Artaxerxes II.

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Dareikos with an image of Artaxerxes II (approx. 330 to 300 BC)

Artaxerxes II. (Mnemon) ( Old Persian ??????? Ŗtachschaçā ; * around 453 BC; † 359/58 BC; originally his name was probably Arsikas or Arsakes ) was from 404 BC. Until his death Persian great king from the Achaemenid dynasty . He was the longest reigning Achaemenid king and, after initial internal problems, was able to restore Persia's position as a great power, after the latter had suffered decades earlier from the successes of the Greeks and especially of the League of Nations led by Athens .



Plutarch reports that Artarxerxes (where Plutarch uses the name Artoxerxes ) was 94 years old at his death and is said to have ruled for 62 years, although there may be an error here. On the basis of Plutarch's information, it would have been 421 BC. Ascended to the designated heir to the throne of his father. Such a process would be in keeping with Persian customs. The statement by Diodorus that Artaxerxes ruled for 42 years is not contradictory on closer inspection, since Diodorus, unlike Plutarch, did not rule the period until he officially ascended the throne in 404 BC. And his death to be 362/361 BC. Dated. The remaining traditions also allow the conclusion that Artaxerxes was definitely born before his father's accession to the throne, who later assumed the throne name Darius II as the great king . According to Plutarch's remarks, Artaxerxes found around 453 BC. As year of birth. The lunar eclipses recorded in Babylonian sources in 397 BC Chr. , 378 BC BC , 371 BC BC , 367 BC BC and 360 BC Chr. , And two inscriptions on the Eclipse 369 v. Prove that his first year of reign officially took place on 1st Nisannu ( April 8th ) of the year 404 BC. Began.

Artaxerxes also had a different name before his accession to the throne. Plutarch, who wrote a biography of Artaxerxes (still preserved today), claims that he was called Arsikas (or Arsakes) in his youth. He adds that Dinon von Kolophon referred to Artaxerxes as Oarses , but that the report of Ktesias von Knidos has more credibility here. When Darius was already great king, his wife Parysatis, mother of Arsakes , gave birth to Cyrus, his second son. In addition to Cyrus, Arsakes had several other siblings, especially since Darius had other wives besides Parysatis. But with Parysatis alone, Darius is said to have fathered 13 children, at least that's what Ktesias reports.

Arsakes is said to have been meek and generous in his youth. Plutarch, to whom we owe this description, describes him as the exact opposite of his quick-tempered and ambitious brother Cyrus. At the request of his parents, Arsakes married Stateira , whose brother, however, soon fell out of favor with Dareios and was murdered by him. When Dareios also wanted Stateira to be killed, Arsakes was able to convince his mother Parysatis to spare her and to let the marriage continue.

When Dareios in the winter of 405/04 BC Was dying, Parysatis is said to have tried to convince him to appoint Cyrus, who according to Plutarch was her favorite son, as heir to the throne according to the right of the purple birth . However, Dareios refused and appointed Arsakes, the firstborn, as his successor. Cyrus should keep his old position as satrap of Lydia and continue to function as commander-in-chief ( karanos ) in Asia Minor . According to Pierre Briant , however, it is questionable whether Darius really waited until the last moment to determine his successor. Rather, Briant assumes that Arsakes had been chosen by Darius some time before.

The rebellion of Cyrus

As Darius 404 BC Died, Arsakes was crowned as Artaxerxes II in Pasargadai to the great king. However, Cyrus did not accept it and is said to have planned to murder his brother. The plan was thwarted by the intervention of the satrap Tissaphernes . Cyrus, however, was pardoned by Artaxerxes at the insistence of his mother.

404 BC In addition, Egypt was lost to the Persian Empire after prolonged unrest and fighting. Cyrus, who had gathered troops in Asia Minor, especially several thousand Greek mercenaries, took advantage of the situation and began in the spring of 401 BC. The campaign against his brother. The suppression of an uprising in Asia Minor served as a pretext for the march from Sardis , the residence of Cyrus, to the east. At the same time, Sparta , where Cyrus was grateful for his support during the Peloponnesian War , had promised the position of ships.

Among the Greeks in the army of Cyrus was also the later historian Xenophon , to whom we owe a detailed description of the following events (see Anabasis ). Cyrus' plan might have worked, but the satrap Tissaphernes had warned the great king of the rebellion so that Artaxerxes could gather forces. In the autumn of 401 BC There was a battle in Babylonia near Kunaxa . Cyrus's troops already seemed to be victorious when Cyrus himself made a daring advance to kill his brother. Instead, however, Cyrus was badly wounded and died shortly afterwards. The withdrawal of the (victorious) Greek mercenaries, which was described by Xenophon, met with half-hearted resistance from the individual governors, but succeeded in the end without significant losses.

After his victory, Artaxerxes ordered the punishment of the followers of Cyrus, while he richly rewarded the dignitaries who had remained loyal to him. Soon the great king had re-established his position.

The royal peace

Shortly after the uprising of Cyrus, an invasion of the Spartans under their king Agesilaus II could be repulsed. As already described, the Spartans had stood by Cyrus. After his death, several Greek cities in Asia Minor that had followed the same policy turned to Sparta. They felt threatened by the policies of the new Persian Governor General Tissaphernes. Sparta responded and sent troops. From 399 to 394 BC The fighting dragged on, but finally the Spartans had to withdraw after the Persian fleet under the Nauarchos (Admiral) Konon , who came from Athens, had won several victories and even the Spartan hegemony in Greece was threatened.

Artaxerxes seemed to attach more importance to the Aegean region than his predecessors. In the Corinthian War (399–386 BC) he allied himself with Athens and Thebes against Sparta. When the Spartans gained the upper hand in Greece, but could not prevail against the Persians, it was 387 BC. A peace treaty, the so-called King's Peace , was negotiated in Sardis, which was presented to all parties involved in the following year. Above all, the Spartan negotiator Antalkidas had tried to convince the great king that an alliance with Sparta would be more advantageous for Persia. The wording of the contract, which was basically a Persian dictation, read:

“Great King Artaxerxes considers it fair that the cities in Asia Minor should belong to him and of the islands of Klazomenai and Cyprus . The other Greek cities, however, large and small, are said to be autonomous, with the exception of Lemnos , Imbros and Skyros , which, as in ancient times, are said to belong to the Athenians ( cleruchies ). But whoever does not accept this peace, I will wage war against him together with those who want the same, on land and at sea, with ships and with money (...) "

- Xenophon : Hellenika , 5,1,31

So the great king stepped in as a guarantor of peace. Sparta was used as a kind of executor for this, which in practice meant that the almost lost role of Sparta as hegemon was confirmed, which of course caused a lot of displeasure in Greece. Sparta was only to maintain its old position of power with difficulty for a few years after the defeat against Thebes in 371 and 362 BC. BC this was also over. Persia, on the other hand, had regained its old supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean and could feel like the real winner.

The late years

After the western border of the Persian Empire, which had posed a problem for the Persians since the Persian Wars , was secured with the royal peace , Artaxerxes now turned his attention to renegade Egypt. Around 375 BC Chr. Was Datames , the satrap of Cilicia , appointed commander of a Persian army that was to regain the land of the Nile. However, since Datames was able to expand his power considerably in Asia Minor, Artaxerxes met him with increasing suspicion and eventually withdrew his command. Instead, he commissioned Pharnabazos and Iphikrates, but the campaign failed because of the bitter resistance of the Egyptians, who were supported by Greek auxiliary troops. This defeat was a severe blow to Artaxerxes, who had made the recovery of Egypt a top priority. There was also a revolt of the Kadusians , against which Artaxerxes personally took to the field.

In the west, the loss of trust in Datames led to the fact that it was around 370 BC. BC sparked what was known until recently as the "Great Satrap Revolt" and was viewed as incredibly threatening to Persian rule. However, research now assumes that no uprising of such proportions had occurred. However, many details are controversial. Nevertheless, several governors had usurped great power in the West, particularly Maussollos , who ruled practically independently of the great king. In Greece this evidently gave the impression that Artaxerxes was a weak ruler and that his power was limited. As a result, Athens and Thebes were able to expand their power considerably and finally end the supremacy of the Spartans at Leuctra and Mantineia . Artaxerxes was now an old man and had given power on the western border mainly to the local satraps, who were mainly acting in their own interests.

Artaxerxes II grave in Persepolis, Iran

Meanwhile there were disputes about the succession of Artaxerxes. He had chosen his son Darius as his successor, but his younger brother Ochos claimed the successor for himself. Artaxerxes could not enforce his regulation due to his old age and Ochos murdered his brothers Dareios, Ariaspes and Arsames and followed his father after his death as Artaxerxes III. on the throne. The exact date of death is unknown. According to the Babylonian tablets, Artaxerxes died between November 359 BC. BC (46th year of reign) and April 358 BC BC (47th year of government).

Balance of rule

The Greek writers often convey the image of a weak and powerless ruler. In addition, they also highlight his kind, gracious and gentle character, which they, however, also represent as a symbol of the softening of the Persian nobility. At 45, Artaxerxes' reign was the longest of any Achaimenid kings, and he was one of the few who died of natural causes. This suggests that Artaxerxes received a lot of approval and support in his immediate (if not family) environment. Artaxerxes does not seem to have been unpopular with the population either.

Artaxerxes was mainly active as a builder in Susa , which he apparently made his main residence. In any case, a second large palace was built here next to that of Darius I under his rule. As the first Achaemenid king since Cambyses II , Artaxerxes was not buried in Naqsch-e Rostam , but in Persepolis , like his successor Artaxerxes III.

In terms of religious policy, there was a break under Artaxerxes. While his predecessors had at least officially worshiped only Ahura Mazda as the only god, strictly according to Zoroastrian commandments , Artaxerxes also at least allowed the Anahita and Mithras cults; According to Aelian , he is also said to have prayed to Mithras. With regard to the empire, Artaxerxes, like all his predecessors, tolerated the various cults and religions and allowed them to be freely practiced. In 398 BC He commissioned the prophet Esra to preach the Torah in Jerusalem .

Family and offspring

Artaxerxes II was married several times, including allegedly with two of his own daughters ( Atossa and Amestris ). In addition, he is said to have had 115 illegitimate sons out of a total of 360 concubines.

From his marriage to Stateira , three sons of Artaxerxes are known: Dareios , Ariaspes and Ochos, of whom the latter killed his two brothers as well as the illegitimate brother Arsames and his father under the name Artaxerxes III. succeeded him as great king.

The Parthian dynasty of the Arsacids invoked Artaxerxes as the progenitor. His daughter Apama became the wife of Pharnabazos , his daughter Rhodogune became the wife of Orontes I and thus established the relationship to the Orontids .


Remains of the Artaxerxes II palace in Susa

Artaxerxes is the Greek writers of antiquity one of the most frequently mentioned great kings of the Persian Empire, probably because its influence in Greece was greater than that of all other major kings from Xerxes I.

As the main source for the political action of Artaxerxes II, we have the two historical works of the contemporary Xenophon : the Anabasis and the Hellenika . Xenophon reports in detail, but is not always neutral because of his support for Cyrus and Sparta. Furthermore, the Hellenica of Oxyrhynchos provides some evidence of the intervention of Artaxerxes in the west. The Greek doctor and historian Ktesias of Knidos , who had spent a few years at the Persian royal court and was also the personal physician of Artaxerxes, wrote a "Persian story" ( Persika ), of which only a few fragments have survived. Some of these offer interesting insights into the conditions at the Persian court, but they are very anecdotal and not always reliable.

Plutarch , who wrote during the Roman Empire, wrote a very extensive biography in Greek about the great king, but the historical benefit is limited, as he mainly reports on the intrigues at the Persian royal court and the problems associated with it. In doing so, he probably followed Ktesias, Herakleides of Kyme and Dinon of Colophon , whom he repeatedly cites as sources. Nevertheless, it also offers valuable descriptions.

Apart from a few fragments, the account of Sophainetus of Stymphalos , which also described the anabasis of Cyrus, is lost. There are also some oriental sources, such as texts from Babylonia.

In contrast, there are only a few Persian sources from the time of Artaxerxes. Only the ruins of his palace in Susa and the tomb in Persepolis are worth mentioning, although these are not clearly identified.

family tree

Artaxerxes II.
Persian king
Cyrus the Younger
Artaxerxes III.
Persian King (359–338 BC)
Arshama II
Persian king (338–336 BC)
Dareios III.
Persian King (336–330 BC)
Alexander the Great,
King of Macedonia and
conqueror of the Persian Empire

Source editions and translations

  • Ralf Behrwald (Ed.): Hellenika from Oxyrhynchos. Darmstadt 2005.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm König (ed.): The Persika of Ktesias of Knidos. Graz 1972.
  • Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, James Robson (Eds.): Ctesias' "History of Persia". Tales of the Orient . Routledge, London a. a. 2010 (English translation of the Persiká and related fragments).
  • Walter Müri (Ed.): Xenophon: Anabasis . Munich 1954.
  • Gisela Strasburger (Ed.): Xenophon: Hellenika . Munich 1970.
  • Konrat Ziegler (Ed.): Plutarch. Great Greeks and Romans . 6 volumes, Zurich 1954–1965 (Vita des Artaxerxes in volume 6).


Web links

Commons : Artaxerxes II  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. His nickname Mnemon ("the remembering") he received from later authors, see Carsten Binder: Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes. Berlin 2008, p. 84f.
  2. ^ R. Schmitt: ARTAXERXES . In: Encyclopædia Iranica ; accessed March 12, 2012; neopersian اردشیر Ardaschīr [ ærdæˈʃiːr ].
  3. Carsten Binder: Plutarch's Vita des Artaxerxes. Berlin 2008, p. 359.
  4. Plutarch, Artaxerxes , 1; see. Carsten Binder: Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes. Berlin 2008, pp. 97f.
  5. Ktesias, Persika , § 49.
  6. Plutarch, Artaxerxes , 2.
  7. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, p. 615.
  8. See Xenophon , Anabasis , 1,1. See Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, p. 616, and generally the article Cyrus the Younger in the Encyclopedia Iranica .
  9. Xenophon, Anabasis , 1.7ff.
  10. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, pp. 630f.
  11. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, pp. 637ff.
  12. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, pp. 652ff.
  13. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, pp. 659ff.
  14. Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, p. 681, assumes that the sources provide a distorted picture and that Artaxerxes rather systematically built up his successor.
  15. Carsten Binder: Plutarch's Vita des Artaxerxes. Berlin 2008, p. 359.
  16. ^ Rüdiger Schmitt : Artaxerxes II . In: Ehsan Yarshater (ed.): Encyclopædia Iranica . Volume 2 (6), pp. 656–658, as of August 15, 2011, accessed on May 9, 2018 (English, including references)
  17. General overview of sources in Pierre Briant: From Cyrus to Alexander. Winona Lake 2002, pp. 612ff. Cf. also Carsten Binder: Plutarchs Vita des Artaxerxes. Berlin 2008, p. 51ff., On the sources probably used by Plutarch.
predecessor Office successor
Darius II Persian king
404–359 / 358 BC Chr.
Artaxerxes III.
predecessor Office successor
Darius II Pharaoh of Egypt
404–402 BC BC (in Upper Egypt)