Artaxerxes I


Artaxerxes I (OP *Artaxšaça "whose power (is established through) truth") was the third king of kings in the Achaemenid line and reigned from 465-424 BCE. Artaxerxes was the second or third son of Xerxes I and the latter's wife Amestris (Diod. 11.60.5), but nothing is known of his life before his accession. We are mostly reliant on Greek sources, the documentary evidence of the Babylonian Murašu archive, and an occasional piece of evidence from Egypt and Judah for his reign.


Xerxes was assassinated as a result of court intrigue (Iust. 3.1; Diod. 11.69; Ctesias FGrH 688 F14.29-30; cf. Aristot. Pol. 5.1311b36-40). Allegedly, his Hyrcanian chiliarch Artabanus killed him in his bedroom and laid the blame on the king's older son Darius, the designated heir. With the support of the bodyguard, his youngest son Artaxerxes then killed Darius in revenge, whereupon he became king (Iust. 3.1.3). This direct line of succession from Xerxes to Artaxerxes is confirmed by the Treasury tablets and Babylonian documentary evidence (PT 76; Parker 1942, 15), discounting the statement of the 3rd century CE chronographer S. Julius Africanus (Syncellus BNJ 609 F2.142) that Artabanus was king for seven months (Briant 2002, 566). The story as we have it is clearly narratively embroidered and in some versions echoes the assassination of Bardiya by Darius and the six nobles (Briant 2002, 563-565). It seems clear that the third brother, Hystaspes, who was already acting as satrap in Bactria and was not at court, did not accept Artaxerxes' primacy and rebelled unsuccessfully (Diod. 11.69.2). The one who benefitted from the plot was Artaxerxes, probably the youngest of these three, who would have had little chance of becoming king. Though Xerxes had illegitimate sons, they did not play a part in the succession (Hdt. 8.103).


In 463 BCE Artaxerxes may have put down another rebellion by the satrap of Hyrcania who had replaced Hystaspes, Artabanus (Plut. Them. 31.3; Ctesias FGrH 688, F14.35), though it is possible that the sources are referring to Hystaspes' insurrection (Briant 2002, 570). The Egyptian revolt led by the Libyan Inarus was more problematic (Ctesias FGrH 688, F14.36-38; Thucydides 1.104.1), as it gained control of the delta for almost ten years. Even though Inarus first revolted already in 463, Artaxerxes sent out an army under the illustrious courtier and noble Megabyzus only in 456, which defeated Inarus and his Athenian allies under Kimon, forcing them to surrender after a siege in 454 (Hdt. 3.12.4, 160.2; 7.7; Thuc, 1.104, 109-10; Ctesias FGrH 66 F14.38f.; Isoc. 8.86; Diod. 11.71.3-6, 74-75, 77.1-5). An Arsames was then appointed as the new satrap of Egypt, which was to remain quite firmly under Persian control during Artaxerxes' reign, though a set of local kings, including an Amyrtaeus, continued to hold the marshy Western delta as part of a system of client kings (Thuc. 1.110.2, 1.112.3; Briant 2002, 575f.).

The book of Esra suggests that there was some trouble in Judah under Artaxerxes, specifically attempts at fortifying Jerusalem with malicious intent (Esr 4:7-24), but the chronology and significance are obscure (Briant 2002, 578f.). Throughout his reign, Artaxerxes seems to have permitted the Jews to rebuild and decorate the temple at Jerusalem. He supported the mission of Esra in 458 BCE from the royal treasuries and provided it with a passport (Esr 7:7-26), then lent his support to a similar mission in 445, when the king's cupbearer Nehemia was given even greater privileges, acting as governor and being granted timber from the royal storehouses (Neh 2:1-9, 5:14-17). Despite the problems, the biblical books show that there was socioeconomic unrest in Judah that Artaxerxes tried to solve by sending out specialists to assess and mend the situation (Briant 2002, 585f.), as he surely did whenever such problems arose in the empire.

Beyond that, we know most about the conflict with the Athenians and the Delian League on the empire's western front. In 450 BCE a large Athenian fleet made a new attack on Cyprus. It gained a victory against Artaxerxes' generals Artabazus and Megabyzus, but lost its leader Cimon (Thuc. 1.112.2-4; Plut. Cim. 18.1-19.4). The shift in Athenian strategy this caused led to the re-negotiation at Susa, in the winter of 449/8 BCE, of the so-called peace of Callias, which had potentially first been established in 460 BCE at the Eurymedon (Hdt. 7.151; Diodorus 12.2.3-4.6, 26.2; Nepos Cim. 3.4; Plut. Cim. 13.4-6; cf. Andoc. 3.29). Since Thucydides does not mention this peace, it has been much-debated (Meister 1982; Badian 1987), but it fits the interests of both parties. The basis for settlement was an unprecedented compromise, the status quo ante, whereby Persians and Athenians delimited their respective spheres of rule and vowed non-interference and "friendship". Athens gave up its interests in Egypt, Cyprus, and the Ionian cities on the Anatolian coast, who were to be autonomous but tributary to Persia. In return, Artaxerxes decreed that he would not advance an army beyond the Halys river or to send a fleet beyond Phaselis in Pamphylia or beyond the mouth of the Black Sea, limitations the satraps swore to uphold.

In 440/39 BCE Athens broke the treaty by attacking Samos, having been called in by Miletus, which was then engaged in a border conflict with Samos. The exiled pro-Persian Samians called in the satrap of Lydia, Pissuthnes, and took the city back with his support; the whole affair ended with an Athenian victory (Thuc. 1.115-117; Diod. 12.27.1-28.4; Plut. Per. 25.2-26.4; Briant 2002, 580f.). When the Peloponnesian war broke out in 431, first Sparta (Thuc. 2.67.1-3, 4.50.1-2) and then Athens tried to enter into relations with the Persian king to gain his support, but nothing conclusive was established before Artaxerxes' death.


Artaxerxes died between December 24, 424 and January 10, 423 BCE (Thuc. 4.50.3; Diod. 12.64.1; Parker 1942, 15f.). Artaxerxes' main wife was Damaspia (Ctesias F 15.48), who bore his designated heir and first successor, Xerxes II. The king had 17 other illegitimate sons and many daughters, who included Sogdianus, born of the Babylonian Alogune, and Bagopaeus and Parysatis, born of the Babylonian And(r)ia. This Parysatis married her half-brother Ochos, another son of Cosmartidene, while Artaxerxes was still alive. He would later become king as Darius II.


Artaxerxes' scanty inscriptions show great continuity with the formulae established by Darius I (Briant 2002, 570). They mainly document his building activity and the production of valuable vessels at Persepolis (substantiated by the tablets from the treasury, e.g. PT 76-77, 79). The former included the completion of the throne hall (the "Hall of 100 Columns") in Persepolis, which had been planned and begun by his father. His Akkadian foundation inscription (A1Pb), found on a limestone slab, records this fact, but the text was not discovered in situ, so some uncertainty persists (Schmidt 1953, 126, 129 n. 2). The inscription on the north staircase of palace H at Persepolis (A1Pa) is extremely fragmentary, but suggests that he again completed a project begun by Xerxes. Beyond that, only minor vessel inscriptions survive of Artaxerxes I. A more extensive vessel inscription in Old Persian, VA1e (Kent 1953, 153 as A1I), is preserved on several beautiful silver phialai, but documents nothing of historical value and to make matters worse, the bowls are now mostly regarded as forgeries (Schmitt 2007, 82-93). At Susa the apadāna of Darius I burnt down during Artaxerxes' reign (A²Sa), who did not rebuild it but began a much smaller one in the southern part of the city, which was later completed by his son Darius II (D2Sb).


Badian, Ernst, "The Peace of Callias", in: JHS 107 (1987), 1-39.

Briant, Pierre, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Winona Lake, IN 2002, 563-588.

Meister, Klaus, Die Ungeschichtlichkeit des Kalliasfriedens und deren historische Folgen, Wiesbaden 1982.

Parker, Richard A., Waldo H. Dubberstein, Babylonian Chronology: 626 B.C. - A.D. 75, Chicago 1942.

Henry Heitmann-Gordon

Henry Heitmann-Gordon, 'Artaxerxes I', Achaemenid Royal Inscriptions online (ARIo) Project, The ARIo Project, a sub-project of MOCCI, 2020 []

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