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Artaxerxes III of Persia

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Subject: History of Cyprus, Artaxerxes II of Persia, Arses of Persia, List of kings of Babylon, Thirtieth Dynasty of Egypt, Ancient history of Cyprus, Airgetmar, Dui Ladrach, Lugaid Laigde, Cadusii
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Artaxerxes III of Persia

Artaxerxes III
Great King (Shah) of Persia
Reign 358–338 BC
Coronation Pasargadae, February or March 358 BC[1]
Full name Artaxerxes III Ochus
Titles Great King (Shah) of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, Shahanshah, King of Kings, king of countries, king of this earth[2]
Died August 26,/September 25, 338 BC[1](aged Ca. 87)
Buried Persepolis
Predecessor Artaxerxes II (Persia)
Nectanebo II (Egypt)
Heir Apparent Artaxerxes IV
Successor Artaxerxes IV
Issue Artaxerxes IV of Persia
Dynasty Achaemenid
Father Artaxerxes II of Persia
Mother Stateira

Artaxerxes III of Persia /ˌɑrtəˈzɜrksz/ (c. 425 BC – 338 BC; Persian: اردشير سوم‎; Old Persian: 𐎠𐎼𐎫𐎧𐏁𐏂𐎠,[3] transliterated as Artaxšaçā) was the Great King (Shah) of Persia and the eleventh Emperor of the Achaemenid Empire, as well as the first Pharaoh of the 31st dynasty of Egypt. He was the son and successor of Artaxerxes II and was succeeded by his son, Arses of Persia (also known as Artaxerxes IV). His reign coincided with the reign of Philip II in Macedon and Nectanebo II in Egypt.

Before ascending the throne Artaxerxes was a satrap and commander of his father's army. Artaxerxes came to power after one of his brothers was executed, another committed suicide, the last murdered and his father, Artaxerxes II died at the age of 86. Soon after becoming king, Artaxerxes murdered all of the royal family to secure his place as emperor. He started two major campaigns against Egypt. The first campaign failed, and was followed up by rebellions throughout the western empire. In 343 BC, Artaxerxes defeated Nectanebo II, the Pharaoh of Egypt, driving him from Egypt, stopping a revolt in Phoenicia on the way.

In Artaxerxes' later years, Philip II of Macedon's power was increasing in Greece, where he tried to convince the Greeks to revolt against Achaemenid Persia. His activities were opposed by Artaxerxes, and with his support, the city of Perinthus resisted a Macedonian siege. There is evidence for a renewed building policy at Persepolis in his later life, where Artaxerxes erected a new palace and built his own tomb, and began long-term projects like the Unfinished Gate. According to a Greek source, Diodorus of Sicily, Bagoas poisoned Artaxerxes, but a cuneiform tablet (now in the British Museum) suggests that the king died from natural causes.[4]


Ochus was the name of Artaxerxes before ascending the throne; and Artaxerxes III (Old Persian:𐎠𐎼𐎫𐎧𐏁𐏂𐎠, Artaxšaçrā, "he whose empire is well-fitted" or "perfected", or Arta:"honoured"+Xerxes:"a king" ("the honoured king"), according to Herodotus "the great warrior"[5][6]) was the throne name adopted by Ochus when he succeeded his father in 358 BC. He is generally referred to as Ochus, but in Iran he is known as Ardeshir III (اردشیر سوم Modern Persian form of Artaxerxes). In 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 Kings by Elias of Nisibis.[5]

Early life and accession

Before ascending the throne Artaxerxes had been a satrap and commander of his father's army.[7] In 359, just before ascending the throne he attacked Egypt as a reaction to Egypt's failed attacks on coastal regions of Phoenicia.[8] In 358 BC his father, Artaxerxes II, died at the age of 86, apparently because of a broken heart caused by his children's behaviour, and, since his other sons, Darius, Ariaspes and Tiribazus had already been eliminated by plots, Artaxerxes III succeeded him as Emperor.[9] His first order was the execution of over 80 of his nearest relations to secure his place as emperor.[10]

In 355 BC, Artaxerxes forced Athens to conclude a peace which required the city to leave Asia Minor and to acknowledge the independence of its rebellious allies.[11] Artaxerxes raised a campaign against the rebellious Cadusians, but he managed to appease both of the Cadusian kings. A successful character emerging from this campaign was Darius Codomannus, who later occupied the throne as Darius III. He then ordered the disbanding of all the satrapal armies of Asia Minor, as he felt that they could no longer garuantee peace in the west, and instead equipped the western satraps with the means to revolt.[12] The order was however ignored by Artabazus of Lydia, who asked for the help of Athens in a rebellion against the king. Athens 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 BC. However, in 353 BC, they were defeated by Artaxerxes’ army and were disbanded. Orontes was pardoned by the king, while Artabazus fled to the safety of court of Philip II of Macedon.

First Egyptian Campaign

In around 351 BC, Artaxerxes embarked on a campaign to recover Egypt, which had revolted under his father, Artaxerxes II's rule. At the same time a rebellion had broken out in Asia Minor, which, being supported by Thebes, threatened to become serious.[1] Levying a vast army, Artaxerxes marched into Egypt, and engaged Nectanebo II. After a year of fighting the Egyptian Pharaoh, with the services of the Greek generals Diophantus and Lamius, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Persians.[13] Artaxerxes was compelled to retreat and postpone his Egyptian enterprise.

Rebellion of Cyprus and Sidon

Soon after this defeat, leaders of Phoenicia, Asia Minor and Cyprus declared their independence. In 343 BC, Artaxerxes committed the suppression of the Cyprian rebels to Idrieus prince of Caria, who employed on the service of 8,000 Greek mercenaries and forty triremes, commanded by Phocion the Athenian, and Evagoras, son of the elder Evagoras, the Cypriot monarch.[14][15] Idrieus succeeded in reducing Cyprus. Artaxerxes initiated a counter-offensive against Sidon by deputing Belesys, satrap of Syria and Mezseus, satrap of Cilicia to invade the city and to keep the Phoenicians in check. Both suffered crushing defeats at the hands of Tennes, the Sidonese king, who was aided by 40,000 Greek mercenaries sent him by Nectanebo II and commanded by Mentor of Rhodes, and the Persian forces were driven out of Phoenicia.[15]

After this, Artaxerxes proceeded against Sidon in person at the head of 330,000 men, comprising 300,000 foot soldiers, 30,000 cavalry, 300 triremes, and 500 transports or provision ships. After gathering this army, he directed his efforts towards obtaining efficient assistance from the Greeks. Though refused aid by Athens and Sparta, he succeeded in obtaining a thousand Theban heavy-armed hoplites under Lacrates, three thousand Argives under Nicostratus, and six thousand Æolians, Ionians, and Dorians from the Greek cities of Asia Minor. The assistance thus secured was numerically small, amounting to no more than ten thousand men, not a thirtieth part of his native force; but it formed, together with the Greek mercenaries from Egypt who went over to him afterwards, the force on which he placed his chief reliance, and to which the ultimate success of his expedition was mainly due.

The approach of Artaxerxes shook the resolution of Tennes, who endeavoured to purchase his own pardon by delivering up a hundred of the principal citizens of Sidon into the hands of the Persian king, and then admitting him within the defences of the town. Artaxerxes caused the hundred citizens to be transfixed with javelins, and when 500 more came out as supplicants to entreat his mercy, relentlessly consigned them to the same fate. Sidon was then burnt to the ground, either by Artaxerxes or by the Sidonian citizens. Forty thousand people died in the conflagration.[15] Artaxerxes sold the ruins at a high price to speculators, who calculated on reimbursing themselves by the treasures which they might dig out from among the ashes.[16] Tennes was later put to death by Artaxerxes.[17] He later sent Jews who supported the revolt to Hyrcania the south coast of the Caspian Sea.[18][19]

Second Egyptian Campaign

The reduction of Sidon was followed closely by the invasion of Egypt. In 343 BC, Artaxerxes, besides his 330,000 Asiatics, had now a force of 14,000 Greeks furnished by the Greek cities of Asia Minor; 4,000 under Mentor, consisting of the troops which he had brought to the aid of Tennes from Egypt; 3,000 sent by Argos; and 1000 from Thebes. He divided his numerous armament into three bodies, and placed at the head of each a Persian and a Greek. The Greek commanders were Lacrates of Thebes, Mentor of Rhodes, and Nicostratus of Argos and The Persians were Rhossaces, Aristazanes, and Bagoas, the chief of the eunuchs. Nectanebo II resisted with an army of 100,000 of whom 20,000 were Greek mercenaries. Nectanebo II occupied the Nile and its various branches with a numerous navy. The character of the country, intersected by numerous canals, and full of strongly fortified towns, was in his favour; and he might have been expected to make a prolonged, if not even a successful, resistance.[15]

After his defeat, Nectanebo hastily fled to Memphis, leaving the fortified towns to the defence of their garrisons. These consisted of mixed troops, partly Greek and partly Egyptian; between whom jealousies and suspicions were easily sown by the Persian leaders. By these means the Persians rapidly reduced the secondary cities of Lower Egypt, and were advancing upon Memphis. when Nectanebo quit the country and fled southwards to Ethiopia.[15] The Persian army completely routed the Egyptians and occupied the Lower Delta of the Nile. After Nectanebo fled to Ethiopia, all of Egypt submitted to Artaxerxes and the Jews in Egypt were sent to the south coast of the Caspian Sea, where the Jews of Phoenicia were sent, and Babylon.

After this victory, Artaxerxes had the city walls destroyed, started a reign of terror, and set about looting all the temples. Persia gained a significant amount of wealth from this looting. Aside from the immediate looting, Artaxerxes raised high taxes, and attempted to weaken Egypt enough that it could never revolt against Persia. For the 10 years that Persia controlled Egypt, religion was persecuted and sacred books were stolen.[20] Before he returned to Persia, he appointed Pherendares as satrap of Egypt. With the loot Artaxerxes amply rewarded his mercenaries and then returned to his capital with the glory of having successfully carried through the invasion of Egypt.

Later years

After his success in Egypt, Artaxerxes returned to Persia and spent the next few years effectively quelling insurrections in various parts of the Empire so that a few years from the conquest of Egypt, the Persian Empire was firmly entrenched in the grasp of the emperor. Egypt remained a part of the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt.

After the conquest of Egypt, there were no more revolts or rebellions against Artaxerxes. Mentor and Bagoas, the two generals who had most distinguished themselves in the Egyptian campaign, were advanced to posts of the highest importance. Mentor, who was governor of the entire Asiatic seaboard, exerted himself successfully to reduce to subjection the many chiefs who during the recent troubles had assumed an independent authority, and in the course of a few years brought the whole coast into complete submission and dependence. Bagoas was brought back to the capital with Artaxerxes, became the main figure in internal administration, and maintained tranquillity throughout the rest of the Empire. The last six years of the reign of Artaxerxes the Persian Empire was governed by a vigorous and successful government.[15]

Persian forces in Ionia and Lycia regained their control of the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea and took over much of Athens’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.[21] In 341 BC, Artaxerxes returned to Babylon, where he apparently proceeded to build a great Apadana whose description is present in the works of Diodorius.

Although there weren't any rebellions in the Persian Empire itself, the growing power and territory of Philip II of Macedon in Macedon (against which Demosthenes was in vain warning the Athenians) attracted the consideration of Artaxerxes; and he ordered that Persian influence was to be used to check and depress the rising kingdom. In 340 BC, a force was consequently dispatched to assist the Thracian prince, Cersobleptes, to maintain his independence; and such effectual aid was given to the city of Perinthus that the numerous and well-appointed army with which Philip had commenced its siege was completely baffled and compelled to give up the attempt.[15] By the last year of Artaxerxes' rule Philip II already had plans for invasion of the Persian Empire, which would crown his career as world conqueror; But the Greeks did not unite with him.[22]

In 338 BC Artaxerxes was poisoned by Bagoas with the assistance of a physician[23]


Historically, kings of the Achaemenid Empire were followers of Zoroaster or heavily influenced by Zoroastrian ideology. The reign of Artaxerxes II saw a revival of the cult of Anahita and Mithra, when in his building inscriptions he invoked Ahuramazda, Anahita and Mithra and even set up statues of his gods.[24] Mithra and Anahita had until then been neglected by true Zoroastrians; because they defied Zoroaster’s command that God was to be represented only by the flames of a sacred fire.[17][25] Artaxerxes III is thought to have rejected Anahita and worshipped only Ahuramazda and Mithra.[26] An ambiguity in the cuneiform script of an inscription of Artaxerxes III at Persepolis suggests that he regarded father and son as one person, suggesting that the attributes of Ahuramazda were being transferred to Mithra. Strangely, Artaxerxes had caused statues of the goddess Anâhita to be erected at Babylon, Damascus, and Sardis, as well as at Susa, Ecbatana, and Persepolis.[27]

While Artaxerxes was in Egypt, he issued a large series of silver imitations of Athenian coinage. The issues of Artaxerxes are recognisable as such because his name appears on the reverse in a local Egyptian script. The inscription reads "Artaxerxes Pharaoh. Life, Prosperity, Wealth".[28]

In literature

It is thought by some that the Book of Judith could have been originally based on Artaxerxes' campaign in Phoenicia, as Holofernes was the name of the brother of the Cappadocian satrap Ariarathes, the vassal of Artaxerxes. Bagoas, the general that finds Holofernes dead, was one of the generals of Artaxerxes during his campaign against Phoenicia and Egypt.[29][30]


There is evidence for a renewed building policy at Persepolis, but some of his constructions weren't finished due to his early death. Two of his constructions at Persepolis were the Hall of Thirty-Two Columns, which its purpose is unknown, and the palace of Artaxerxes III. The unfinished Army Road and Unfinished Gate, which connected the Gate of All Nations and the One-hundred Column Hall, gave archaeologists an insight into the construction of Persepolis.[1] His tomb was cut into the mountain behind the Persepolis platform, next to his father's tomb.

The Nebuchadnezzar II palace in Babylon was expanded during the reign of Artaxerxes III.[31]


Artaxerxes III was the son of Artaxerxes II and Statira. Artaxerxes II had more than 115 sons by many wives, most of them however were illegitimate. Some of Ochus' noticeable siblings were Rodogune, Apama, Sisygambis, Ocha, Darius and Ariaspes, most of them were murdered soon after his ascension.[21] Artaxerxes married his niece and the daughter of Oxathres, brother of the future king Darius III.[32] His children were Arses, the future king of Persia, Bisthanes, and Parysatis.[1]

See also


External links

Artaxerxes III
Born: Ca. 425 BC Died: 338 BC
Preceded by
Artaxerxes II
Great King (Shah) of Persia
358 BC – 338 BC
Succeeded by
Artaxerxes IV Arses
Preceded by
Nectanebo II
Pharaoh of Egypt
XXXI Dynasty
343 BC – 338 BC
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