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Ancient Near East - Artaxerxes I


When Xerxes was assassinated in 465 B.C. He was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes I, but several parts of the empire soon revolted, including Bactria and Egypt. Pharaoh Inaros II defeated Acharmenes, the Persian satrap of Egypt and sent his body to his brother, King Artaxerxes, as an admonition. Pharaoh Inaros II then took control of Lower Egypt and contacted the Greeks who were still officially at war with Persia, for support. Athens responded by sending 200 triremes and 600 troops and together they captured the city of Memphis.

According to the Greek historian Thucydides, Artaxerxes I at first sent his general Megabazus to try and bribe the Spartans into invading Attica, to draw off the Athenian forces from Egypt. When that failed, he placed Megabazus in charge of the army and sent him to Memphis to quell the revolt. Although exact numbers are unknown, Megabazus was most likely in charge of about 25,000 men supported by the Persian navy. Upon his arrival, the Egyptians and Greeks were quickly defeated. Pharaoh Inaros II was taken to Susa and most likely impaled for killing the king's brother.

Artaxerxes I introduced a new Persian strategy of weakening the Athenians by funding their enemies in Greece. This indirectly caused the Athenians to move the treasury of the Delian League from the Island of Delos to the Athenian Acropolis. This action, formed the end of the Greco-Persian Wars and, in the long run, led to the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, thus taking the heat off of the Persian Empire.

Artaxerxes I offered asylum to Themistocles, who was probably his father's greatest enemy after the Battle of Salamis. Themistocles was ostracized from Athens at the time and, with hopes of gaining inside information on the Greeks, Artaxerxes I made him governor of the district of Magnesia in Asia Minor where he was assigned the revenues of three cities. As might be expected, Artaxerxes I was elated that such a dangerous and illustrious foe had come to serve him. Themistocles would go on to learn and adopt Persian customs, Persian language, and tradition.

When Artaxerxes I died in 424 B.C. at Susa, his body was taken to the Naqsh-e Rustam Necropolis, to a tomb already built for him. It was Persian tradition that kings begin constructing their tombs while still alive. Here tombs had been constructed for Darius I and Xerxes, and after Artaxerxes I, another would be constructed for Darius II. These tombs, cut high into the cliff face, were about 12 km northeast of Persepolis. They would eventually be looted by Alexander the Great.

Artaxerxes I was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II. However, after only 45 days on the throne, he was assassinated while drunk by his illegitimate brother, Sogdianus, who apparently gained support of his people. He reigned for six months and fifteen days before being captured by his half-brother, Ochus, who had rebelled against him. Sogdianus was executed by being 'suffocated in ash,' a method of execution most likely devised by Ochus, where a tower-room was filled with ash, into which the condemned person was plunged. Wheels were constantly turned, making the ash whirl about, and the person died by gradual suffocation as he inhaled the ash. The description can be found in Valerius Maximus and 2 Maccabees 13: 5-8. Ochus would later have three other subjects of his court executed in this same manner.


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