law of medes and persians

In many judgements, we see that while commenting upon the alterable orders, our judges generally use one phrase “Such orders are not like the law of the Medes and the Persians”. Now question arises what are these Law of Medes and the Persians”?

If you are also unaware of these laws, then I recommend you to read this article quickly.

Medes and Persians

If I simply put it, law of Medes and Persians were the law of Medes and Persians. Medes and Persians were the tribes in ancient Babylon empire. Present day Iran was the place where the first Persian empire was established by Cyrus, the great.

But the story of “law of Medes and Persians” dates back to Cyrus. We get the first reference of the unalterable nature of law of Medes and Persian in famous biblical story “Daniel in the lion’s den” which is mentioned in chapter 6 of biblical book “Book of Daniel”.

Before telling the story, it is relevant here to know about Daniel in brief.

Who was Daniel?

Islam and Christians both believe in Prophethood. Prophethood follows the idea that God sent prophets in the world to teach right path to the people. According to Islam, there were 14,000 prophets who came into the world to guide humanity against evil and wrong. Adam was the first and Muhammad was the last prophet.

But Christianity has different lists of prophets in old testament and new testament. Many prophets of Islam and Christianity are same and carry almost same name, however, sometimes their life stories differ in religious scriptures of both religions.

One of the prophets who is mentioned in the scriptures of both religions, is “Daniel”. In Islam, he is called “दानियाल” دانيال, Danyal. However, his name is not mentioned in Quran.

But the story of law of Medes and Persian is related to Christian Daniel. Daniel is a hero of biblical book “book of Daniel”. It is generally accepted that the Book of Daniel originated as a collection of folktales among the Babylonian diaspora, the Jewish community living in Babylon and Mesopotamia, in the Persian and Hellnistic periods (5th to 2nd centuries BC).[1]

During the reign of Jehoiakim (609-598 BC), king of Judah, Daniel and his three friends were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, who was the second king of Neo-Babylon empire. These four were chosen for their intellect and beauty. While living in the court of Nebuchadnezzar II, Daniel and his friends refused the food and wine provided by the king of Babylon to avoid becoming defiled and just ate vegetables and water and they were allowed to continue to refrain from eating the king’s food. When their training is done Nebuchadnezzar finds them ‘ten times better’ than all the wise men in his service and therefore keeps them at his court.

One day, Nebuchadnezzar saw a vision, he called his wise men to interpret the vision but nobody could interpret because king did not tell them what was the dream. But, Daniel received explanatory vision from God, he explained the dream to the king. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged the supremacy of Daniel’s god, raised Daniel over all his wise men.

After the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel was also main figure in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar. Belshazzar also saw a vision and summoned Daniel to interpret the vision, Daniel did so. Belshazzar rewarded Daniel and raised him to be third in the kingdom, and that very night Belshazzar was slain and Darius the Medes took the kingdom.

Darius elevated Daniel to high office, but this excited the jealousy of other officials of the court. Knowing of Daniel’s devotion to his God, his enemies tricked the king into issuing an edict forbidding worship of any other god or man for a 30-day period. Daniel continued to pray three times a day to God towards Jerusalem.

He was accused and King Darius, forced by his own decree, threw Daniel into the lions’ den. But God shuts up the mouths of the lions, and the next morning Darius rejoiced to find him unharmed. The king casts Daniel’s accusers into the lions’ pit together with their wives and children to be instantly devoured, while he himself acknowledged Daniel’s God.

This story from the book of Daniel, first established the unalterable nature of the law of Medes and Persians. For the Persians, the king’s law was the gods’ law, and as such applied to the whole empire. Every royal decree was considered irrefutable and unchangeable law, to be obeyed by all his subjects.[2]

Darius loved Daniel but due to his own decree and unalterable nature of law, he could not save Daniel and forced to put him in lion’s den.

Law of Medes and Persians

The unalterableness of the law of the Medes and Persians is mentioned as follows in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 6—

– Verse 8:

And so now, kyng, conferme thou the sentence, and write the decree, that it be not chaungid whiche is ordeynyd of Medis and Persis, nether be it leeful to eny man for to breke.

(And so now, king confirm that the sentence, and write the decree that it be not changed which is ordered of Medes and Persians, neither be it lawful to any man to break.)

Now, O king, establish the decree, and signe the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes & Persians, which altereth not.

(Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changes, according to the Medes & Persians, which altered not)

– Verse 12:

Then they came neere, and spake before the king concerning the kings decree; Hast thou not signed a decree, that euery man that shall aske a petition of any God or man, within thirty dayes, saue of thee, O king, shal be cast into the denne of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.

First use of “law of Medes and Persians”

The earliest known allusive use of the law of the Medes and Persians is from The Isle of Man: or, The Legall Proceeding in Man-shire against Sinne (London, 1627), by the English Puritan pastor Richard Bernard (1568-1641):

Old-man, the Law of the King allowes thee not the benefit of the Clergie, for The reward of Sin is death: This is his Maiesties Decree, vnchangeable, as the Law of the Medes and Persians.[3]

Thus, the laws of Medes and Persians were the laws that were unalterable according to established custom of that time. Lion’s den story mentioned the unalterable nature of laws first time and then it became used as a phrase in the world. Our judges generally use those phrases which English judges used and English judges generally take their reference from their literature and religious scripture and mythology.

[1] Daniel: With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature by John Joseph Collins

[2]The Persian Empire: The State at