The Little Horn and Four
Earthly Kingdoms of Daniel


By George Desnoyers


        To understand the prophecy of the "little horn" it is helpful to know a little about the four kingdoms of Daniel. They are representative of all the world powers between neo-Babylonia (Babylon) and the final world power, whatever it is, at the close of time. How many world powers will there be before the end? Nobody knows. The reason is that prophecy is commonly foreshortening. Prophecy often looks ahead to the next very important event, and then places another very distant important event, or the last days, right behind it.

        Nevertheless, the language of the Book of Daniel makes it plain that four real historical kingdoms were chosen by Daniel to represent all governmental powers. They were: (1) Babylon, (2) Media, (3) Persia, and (4) Greece. An alternate scheme given by some commentators is that the four kingdoms are (1) Babylon, (2) Medo-Persia, (3) Greece, and (4) Rome. The evidence is overwhelmingly against this alternate scheme, as we shall see.

Prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah

        First, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah tell us that the kingdom which overthrew Babylon was Media. Look at Isaiah 13:17-19; 21:1-9 and Jeremiah 51:11,28-29. Should anyone be surprised that Daniel is in agreement with Isaiah and Jeremiah? Do not relegate any of these prophecies to the junk heap. They are all telling us plainly that Medes were primary among the armies gathered against Babylon when it fell.

        Those familiar with the fact that the Empire of Medo-Persia overthrew Babylon need not worry. The facts make Daniel's [and Isaiah's, and Jeremiah's] treatment of the overthrow of Babylon very reasonable. Because of his religious training, Cyrus treated the conquered Medes very well, incorporating Media into his empire, and allowing it to be Persia’s most important province. Think of Media as a kingdom within a great empire known as "the Medes and the Persians." For the duality of this empire, see Esther 1:19, Daniel 5:28, 6:8,12,15.

Darius the Mede, Not Darius the Medo-Persian

        Second, Daniel 5:31 says concerning the fall of Babylon that the kingdom was taken by "Darius the Median." Historians have trouble identifying this Darius. Babylon is known to have been taken by the general, Gobryas, on behalf of Cyrus. Some people think, based upon a comparison of Daniel 11:1 in our Bibles with the same verse in the Septuagint, that there is even the possibility that "Darius the Median" was also "Cyrus the Persian." In any case, Daniel has selected Media to be one of the four kingdoms representing a much larger number. It is important that Daniel 5:31 says "Darius the Mede," and not "Darius the Medo-Persian."

Rome Never Mentioned in the Book of Daniel

        Third, Rome is never mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel. Babylon is mentioned by name seventeen times. Media is mentioned eight times. Persia is mentioned 11 times. Greece is mentioned three times. Rome is never named because nowhere in the book is Daniel talking specifically about Rome. To Daniel, Rome is merely one of several world powers represented by the four kingdoms he chose to use.

        The closest Daniel comes to mention of Rome is verse 11:30 where it says, "For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore he will become disheartened, and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant. . ." Historians think this is a reference to a city on the isle of Cyprus which came under the control of the Romans. The verse alludes to a dramatic incident in the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. While Antiochus was engaged in his second assault on the Ptolemic Kingdom, Popilius Laenas, a Roman naval leader, drew a circle on the ground around Antiochus and suggested that he not step outside it until he had thought well about whether he wanted to continue the war against Egypt. Antiochus chose to go home.

Second Kingdom Inferior to Babylonia

        Fourth, verse 2:39 makes it plain that gold and silver were selected to show the inferiority of the second kingdom compared with the first, Babylon. Media was inferior to the Babylonian Empire in the normal ways superiority and inferiority would be understood. Media had been humbled by Persia, and, at the time of the downfall of Babylon, was merely a kingdom within the Empire of Medo-Persia. There is no credible way, however, in which Medo-Persia could be said to be inferior to Babylon. Medo-Persia had more than ten times the land area, a much larger and well-organized population, and was vastly more powerful, than the Babylonian Empire.

        People who believe the second kingdom is Medo-Persia sometimes offer peculiar notions in support of the idea that Medo-Persia was inferior to Babylon. One theory is that Daniel measures "greatness" by the extent of damage done to the Jews. Babylon did more damage to the Jews than Medo-Persia, and therefore was superior to Medo-Persia. Another theory is that Medo-Persia was inferior to Babylon because rule was necessarily less centralized, and less absolute, in the very much larger Medo-Persian Empire. A third opinion is that Medo-Persia was morally inferior to Babylon. That last notion seems especially odd when one thinks of Cyrus freeing the Jews taken captive by Babylon, and of the way in which "Babylon" is used figuratively in the Book of Revelation. None of these ideas is convincing, primarily because they stray too far from the normal ways in which the superiority and inferiority of kingdoms is understood.

Persia Known for Rule Over "All the Kingdoms of the Earth"

        Fifth, verse 2:39 makes clear that bronze was used to indicate the rule of the third kingdom "all over the earth." This is a case of hyperbole since no earthly kingdom has ruled over all the earth. Despite the hyperbole, the question remains whether this description is more appropriate for Greece, or for Persia. While it is true that the Greek Empire at its peak was more extensive than the Persian, a more important point is that Cyrus is known from the Bible for claiming to have been given by God "all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 1:2). In addition, the famous Cyrus Cylinder which contains the records of Cyrus’ reign includes the statement that Babylon’s chief god, Marduk, had accepted Cyrus as "righteous prince," and had appointed him ruler "over the whole world." The point made here is that Persia, at least under Cyrus, was thought of this way. Greece wasn’t. Accordingly, the third kingdom’s rule "all over the earth" fits Persia better than Greece.

        Some who hold that the third kingdom is Greece mention that it was Greece that ruled over the whole earth, because, "Alexander cried over having no more worlds to conquer." The statement is often repeated, but is a known error of fact. After some very difficult battles near the Hyphasis River, Alexander's army mutinied, and refused to fight any longer in India. Alexander confined himself to his tent for three days, sulking, and hoping his soldiers would change their minds. They did not. Alexander's "crying" was not because there were no more worlds to conquer. It was because his army’s mutiny defeated his plan to conquer India.

Strength of Iron Describes Greece

        Sixth, verse 2:40 tells us plainly that the iron in the statue indicates great strength. Those who think the fourth kingdom is Rome are correct in noting that Rome was known for its power and strength, the kind that "crushes and shatters all things" and "breaks in pieces." However, the same verse describes Alexander's empire very well. Just ask the citizens of Tyre! Daniel’s use of the great strength of iron to describe Greece was appropriate for another reason as well. Greece was a leading user of iron.

No Angel for Rome

        Seventh, Daniel 10 makes no mention of an angel for Rome in its report of the war in heaven. Daniel is using the popular belief that events in heaven parallel events on earth. In this war there is an angel for Persia (10:13,20), an angel for Greece (10:20), and an angel for the Jews (10:13,21). Consider the extra special treatment Daniel gives to the last of the earthly kingdoms mentioned in chapters 2 and 7. It is pretty difficult to imagine why there would be no mention of an angel for Rome if Rome were meant by the legs and feet of the image in chapter 2, and by the fourth beast in chapter 7.

Lack of Details of Roman History

        Eighth, in chapter 11, at least thirty-three verses very accurately predict what was to become the history of the Greek Empire. If the fourth kingdom of chapters 2 and 7 were Rome, wouldn't there be at least a few verses accurately predicting its future so that we might recognize it? Why would God so accurately describe the third kingdom and say almost nothing of the fourth?

Purpose of Daniel Is Better Served if the Fourth Kingdom Is Greece

        Ninth, the purpose of the Book of Daniel is better served if the fourth kingdom were Greece than if it were Rome. The book, like Revelation, was meant to be a comfort to persecuted saints. Both of these books say, "We may be suffering now, but we are on God's side, and God and us will win in the end." This is not to make a mere allegory out of Daniel. The book also had, and has, important things to say about real historical events. The Book of Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Daniel accurately describes important aspects of this persecution, such as the suspension, for a time, of the Jewish sacrifices, and the profaning of the temple. (See 1 and 2 Maccabees.) This persecution of the Jews was very severe, similar to the persecutions of Christians by Nero and Domitian. The Book of Daniel would certainly not have been as powerful an inspiration to the Jews engaged in the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus if Greece were the third kingdom of Daniel rather than the fourth. Try to imagine yourself as one of the rebels, and read the Book of Daniel twice: once considering Greece to be the third kingdom, and once considering Greece to be the fourth. Which reading do you think would have been more inspiring to the rebels?

        There are patterns of truth and events that recur in history. As a result, prophecy sometimes has multiple fulfillments and a variety of applications. This can be seen in the case of Daniel. While the primary purpose of the Book was undoubtedly to comfort the Jews who were suffering persecution under Antiochus, and to inspire the Jews during the Maccabean rebellion, other applications of certain truths in the book can be made. For instance, although Antiochus' placing a statue of Zeus in the temple was one fulfillment of the "abomination of desolation" prophecy of Daniel 11:31, we all know from Jesus' statement in Matthew 24:15 that this prophecy would have another fulfillment. Other applications of the Book of Daniel are sometimes made with respect to the first coming of Christ, and even to the end times. It should always be kept in mind, however, that the primary purpose of the prophecy was to deliver a meaningful message of comfort and inspiration to the author’s own generation.

The "Little Horn" of Chapters 7 and 8 Arises in the Greek Era

        Tenth, here is one of the keys to understanding Daniel. Realize that the prophet Daniel knows how to indicate a change in empire when he wants to. There is absolutely nothing in verses 8:8-9 to indicate that there is a change in empire, i.e. that verse 8 refers to Greek rulers, but verse 9 to a Roman ruler. If one looks at verse 8:23, where the vision of the goat is explained, it says that the little horn will arise "in the latter days of their rule," referring to the four lines of rulers started by the four generals who replaced Alexander the Great. Antiochus IV not only fits Daniel 8:9 and 8:23, but also fits precisely a large number of other verses in the Book of Daniel which nearly all commentators feel apply to the "little horn" of chapter 8.

        Some have supported the idea of an empire change between Daniel 8:8 and 8:9 by raising a grammatical point involving gender agreement. They say the word "them" in verse 9 is not in gender agreement with the word "horn" in verse 8, but rather with the word "winds" in verse 8. However, even if those gender facts are correct, there is still no reason to suspect an empire change between the two verses. The issue of "winds" being the antecedent of "them" makes no difference. In verse 8, the four winds are associated with the four "notable ones." Everyone agrees these four "notable ones" are the four Greek generals who agreed during a truce to divide Alexander’s empire into four parts. The division was geographical in nature, and Daniel has described this division by saying in verse 8, ". . .came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven." In verse 9, Daniel tells us it is from out of one of these four winds, which allude to the four-part division of Alexander’s empire, that the "little horn" comes. How does that force the conclusion that the "little horn" must be other than Greek? It is sad that this gender issue has been used effectively in leading some to believe that the "little horn" must be Roman.

        Once it is realized that the "little horn" of Daniel 8 is Greek, it is a simple matter to find that the "little horn" of the fourth kingdom of chapter 7 is also Greek. Consider how implausible it would be for Daniel to use the same "little horn" metaphor in back-to-back accounts of two visions if the two "little horns" were different persons, and perhaps different nationalities. To think of Daniel doing that is silly. If the "little horn" of chapter 8 is Greek, and verses 8:21-23 tell us he was, then the "little horn" of the fourth kingdom of chapter 7 is also Greek.

"Little Horns" of Chapters 7 and 8 are the Same Individual

        In addition, it can be shown from an examination of details within chapters 7 and 8 that the two "little horns" are not only of the same nationality, but are the same individual. Daniel has said virtually the same things about "little horn" in the two chapters:

[The following material is best, and more concisely, presented in a table, but I don't know how to do it and have it look right in everyone’s email.]

        In 7:8 we read, "came up among them another little horn." In 8:9 it says, "came forth a little horn."

        In 7:20 we read, "before whom three fell," and in 7:24, "he shall subdue three kings." In 8:9 it says, "which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land."

        In 7:8,11,20,25 we read, "a mouth speaking great things," "great words which the horn spake," "a mouth that spake very great things," and "he shall speak great words against the Most High." Verses 8:11,25 says the same thing this way: "Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host," "and he shall magnify himself in his heart," and "he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes."

        Verse 7:20 says, "whose look was more stout than his fellows." In 8:23 it says, "a king of fierce countenance."

        In 7:21,25 we read, "I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them," and "and shall wear out the saints of the Most High." In verses 8:10,13,24 it says, "and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them," "How long. . . both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot," and "it shall destroy the mighty and the holy people."

        Verse 7:25 says, "and think to change times and laws." In 8:11 we read, "by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down."

        In 7:25 we read, "and they shall be given into his hand until a time, and times, and the dividing of time." Verse 8:14 says, "And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days" (margin note suggests "evenings and mornings" in place of "days"). Verse 8:26 says, "for it shall be for many days."

        In 7:11,22,26 we read, "the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame," "Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High," and "But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end." Verses 8:14 and 8:25 say, "then shall the sanctuary be cleansed," and "but he shall be broken without hand."

        In 7:24 we read, "and he shall be diverse from the first." This comment has no parallel in chapter 8, but in 11:24, a verse which is universally accepted as applying to the "little horn" of chapter 8, we read, "he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers' fathers." And in 11:37, a verse that many believe applies to the "little horn" of chapter 8, we read, "Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers."


        To summarize: (a) The four kingdoms of Daniel are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. (b) Daniel's treatment of the overthrow of Babylon agrees with Isaiah and Jeremiah. (c) Only four kingdoms are mentioned by name in the Book of Daniel, and those four are named repeatedly: Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece. (d) Rome is never mentioned in the Book of Daniel because nowhere in the book is Daniel speaking specifically about Rome. (e) Verses 8:8-9 and 8:21-23 tell us the "little horn" of chapter 8 is Greek. (f) The "little horn" of the fourth kingdom in chapter 7 is the same as the "little horn" of chapter 8. This confirms that the fourth kingdom of Daniel is Greece. (g) Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an important manifestation, even if not the ultimate manifestation, of Daniel's "little horn."