
In his third year of rule, Darius sent an order to
the Satrap of Egypt to gather all the brightest
soldiers, priests, and scribes. Together, they
were commanded to write an all-encompassing
history of the laws of Egypt, a task that would
ultimately take over fifteen years to complete.
For this reason, Darius was noted by Diodorus as
one of the greatest lawgivers in Egyptian history.
Furthermore, Darius re-excavated the canal
connecting the Red Sea to the Nile, and thus to
the Mediterranean, opening up a forgotten trade
route and completing the great project
abandoned during the reign of his Saite
predecessors. Along the banks of the canal, large
relief sculptures commemorating the voyage of
twenty-four ships laden with treasure bound for
Persia were carved, inscribed in both cuneiform
and hieroglyphics. Some of these rock carvings
still survive today, testaments to the enlightened
rule of Darius I who alone amongst Persian
Kings, sought to associate himself with the great
pharaohs of the past as a rightful ruler of the
people of Egypt.