History of Iran
(part of Iranologie.com)
Part IV: Achaemenid Empire
Chapter V: Temporary Relief
The chaotic rule of Darius II and Artaxerxes II saw a sudden calmness throughout the empire. Various rebellions started by Satraps, mostly those of Asia Minor, and the eminent danger of an Egyptian attack were suddenly appeased by a series of fortunate incidents. The reign of Artaxerxes II Ochus brought further organisation to the declining empire. For a while, it seemed as if the empire was going to return to its glory. However, as we will see, these promising events were only a temporary break in the process of the Persian Empire’s demise.
Iran at the End of Artaxerxes II’s Reign
Near the end of the long reign of Artaxerxes II (404-359 BCE), a wave of serious revolts started to threaten the continuation of the Achaemenid Rule. The lack of central authority, the gradual rise of local powers, especially that of the Satraps, and the virtually hereditary nature of the governmental positions, had created a basis of rebellions against the throne. Around 365, Persian satraps of Asia Minor had risen into a general revolt under the leadership of Datames, satrap of Cappadocia (Katpatuka in Old Persian).
Datames was a successful career politician who had risen to importance during wars against the Cadusians who lived around the Caspian Sea around 378. After that, he had become the governor of several districts in Cappadocia, and following some court conspiracy against him, managed to enlarge his territory and become almost independent. By 365 BCE, Datames was in control of most of Cappadocia and was already minting Achaemenid style coins in his own name. His successful rebellion brought many of other satraps, including Ariobarzanes of Phrygia and Mausolus of Halicarnassus. By the beginning of 364, the whole of Asia Minor as well as some parts of Phoenicia were in open war against the Achaemenid throne, with the exception of Autophradates of Lydia who initially fought the rebels, but later joined them.
The rebel army, joined by many Spartan and Athenian mercenaries, started to march towards Susa, hoping to overthrow the king. However, during the course of 363 BCE, Sparta suffered a humiliating defeat in the hand of the pro-Persian Thebes. The defeat caused the return of a number of Spartan mercenaries to Sparta. On the other hand, Ariobarzanes of Phrygia was betrayed by his son Mithradates and was murdered, leaving a gap in the leadership of the revolt. On the other hand, Autophradates and Orontes of Ionia defected to the side of Artaxerxes, leaving Datames alone. By the end of 363, Datemes was killed and Mausolus, the only remaining rebel who had never publicly joined the satraps, was pardoned. He was reinstated in his position as ruler of Halicarnassus and after his death in 353 BCE, his “Mausoleum” which was modelled after the tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae, became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
At the same time, the Egyptian Pharaoh Tachos, was in the process of conducting a campaign against “Asia” as well. In order to provide for the cost of his campaign, Tachos had sought the help of Greek bureaucrats to help him raise taxes and fill out the royal treasury. These Greek financiers, without considering the state of Egyptian economy after centuries of foreign rule and the drainage of silver out of the country in form of tribute, started to tax laws. These laws were designed to extract money from every aspect of people’s life, including the burial of their dead. These policies proved to be successful and provided Tachos with the money he needed to ‘restore the Egyptian might’, but they would come back to haunt him.
Around 361 Tachos and his nephew Nekhet-har-hebi left Egypt for Syria at the head of a large army of Egyptians and Greek Mercenaries. Much of Phoenician city-states joined the Egyptian army and the danger for the Empire seemed eminent. Artaxerxes sent his third son, Vahuka, to stop the advance of Tachos and himself started to assemble an army to meet the Pharaoh. As luck would have it, the internal politics of Egypt made it unnecessary for Artaxerxes to actually meet and defeat Tachos. The rising dissatisfaction with the ‘reforms’ had caused Tachos’ brother and other Egyptian nobles to depose Tachos and declare Nekht-har-hebi as the new Pharaoh. Nekht-har-hebi rose against his uncle in Syria and chased him to Persia, where he was received well. The Egyptian army promptly returned to Egypt and the Greek mercenaries and financial advisers were dismissed, much to the delight of the Egyptian people. For the time, it seemed as if the reign of Artaxerxes II is going to end peacefully.
The Reign of Artaxerxes III Ochus
Artaxerxes II had more than 115 sons from 350 wives, but Queen Stateira, had given him three sons, Darius, Ariaspes, and Vahuka (Ochus). Tired of waiting for his turn at the throne, Darius, the eldest of the sons, entered a conspiracy to murder his father, an unfortunate plan that was leaked the king probably by Vahuka. The royal court sentenced Darius to execution and the position of heir to the throne went to Ariaspes, a calm and popular prince. However, the co-conspirators that included Vahuka, the king’s third son and one of the commanders of the royal guard named Tiribazus, convinced Ariaspes of the king’s suspicion about him, a thought that caused him to commit suicide. The old king’s hopes were now directed towards his fourth son, Arsames, as he held no special place for Vahuka in his heart. Arsames too was murdered, as did Artaxerxes who could not stand the loss of his son.
Now Vahuka, crowned as Artaxerxes III, was the ruler of the Achaemenid Empire and proved himself to be one of the most effective and bloodthirsty characters of his royal house. His first act was to execute all members of the royal family, starting with his siblings. This act proved to be most effective in preventing future plots against the king and also in creating a fear of the new emperor in the hearts of the subordinates. His first official action was to raise a campaign against the constantly rebellious Cadusians whose revolts was a proof of the reversal of Darius and Xerxes’ homogenisation policies. Unlike the previous campaigns, Artaxerxes seems to have been completely successful in appeasing both of the Cadusian kings, as we see the presence of Cadusians in royal armies from now on. A successful character emerging from this campaign was Darius, a great-grandson of Darius II and one of the few survivors of Artaxerxes’ family cleansing project, who later occupied the throne as Darius III.
Next, Artaxerxes ordered the dismissal of all Greek mercenaries from the satrapal armies of Asia Minor. The order proved effective and many Greek mercenaries were returned to Athens and Sparta. The order was however ignored by Artabazus of Lydia who asked for the help of Athens in a rebellion against the king. Athens considered the request and sent the assistance to Sardis. Orontes of Mysia also came to Artabazus and the joined forces managed to defeat the forces sent by Artaxerxes in 354. However, in 353 they were defeated by Artaxerxes’ army and were disbanded. Orontes asked for pardon and received it, while Artabazus fled to the safety of court of Philip of Macedonia.
The Recovery of Egypt
After proving his iron will and making certain that his enemies know the fierceness of the new emperor, Artaxerxes seems to have turned towards Susa and have taken up an internal reform, probably trying to rejuvenate the royal treasury. In 350 BCE, he started a campaign to recover Egypt, but despite early successes in Palestine, he was stopped by the Red Sea. A year later, the confederacy of Phoenician city-states, headed by Tennes of Sidon, declared its independence from the Persian Empire. Centred in Tripolis, the geographical heart of Phonicia, the confederated cities gathered to review their forces against the Great King. Nekht-har-hebi of Egypt aided the rebels by sending troops, as did the nine Cypriot city-states who joined the Phoenicians and twice defeated the armies that had come to pacify them (346 BCE).
In 345, Artaxerxes III himself took the command of the armies and advanced towards Sidon. The joined forces of Phoenicia fought the imperial army, but as Tennes had already realised, his army could not stand the full force of the Achaemenid Empire. Sidon was defeated and razed to the ground, and the rest of the Phoenician city-states gradually gave up their claims, as did eight of the nine Cypriot city-states. Phoenicia was united with Cilicia in one satrapy and it was put under the control of Mazaeus.
The attention of Artaxerxes was now turned towards Egypt. An overwhelming force crossed the Sinai into Egypt and met the combined army of Egyptians, Lybians, and Greek mercenaries. Artaxerxes’ early battles were all successful, despite the strong Egyptian naval force. In 343 he managed to occupy the Delta and march towards the capital in Memphis. In 342, the Persian reached Memphis and forced Nekht-har-hebi to Nubia, were he ruled as an independent king as is evident by his inscriptions in the temple of Edefu. Artaxerxes’ punishment of Egypt was serious and included the destruction of the fortification in the Delta and around Memphis, as well as several temples. He found the 31st Dynasty in Egypt, the so-called “Second Persian Dynasty” and appointed Pherendates as the satrap of the country.
Artaxerxes’ success in Egypt brought a new sense of revival to the empire. Neighbouring countries again realised the power and influence of the Persian Empire. Persian forces in Ionia and Lycia regained their control of the Aegian and the Mediterranean and took over much of Athen’s former island empire. Isocrates of Athens started his speeches calling for a ‘crusade against the barbarians’ but there was not enough strength left in any of the Greek city-states to answer his call.
In 341, Artaxerxes returned to Babylon where he apparently proceeded to build a great Apadana whose description is present in the works of Diodorius (II 7). The Persian Empire was once again occupying its old borders and proving its ability to rule over a very large territory. Unfortunately, in 338 BCE Artaxerxes III was poisoned by his eunuch Bagoas, who by murdering one of the most able Achaemenid emperors, unknowingly facilitated the fall of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes III was apparently buried in a tomb in Persepolis, where he had most likely never lived during his life time.
The Rule of Arses and the Early Macedonian Threat
Bagoas, the murdered and the king maker, appointed Arses, Artaxerxes’ young son, to the throne of the Achaemenids. Arses, probably a young man, has left us no significant monuments or even an inscription, as he was apparently nothing but a puppet in the hands of Bagoas.
During Arses reign, Philip of Macedonia started his first campaigns into Asia Minor. Philip, a very ambitious man, had styled himself the saviour the Greeks and the Greek culture during the previous decade, despite the fact that he was only a Hellenised Macedonian himself. His diplomatic moves, as well as his forces, had won him much of European Greece and he now ruled over the formerly proud and strong Thebes, Argos, Athens, and Sparta.
Answering the constant calls to start a crusade against the barbarians, Philip asked for the support of the Greek city-states. Despite the fact that some politicians such as Isocrates saw Philip as the instrument of the crusade against the Persian Empire, some politicians such as Demosthenes found Philip to be a greater threat to the survival of Greek independence and culture than the Persians.
Nonetheless, in 337 BCE, the forces of Philip occupied Byzantium and entered Ionia in Asia Minor. The advance of Macedonian forces was quick and on the way, it attracted the alliance of local Greek rulers. In one case, the Ionian governor offered the hand of his daughter to Philip’s younger son, Areaus. Alexander, the eldest of Philip’s children and Olympia, Alexander’s mother, became concerned about the position of Alexander. Consequently, Alexander presented himself as a candidate for the royal engagement, and the Ionian governor happily agreed. But the arrangement was not favoured by Philip who apparently did not want Alexander as his successor. Shortly afterwards, Philip was dead of poisoning, an affair of which Alexander and Olympia must have been aware. Alexander replaced his father and quickly realised the instability of his rule and thus returned his troops to Macedonia to prepare for a strong attack against the Persian Empire.
At the meantime, Arses was also poisoned by Bagoas who now was entertaining the thought of claiming the throne for himself, but temporarily installed Darius III Codomannus, the veteran of the Cadusian campaign, to the throne. Darius proved to be more durable than Bagoas had wanted and he survived to face the end of his dynasty.
The successful rule of Artaxerxes III and his achievements in reinstating the power of the Persian Empire was almost entirely over turned by his murder and the pursuing chaos that accompanied it. However, the proper end of the empire was still in the future and awaited the meeting of Alexander and Darius III.
Part IV Index History Page Iranologie Main Page
General Bibliography and Reading Suggestions
Briant, Pierre. From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Eisenbrauns, 2002
Bresciani, E. "Aegypten und das Perserreich." in Fischer Weltgeschichte, Vol. V, Frankfurt am Main, 1965
Childs, W.A.P. "Lycian relations with Persians and Greeks in the fifth and fourth centuries re-examined", AnSt 31, 1981
Dandamaev, M.A. A Political History of the Achaemenid Empire. Translated by W.J. Vogelsang. E.j> Brill, Leiden, 1989
Ray, J. D. "Egypt: Dependence and Independence (425-343 B.C.)" in Sancisi-Weerdenburg, H.W.A.M. ed. Achaemenid History I: Sources, Structures and Synthesis, Leiden, 1987
Starr, C.G. "Greeks and Persians in the Fourth Century B.C." Iranica Antiqua Vol 11 (1975) and Volume 12 (1977)
Old Persian Texts (http://www.avesta.org/op/op.htm)
Wikipedia History of Persia (http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Persia)