In Daniel 10:20 the angel says he was sent by God immediately when Daniel began to pray, twenty-one days earlier, but he was hindered by the “prince of Persia” and the “prince of Greece.” Who is the “prince of Persia”?
For many interpreters, the prince of Persia is some kind of a national angel or territorial angel, in charge of the nation of Persia. In 12:1 Michael is the “prince” of God’s people, Israel. In 1 Enoch 20:1-8 for Michael as an archangel (cf., Jude 9).
The idea that nations had a particular angelic being ruling over it in the spiritual world may be behind the idea of local gods, or patron gods of the city-states. In 3 Enoch 35:12 identifies Samma’el as the “prince of Rome” and Dubbie’el as the Prince of Persia; both of these princes sit daily with Satan and write out the sins of Israel in order to deliver them to the seraphim.
3 Enoch 35:12 Why is their name called seraphim? Because they burn the tablets of Satan. Every day Satan sits with Sammaʾel, Prince of Rome, and with Dubbiʾel, Prince of Persia, and they write down the sins of Israel on tablets and give them to the seraphim to bring them before the Holy One, blessed be he, so that he should destroy Israel from the world.
In the Second Temple period the idea of an angelic “prince” developed into a mini-theology of angels. In Genesis 10 there are seventy nations and there were seventy sons of Abraham in Exodus 1:5. In addition, the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy 32:8 says God has fixed the borders of peoples “according to the number of the sons of God.” The Septuagint has “according to the angels of God” (κατὰ ἀριθμὸν ἀγγέλων θεοῦ). From these texts developed the idea there is a divine council with as many as seventy angels in charge of the nations. A Jewish writer would not think the gods of the nations were real, but they would not deny spiritual beings played a role in international politics. Although the text does not specifically mention angels, Sirach 17:17 says:
Sirach 17:17 (NRSV) He appointed a ruler for every nation, but Israel is the Lord’s own portion.
Does the Bible really claim there is a divine council or “regional angels” in charge of the nations? As appealing as this tradition is, it must be emphasized it is only a tradition developed on the Second Temple Period.
If the prince of Persia is not an angelic or demonic being, then the phrase refers to human political leaders. William Shea, for example, argued the princes in Daniel 10 refers to the kings of the Persians and Greeks. The prince of Persia is either Cyrus the Great or Cambyses, not a powerful angelic being. Without identifying specific Persian or Greek kings, but may be the case the cosmic battle between the prince of Persia, the prince of Greece, and the prince of Israel foreshadows the earthly conflict between the Persians, Greeks and the Judeans described in Daniel 11.
The significant elements in Daniel 10 is that the prince of Persia was able to hinder the messenger from God and that messenger was unable to overcome the prince of Persia for three weeks. Even then, he needed help from Michael, the Prince of Israel to overcome. At the very least, the prince of Persia is an enemy of God who (for some unexplained reason) wants to prevent Daniel from receiving the message from God.
Bibliography: David E. Stevens, “Daniel 10 and the Notion of Territorial Spirits” BSac 157 (2000): 410-431; William H. Shea, “Wrestling with the Prince of Persia: A Study on Daniel 10,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 21 (1983); David E. Stevens, “Does Deuteronomy 32:8 Refer to ‘Sons of God’ or ‘Sons of Israel’” BibSac 154 (1997): 131-41.; Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the ‘Sons of God,’” BibSac 158 (2001). S. R. Driver, Daniel, 157 has a brief discussion of the “doctrine of tutelary angels.”