Artaxerxes IV


The historical circumstances of the short reign of Artaxerxes IV (OP *Artaxšaça "whose power (is established through) truth"); r. Sept. 338-336 BCE) are almost entirely buried in the confusion of the sources. Originally named Arses, he seems to have succeeded his father Artaxerxes III, adopting the same throne name as him (TL 44 (=Bryce 1986, 43f.); BM 36613 (=Sachs 1977, 146f.); Diod. 17.5.4; BM 40623, III.4-8 (=BHLT, p. 35). See Boiy 2006; Hackl/Oelsner 2018). Even the circumstances of his accession, however, are murky. Diodorus relates a story of fraternal strife similar to that involving Xerxes II, Sogdianus and Darius II, orchestrated by the eunuch, or more precisely chiliarch, Bagoas, who is said to have intended to promote the youngest son and control him as a puppet king. In an alternative version, he is said to have poisoned even Artaxerxes III (Diod. 17.6.3-6). By contrast, a fragment of a Babylonian astronomical diary suggests that the king died from natural causes (BM 71537 III' rev. 9-10 = ADART V.11).


It is extremely likely that the death of Artaxerxes III caused significant unrest in the Empire and it is certain that Bagoas and Artaxerxes IV were unable to regain control. Babylonia may have revolted and been quelled by generous assurances regarding Esangila and its priesthoods (Hackl/Oelsner 2018, 698f.). The Uruk Kinglist indicates that the successor of Artaxerxes IV, Darius III, was preceded by a Babylonian known also as Nidinti-Bēl, suggesting a period of revolt in Babylon during the reign of Artaxerxes IV or after his death (IM 65066). It is also likely that the recently reconquered satrapy of Egypt revolted (Badian 2000, 252-254) and that Parmenion, a general of Philip II of Macedon, invaded the western part of the Empire late in Artaxerxes' reign in 336, a sign of greater troubles to come (Polyaen. 5.44.4; Briant 2002, 817f.).


While the full extent of this unstable situation remains unclear, it seems likely that Artašata, a great-grandson of Darius II and thus a distant relative of Artaxerxes, decided to exploit the troubles. Using his connection to the royal line and his standing as satrap of Armenia, he succeeded in gaining enough support among the nobility to take the throne, either before or after Bagoas had killed also Artaxerxes IV, ending the main branch of the royal line, since all close male relatives of that king had been slain in 338 (Diod. 17.5.3-6.2; BM 40623, III.1-5). The relationship between Bagoas and Artašata remains murky; see the page on Darius III.


As with all short-lived Achaemenids, no inscriptions of Artaxerxes IV are extant thus far, though he occurs in a number of Babylonian tablets and his name has been found inscribed on objects (Hackl/Oelsner 2018; Theis 2008).


Boiy, Tim, "Aspects chronologiques de la période de transition (350–300)", in: Pierre Briant/Francis Joannès (eds.), La transition entre l'empire achéménide et les royaumes hellénistiques (Persika 9), Paris 2006, 37–100.

Briant, Pierre, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, Winona Lake, IN 2002, 774-776.

Bryce, Trevor, The Lycians in Literary and Epigraphic Sources, Vol. 1, Copenhagen 1986.

Hackl, Johannes / Oelsner, Joachim, "Babylonisches zu Artaxerxes IV.", in: Klio 100:3 (2018), 688-708.

Theis, Christoffer, "Die ägyptische Schreibung des persischen Königsnamens Arses", in: Carsten Peust (ed.), Miscellanea in honorem Wolfhart Westendorf, Göttingen 2008, 120-123.

Henry Heitmann-Gordon

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

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