Artaxerxes II (r.404-359 BC)

Artaxerxes II (r.404-359 BC) was a Persian Emperor whose long reign was marred by a series of rebellions, most of which failed, although Egypt managed to win its independence in 405 and defeated all of Artaxerxes's attempts to restore Persian control. In Greece he was known as Artaxerxes II Mnemon ('the mindful'). Before he came to the throne he was known as Arsaces.

Artaxerxes II succeeded his father Darius II, who had been Emperor during the second stage of the Great Peloponnesian War, and who had funded the Spartan war effort. 404 saw both the final Athenian defeat in the war and the death of Darius. Artaxerxes II thus came to power at a time of Persian triumph, but the start of his reign was marred by the disloyalty of his brother Cyrus the Younger and by the aftermath of a successful revolt in Egypt in 405. By 404 Amyrtaeus (or Amyrtaios) had been proclaimed as pharaoh, and Egypt retained its independence until 343 BC.

Cyrus the Younger was involved in a plot to assassinate Artaxerxes II right at the start of his reign, but remarkably he was forgiven and restored to command of his province of Asia Minor. This was a mistake, as Cyrus had no intention of remaining loyal. Instead he used his province's money to raise an army, including a large force of Greek mercenaries. Cyrus was encouraged him his revolt by his and Artaxerxes's mother Parysatis, who hated Artaxerxes's wife. In 401 Cyrus led his army into Mesopotamia, where it clashed with Artaxerxes II's own forces at Cunaxa. The Greeks won on their part of the field, but Cyrus was killed and his cause collapsed. Artaxerxes was wounded during the fighting, showing that he was closely involved in the action. Artaxerxes had been warned of the revolt by the satrap Tissaphernes, who was now sent back west to replace Cyrus, with orders to conquer the Greek cities of Asia Minor.

Although Artaxerxes had secured his throne, he was unable to prevent the surviving Greeks marching north from the heart of his empire to the Black Sea Coast, a journey famously recorded in the Anabasis of Xenophon. This book and the escape it documented is said to have played a major part in convincing the Greeks that it might be possible to conquer the Persian Empire.

In the meantime the Persians were drawn into a new war with the Greeks. This began as the Persian-Spartan War (400-387 BC). The Spartans had provided some assistance to Cyrus, effectively ending the peace agreement with Persia. In 400 BC the Spartans decided to respond to a request for help from the Greeks of Asia Minor and send an army commanded by Thibron to campaign in Asia. Three years later King Agesilaus also crossed to Asia Minor, and for the first few years of the war the Spartans were generally successful, often because the Persian satraps in the area were unwilling to cooperate with each other. This period of success began to end after the outbreak of the Corinthian War (395-386 BC), which saw Thebes, Argos, Corinth and a resurgent Athens combine against Sparta. The allies gained Persian support, while Colon, an Athenian admiral, was placed in command of the Persian Fleet (alongside the Persian Pharnabazus, who had played a major part in convincing Artaxerxes to create a powerful fleet). In 397 the Spartan commanders in Asia Minor and the Persian satraps almost made peace, but Artaxerxes was still angry with Sparta its part in his brother's revolt. In 394 the Spartan fleet was destroyed at Cnidus, ending the direct threat to Persian territory. The war dragged on in Greece, but was eventually ended by the King's Peace of 387-6. The Spartan diplomat Antalcides probably visited Artaxerxes at Susa, and certainly convinced the Persian ruler to support Sparta's peace terms. Persian rule was accepted in mainland Asia Minor and on the islands of Clazomenae and Cyprus. Athens got to keep Lemnos, Imbros and Scyros. The other Greek cities were granted their autonomy. The Persians effectively became the arbitrators of any future disputes in Greece.

Artaxerxes was now free to turn his attention to Egypt. A first attack, in 385-3 was defeated. He began to gather a force of Greek mercenaries in 379, and mounted an invasion in 373. This attack was defeated by the Egyptians, then ruled by Nectanebo I of the 30th Dynasty.

In Greece the King's Peace hadn't lasted for long. The Theban-Spartan War of 379-371 was mainly triggered by Sparta's arrogant attitude towards Thebes. In 375 pressure from Artaxerxes helped produce a temporary peace (possibly to allow him to recruit more troops for the Egyptian campaign). He may have been involved in the peace negotiations of 371 as well. During the war Persia withdrew her support for Sparta, and after the Theban victory at Leuctra (371) the old alliance between Persian and Thebes was revived. 

This was followed by the Satrap's Revolt (c.366). The plan appears to have been for the western Satraps to attack from Syria while an Egyptian and Greek army under the Pharoah Tachos (or Zedhor) came from the south-west. The satraps rose as planned, and one, Aroandas, even began to strike his own coins, but Tachos was prevented from intervening by a revolt in Egypt. Artaxerxes was able to defeat the satraps, mainly because they fell out amongst themselves, but he then restored many of them to their original posts (including Aroandas).

Artaxerxes II died in 359 and after a period of palace intrigue was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes III.

The Spartan Supremacy 412-371 BC, Mike Roberts and Bob Bennett. . Looks at the short spell between the end of the Great Peloponnesian War and the battle of Leuctra where Sparta's political power matched her military reputation. The authors look at how Sparta proved to be politically unequal to her new position, and how this period of supremacy ended with Sparta's military reputation in tatters and her political power fatally wounded. [read full review]
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Sparta at War, Scott M. Rusch. A study of the rise, dominance and fall of Sparta, the most famous military power in the Classical Greek world. Sparta dominated land warfare for two centuries, before suffering a series of defeats that broke its power. The author examines the reasons for that success, and for Sparta's failure to bounce back from defeat. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 September 2016), Artaxerxes II (r.404-359 BC) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_artaxerxes_II.html

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