Who was Artaxerxes I of Persia?
Artaxerxes I was a Persian “King of Kings” who reigned from 465 BC to 424 BC. He was the sixth emperor of the Achaemenid dynasty. The third male child of his father, Xerxes I or Xerxes the Great, his birth likely happened during the reign of his grandfather, Darius I or Darius the Great. After his father, possibly along with his elder brother Crown Prince Darius, was murdered by Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard, Artaxerxes became the de facto heir to the throne. He subsequently executed Artabanus and his sons. One of the important events during his reign was the Egyptian revolt of 460–454 BC led by Inaros II. While the Persians suffered initial defeat, they ultimately won against the Egyptians and their Athenian allies. During his reign, Persia attained a tentative understanding with Athens and Argos with the Peace of Callias. Artaxerxes even granted asylum to one of his father’s biggest enemies, Themistocles, after he had been ostracized in Athens. He is mentioned in the Bible as someone who instructed the Kohen and Scribe Ezra to be the administrator of the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the Jewish nation. He was also possibly “Artasyrus,” whom Herodotus refers to as a satrap of the royal satrapy of Bactria.
Childhood & Early Life
The exact date of Artaxerxes’ birth is not known. It is presumed that it occurred during the reign of his grandfather, Darius I. His father was Xerxes, Darius’ son and heir, while his mother was Amestris, the daughter of one of the seven noblemen who supposedly had murdered the magus who was masquerading as King Bardiya in 522 BC.
In 465 BC, Xerxes was assassinated by Hazarapat Artabanus, the leader of the royal bodyguards and the most influential official in the Persian court. He was helped in the regicide by a eunuch, Aspamitres.
Greek historians record conflicting accounts of what transpired next. Ctesias (in Persica 20) writes that Artabanus accused Crown Prince Darius, Xerxes' eldest son, of patricide and convinced Artaxerxes to take vengeance for it by killing his brother. However, Aristotle (in Politics 5.1311b) reports that Artabanus murdered Darius first and then assassinated Xerxes. After Artaxerxes I of Persia learned about the deaths, he executed Artabanus and his sons.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
Accession & Reign
Artaxerxes I of Persia ascended the Persian throne in 465 BC. One of the most significant events that took place during his reign was the Egyptian revolt of 460–454 BC. This was led by Inaros II, a son of a Libyan prince named Psamtik, who supposedly could trace his roots back to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt.
In 460 BC, aided by the Athenians, Inaros II launched a rebellion against the Persians and won a battle against a contingent of Persian army led by Satrap Akheimenes.
The Persians were compelled to fall back to Memphis. In 454 BC, under the command of Megabyzus, satrap of Syria, and Artabazos, satrap of Phrygia, the Persians were able to destroy the Athenian fleet after a two-year-long siege. Inaros II was taken captive and sent to the city of Susa, where he was executed.
Following the severe defeat of the Achaemenid Empire by the Delian League of Athens and its allies at the Battle of the Eurymedon (c. 469 BC), military conflict between Greece and Persia had come to a temporary halt.
When Artaxerxes I of Persia ascended the throne, he utilized a new tactic to wear out the Athenians by financing their enemies in Greece. The Athenian decision to relocate the treasury of the Delian League from the island of Delos to the Athenian acropolis was taken because of this.
The financial support of Athens’ enemies inevitably led to the renewal of hostilities in 450 BC, when the Greeks instigated an attack at the Battle of Cyprus. When the Athenian statesman and general Cimon proved to be unsuccessful during the venture, Athens, Argos, and Persia signed the Peace of Callias in 449 BC.
Artaxerxes gave Themistocles, arguably his father’s greatest enemy and the Athenian commander at the Battle of Salamis, political and military refuge in his empire after the other man was ostracized in Athens. Furthermore, Artaxerxes offered Themistocles Magnesia, Myus, and Lampsacus to provide him with bread, meat, and wine.
Artaxerxes also bestowed Skepsis and Percote upon him, so he could have clothes and bedding for his house. In the ensuing years, Themistocles was taught Persian customs, Persian language, and traditions, and he embraced all of them.
Appearance in the Book of Ezra and Nehemiah
The Bible names a King Artaxerxes who instructed Ezra, through a letter of decree, to helm the ecclesiastical and civil affairs of the Jewish nation. Ezra then departed from Babylon in the first month of the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ tenure as the King of Kings. A group of Jewish priests and Levites accompanied him. As per the Hebrew calendar, they reached Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month of the seventh year.
Continue Reading Below
The text is not clear about whether the king mentioned there is Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE) or Artaxerxes II (404–359 BCE). Most scholars agree that Artaxerxes I and Ezra were contemporaries, though a few have voiced their scepticism about that belief.
Ezra and Nehemiah did not know each other and did not embark on their respective ventures at the same time. However, according to Nehemiah 12, both were at the front of the parades on the wall, participating in the wall dedication ceremony. So, it is also possible that they lived around the same time and collaborated in the reconstruction of the wall and the city of Jerusalem.
These discrepancies had made some scholars assume that Ezra came to Jerusalem about 50 years after Nehemiah, while Artaxerxes II was on the Persian throne. The implication here is that the Biblical accounts were not recorded chronologically. Another group of scholars consider “the seventh year" as an error made by a scribe and believe that the two men lived during the same period.
In the 20th year of his tenure, the king asked his cup-bearer and friend, Nehemiah, the cause of his sadness. In response, Nehemiah told him about the hardship that the Jewish people faced and how Jerusalem did not have a proper defence.
Artaxerxes I of Persia gave him letters of safe passage for the governors in Trans-Euphrates and for Asaph, keeper of the royal forests, so he could travel to Jerusalem to build beams for the citadel by the “Temple” and reconstruct the city walls.
Marriage & Issue
Artaxerxes’ principle wife was Queen Damaspia, who was a native Persian. Their only known child was Xerxes II, who was his father’s heir. Artaxerxes also had several concubines, including Alogyne of Babylon, Cosmartidene of Babylon, and Andia of Babylon, and had a number of children with them. Some of these children became historically important in the years after Artaxerxes’ death.
Death & Succession
Greek historian Ctesias of Cnidus writes that Artaxerxes I of Persia and his queen Damaspia passed away on the same day in 424 BC, possibly while a military expedition was going on. Their remains were taken to Persia.
His tomb is located in Marvdasht, Iran, and is part of the Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis. In a paper released in 2011, it is stated that the disparity in Artaxerxes’ limb sizes may have been caused by the inherited disease neurofibromatosis.
After Artaxerxes I’s death, Xerxes II became the king of kings. However, his reign was short. He was murdered on the orders of his illegitimate brother, Sogdianus, who became the next king of kings.
Another of Artaxerxes’ children, Ochus, rebelled against his brother and eventually deposed and executed him. Ochus subsequently ascended the throne under the name Darius II in 423 BC. His queen was his half-sister, Parysatis.