Where Was Daniel’s Den of Lions?

The author of Daniel does not state where the events of Daniel 6 (Daniel in the lions’ den) took place. There are several possibilities, all shown on the map above, but one appears most likely. The answer to this question affects how we envision the den of lions.

Ecbatana was the historical capital of the Median empire. Ecbatana is located about 250 miles to the northeast of Babylon, across some pretty rough and mountainous ground. If Darius the Mede ruled from the old Median capital, Ecbatana would be the logical location for Daniel 6.

Excavations of a residential section at ancient Ecbatana.

Pasargadae was the ancient capital of the Persians. Cyrus, who is mentioned at the end of Daniel 6, ruled from Pasargadae at least some of the time, and his tomb is located there.

The tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae.

It seems most likely, however, that these events took place at Babylon. Here are a few clues that seem to make this the probably location.

  • This was the most recent setting in the text (Daniel 5). Since no indication is given that there is a shift in location with the events of Daniel 6, one could deduce that the location has not changed.
  • There is one last location given in the book of Daniel, and it appears to be in the vicinity of Babylon. Daniel 10:4 records a vision Daniel had while standing on the banks of the Tigris River. The nearest the Tigris gets to Babylon (which is located on the Euphrates River) is about 35 miles. However, Ecbatana is about 230 miles away, and Pasargadae is about 300 miles from the nearest stretch of the Tigris. This indicates that Daniel likely remained in the region of Babylon.
  • Daniel was an old man at this point, perhaps near 80 years of age. While this does not absolutely preclude his travel to Ecbatana or Pasargadae, it makes it unlikely. This is particularly true because the road to either Ecbatana or Pasargadae was through mountainous terrain, and Daniel would have had to return by the same route in fairly short order to be by the Tigris River in the third year of Cyrus (Dan 10:4).
  • When Cyrus decreed the return of the Judean exiles, they left from Babylon (Ezra 1:11). As part of that decree, Cyrus “brought out the articles of the house of the Lord” from the treasury in Babylon. Although this could have been a decree from a distance as well, the wording is intriguing; and clearly the majority of the Jewish population is still in the area of Babylon.
  • It would not be unexpected for the new king(s) to rule, at least for a time, from the newly conquered city. In fact, when Alexander the Great had finished his conquest of the then-known-world, he settled down in Babylon, making it his capital. Alexander came from Macedonia, nearly 1,300 miles to the west, yet he made Babylon his capital and new home.

The royal palace complex at Babylon.

Together, these clues hint at the likelihood that the den of lions into which Daniel was placed was in Babylon. This will become important when we look at the lions’ den itself in the next post.

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