ARTAXERXES, a name representing Pers. Artakhshatra, "he whose empire is well-fitted" or "perfected", Heb. Artakhshasta, Bab. Artakshatsu, Susian Irtakshashsha (and variants), Gr., , and in an inscription of Tralles (Dittenberger, Sylloge, 573) ; Herodotus (vi. 98) gives the translation , and considers the name as a compound of Xerxes, showing thereby that he knew nothing of the Persian language; the later Persian form is Ardashir, which occurs in the form Artaxias (Artaxes) as the name of some kings of Armenia. It was borne by three kings of the Achaemenian dynasty of ancient Persia; though, so long as its meaning was understood, it can have been adopted by the kings only after their accession to the throne.
1. Artaxerxes I., surnamed Macrocheir, Longimanus, "Longhand," because his right hand was longer than his left (Plut. Artax. i.). He was the younger son of Xerxes, and was raised to the throne in 465 by the vizier Artabanus, the murderer of his father. After a few months he became aware of the crimes of the vizier, and slew him and his sons in a hand-to-hand fight in the palace. His reign was, on the whole, peaceful; the empire had reached a period of stagnation. Plutarch (Artax. i.) says that he was famous for his mild and magnanimous character, Nepos (de Reg. i.) that he was exceedingly beautiful and valiant. From the authentic report of his cup-bearer Nehemiah we see that he was a kind, good-natured, but rather weak monarch, and he was undoubtedly much under the baneful influence of his mother Amestris (for whose mischievous character cf. Herod. ix. 109 ff.) and his sister and wife Amytis. The peacefulness of his rule was interrupted by several insurrections. At the very beginning the satrap Artabanus raised a rebellion in Bactria, but was defeated in two battles. More dangerous was the rebellion of Egypt under Inarus (Inarōs), which was put down by Megabyzus only after a long struggle against the Egyptians and the Athenians (460-454). Out of it sprang the rebellion of Megabyzus, who was greatly exasperated because, though he had persuaded Inarus to surrender by promising that his life would be spared, Artaxerxes, yielding to the entreaties of his wife Amytis, who wanted to take revenge on Inarus for the death of her brother Achaemenes, the satrap of Egypt, had surrendered him to her for execution.
In spite of his weakness, Artaxerxes I. was not unsuccessful in his polity. In 448 the war with Athens was terminated by the treaty concluded by Callias (but see Callias and Cimon), by which the Athenians left Cyprus and Egypt to the Persians, while Persia gave up nothing of her rights, but promised not to make use of them against the Greek cities on the Asiatic coast, which had gained their liberty (Ed. Meyer, Forschungen zur alt. Gesch. ii. 71 ff.). In the Samian and the Peloponnesian wars, Artaxerxes remained neutral, in spite of the attempts made by both Sparta and Athens to gain his alliance.
During the reign of Artaxerxes I. the Jewish religion was definitely established and sanctioned by law in Jerusalem, on the basis of a firman granted by the king to the Babylonian priest Ezra in his seventh year, 458 B.C., and the appointment of his cup-bearer Nehemiah as governor of Judaea in his twentieth year, 445 B.C. The attempts which have been made to deny the authenticity of those parts of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which contain an account of these two men, taken from their own memoirs, or to place them in the reign of Artaxerxes II., are not convincing (cf. Ed. Meyer, Die Entstehung des Judentums, 1896; see further Jews, §§ 19, 21, 22; Ezra and Nehemiah).
Artaxerxes I. died in December 425, or January 424 (Thuc. iv. 50). To his reign must belong the famous quadrilingual alabaster vases from Egypt (on which his name is written in Persian, Susian and Babylonian cuneiform characters and in hieroglyphics), for Artaxerxes II. and III. did not possess Egypt. A great many tablets, dated from his reign, have been found in Nippur (published by H. von Hilprecht and Clay, The Babylonian Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania, series A, vol. ix.), and a few others at other places in Babylonia. Inscriptions of the king himself are not extant; his grandson mentions his buildings in Susa. For the suggested identification of Artaxerxes I. with the Biblical Ahasuerus, see Ahasuerus.
2. Artaxerxes II., surnamed Mnemon, the eldest son of Darius II., whom he succeeded in the spring of 404. According to Ctesias (Pers. 57; Plut. Artax. i.) he was formerly called Arsaces or Arsikas, whereas Dinon (Plut. Artax. i.) calls him Oarses. This is corroborated by a Babylonian tablet with observations of the Moon (Brit. Mus. Sp. ii. 749; Zeitsch. f. Assyriologie, vii. 223), which is dated from the 26th year of "Arshu, who is Artakshatsu," i.e. 379 B.C. (cp. Ed. Meyer, Forschungen zur allen Geschichte, ii. 466 ff.). When Artaxerxes II. mounted the throne, the power of Athens had been broken by Lysander, and the Greek towns in Asia were again subjects of the Persian empire. But his whole reign is a time of continuous decay; the original force of the Persians had been exhausted in luxury and intrigues, and the king, though personally brave and good-natured, was quite dependent upon his favourites and his harem, and especially upon his mother Parysatis. In the beginning of his reign falls the rebellion of his brother Cyrus, who was secretly favoured by Parysatis and by Sparta. Although Cyrus was defeated at Cunaxa, this rebellion was disastrous inasmuch as it opened to the Greeks the way into the interior of the empire, and demonstrated that no oriental force was able to withstand a band of well-trained Greek soldiers. Subsequently Greek mercenaries became indispensable not only to the king but also to the satraps, who thereby gained the means for attempting successful rebellions, into which they were provoked by the weakness of the king, and by the continuous intrigues between the Persian magnates. The reign is, therefore, a continuous succession of rebellions. Egypt soon revolted anew and could not be subdued again. When in 399 war broke out between Sparta and Persia, the Persian troops in Asia Minor were quite unable to resist the Spartan armies. The active and energetic Persian general Pharnabazus succeeded in creating a fleet by the help of Evagoras, king of Salamis in Cyprus, and the Athenian commander Conon, and destroyed the Spartan fleet at Cnidus (August 394). This victory enabled the Greek allies of Persia (Thebes, Athens, Argos, Corinth) to carry on the Corinthian war against Sparta, and the Spartans had to give up the war in Asia Minor. But it soon became evident that the only gainers by the war were the Athenians, who in 389, under Thrasybulus, tried to found their old empire anew (see Delian League). At the same time Evagoras attempted to conquer the whole of Cyprus, and was soon in open rebellion. The consequence was that, when in 388 the Spartan admiral Antalcidas (q.v.) came to Susa, the king was induced to conclude a peace with Sparta by which Asia fell to him and European Greece to Sparta. After the peace, Evagoras was attacked. He lost his conquests, but had to be recognized as independent king of Salamis (380 B.C.). Two expeditions against Egypt (385-383 and 374-372) ended in complete failure. At the same period there were continuous rebellions in Asia Minor; Pisidia, Paphlagonia, Bithynia and Lycia, threw off the Persian yoke and Hecatomnus, the satrap of Caria, obtained an almost independent position. Similar wars were going on against the mountain tribes of Armenia and Iran, especially against the Cadusians on the Caspian Sea. In this war Artaxerxes is said to have distinguished himself personally (380 B.C.), but got into such difficulties in the wild country that he was glad when Tiribazus succeeded in concluding a peace with the Cadusian chieftains.
By the peace of Antalcidas the Persian supremacy was proclaimed over Greece; and in the following wars all parties, Spartans, Athenians, Thebans, Argives continually applied to Persia for a decision in their favour. After the battle of Leuctra, when the power of Thebes was founded by Epaminondas, Pelopidas went to Susa (367) and restored the old alliance between Persia and Thebes. The Persian supremacy, however, was not based upon the power of the empire, but only on the discord of the Greeks. Shortly after the edict by which the king had proclaimed his alliance with Thebes, and the conditions of the general peace which he was going to impose upon Greece, his weakness became evident, for since 366 all the satraps of Asia Minor (Datames, Ariobarzanes, Mausolus, Orontes, Artabazus) were in rebellion again, in close alliance with Athens, Sparta and Egypt. The king could do little against them; even Autophradates, satrap of Lydia, who had remained faithful, was forced for some time to unite himself with the rebels. But every one of the allies mistrusted all the others; and the sole object of every satrap was to improve his condition and his personal power, and to make a favourable peace with the king, for which his neighbours and former allies had to pay the costs. The rebellion was at last put down by a series of treacheries and perfidious negotiations. Some of the rebels retained their provinces; others were punished, as opportunity offered. Mithradates betrayed his own father Ariobarzanes, who was crucified, and murdered Datames, to whom he had introduced himself as a faithful ally. When the long reign of Artaxerxes II. came to its close in the autumn of 359 the authority of the empire had been restored almost everywhere.
Artaxerxes himself had done very little to obtain this result. In fact, in the last years of his reign he had sunk into a perfect dotage. All his time was spent in the pleasures of his harem, the intrigues of which were further complicated by his falling in love with and marrying his own daughter Atossa (according to the Persian religion a marriage between the nearest relations is no incest). At the same time, his sons were quarrelling about the succession; one of them, Ochus, induced the father by a series of intrigues to condemn to death three of his older brothers, who stood in his way. Shortly afterwards, Artaxerxes II. died.
In this reign an important innovation took place in the Persian religion. Berossus (in Clemens Alex. Protrept. i. 5. 65) tells us that the Persians knew of no images of the gods until Artaxerxes II. erected images of Anaitis in Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis, Bactra, Damascus, Sardis. This statement is proved correct by the inscriptions; all the former kings name only Auramazda (Ahuramazda), but Artaxerxes II. in his building inscriptions from Susa and Ecbatana invokes Ahuramazda, Anahita and Mithra. These two gods belonged to the old popular religion of the Iranians, but had until then been neglected by the true Zoroastrians; now they were introduced into the official worship much in the way in which the cult of the saints came into the Christian religion. About the history of Artaxerxes II. we are comparatively well informed from Greek sources; for the earlier part of his reign from Ctesias and Xenophon (Anabasis), for the later times from Dinon of Ephesus, the historian of the Persians (from whom the account of Justin is derived), from Ephorus (whose account is quoted by Diodorus) and others. Upon these sources is based the biography of the king by Plutarch.
3. Artaxerxes III. is the title adopted by Ochus, the son of Artaxerxes II., when he succeeded his father in 359. The chronographers generally retain the name Ochus, and in the Babylonian inscriptions he is called "Umasu, who is called Artakshatsu." The same form of the name (probably pronounced Uvasu) occurs in the Syrian version of the canon of Ptolemy by Elias of Nisibis (Amōs).
Artaxerxes III. was a cruel but an energetic ruler. To secure his throne he put to death almost all his relatives, but he suppressed the rebellions also. In 356 he ordered all the satraps to dismiss their mercenaries. Most of them obeyed; Artabazus of Phrygia, who tried to resist and was supported by his brothers-in-law, Mentor and Memnon of Rhodes, was defeated and fled to Philip of Macedon. Athens, whose general Chares had supported Artabazus, was by the threatening messages of the king forced to conclude peace, and to acknowledge the independence of its rebellious allies (355 B.C.). Then the king attempted to subjugate Egypt, but two expeditions were unsuccessful, and, in consequence, Sidon and the other Phoenician towns, and the princes of Cyprus, rebelled against Persia and defeated the Persian generals. After great preparations the king came in person, but again the attack on Egypt was repelled by the Greek generals of Nectanebus (346). One or two years later Artaxerxes, at the head of a great army, began the siege of Sidon. The Sidonian king Tennes considered resistance hopeless, and betrayed the town to the Persian king, assisted by Mentor, who had been sent with Greek troops from Egypt to defend the town. Artaxerxes repressed the rebellion with great cruelty and destroyed the town. The traitor Tennes was put to death, but Mentor rose high in the favour of the king, and entered into a close alliance with the eunuch Bagoas, the king's favourite and vizier. They succeeded in subjecting the other rebels, and, after a hard fight at Pelusium, and many intrigues, conquered Egypt (343); Nectanebus fled to Ethiopia. Artaxerxes used his victory with great cruelty; he plundered the Egyptian temples and is said to have killed the Apis. After his return to Susa, Bagoas ruled the court and the upper satrapies, while Mentor restored the authority of the empire everywhere in the west. He deposed or killed many Greek dynasts, among them the famous Hermias of Atarneus, the protector of Aristotle, who had friendly relations with Philip (342 B.C.). When Philip attacked Perinthus and Byzantium (340), Artaxerxes sent them support, by which they were enabled to withstand the Macedonians; Philip's antagonists in Greece, Demosthenes and his party, hoped to get subsidies from the king, but were disappointed.
In 338 Artaxerxes III., with his older sons, was killed by Bagoas, who raised his youngest son Arses to the throne. Artaxerxes III. is said never to have entered the country of Persia proper, because, being a great miser, he would not pay the present of a gold piece for every Persian woman, which it was usual to give on such occasions (Plut. Alex. 69). But we have a building inscription from Persepolis, which contains his name and genealogy, and invocations of Ahuramazda and Mithra.
For the relations of Artaxerxes I. - III. with the Jews see Jews, §§ 19-21. For bibliographical references see Persia: Ancient History.
The name Artaxerxes was adopted by Bessus when he proclaimed himself king after the assassination of Darius III. It was borne by several dynasts of Persis, when it formed an independent kingdom in the time of the Parthian empire (on their coins they call themselves Artakhshathr; one of them is mentioned by Lucian, Macrobii, 15), and by three kings of the Sassanid dynasty, who are better known under the modern form Ardashir (q.v.).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)