Ancient History & Civilisation


Introduction to Artaxerxes

[died 359/8 BC]

Artaxerxes II was Achaemenid Great King of Persia from 405 BC to his death in 359. Soon after ascending to the throne he was confronted with a revolt fomented by his younger brother Cyrus, who in 401 led an army, which included a large force of Greek mercenaries, to overthrow him. The two men met in battle at Cunaxa, some 45 miles north of Babylon, and Cyrus was defeated and killed. Sparta, which had lent tacit support to Cyrus, continued to oppose Persian influence in Asia Minor, and it was not until 394 that Artaxerxes was able to drive Spartan troops out of Asia and reassert Persian control of Asia Minor. That control was confirmed in 386 by a treaty negotiated at Susa between the king and the Spartan commander Antalcidas and known to the Greeks as the King’s Peace or Peace of Antalcidas. This treaty, to which the other Greek states then at war with Sparta reluctantly agreed, gave Artaxerxes undisputed overlordship of Asia Minor and Cyprus, and at the same time underwrote Spartan dominance in Greece.

In addition to the Greeks, Artaxerxes had to face various other threats to his empire. Throughout the 380s and 370s he attempted, unsuccessfully, to regain control of Egypt, which had revolted when he came to the throne. There were almost certainly other wars in this period; we know, for example, of several campaigns against the Cadusii in the north. But the Greek sources, on whom we are almost entirely dependent, have little to say on events away from the western fringes of the Empire. The final years of Artaxerxes’ reign saw the so-called ‘Satraps’ Revolt’ in Asia Minor (c. 366–360); it is not clear whether this was merely a set of purely local squabbles among the dynasties of western Asia Minor, in which some Greek cities involved themselves, or whether it was a more widespread and organized rebellion. At any rate, Artaxerxes weathered that storm and died in 359.

Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes is remarkable on various levels. Unlike the other Lives in this volume, it did not form part of the collection of Parallel Lives, but is rather a stand-alone Life. Secondly, its subject is neither Greek nor Roman but a Persian. Plutarch thus allows his readers to delve into what he presents as a foreign, exotic world of palace intrigues, concubines, horrific tortures and strange customs. There was a long tradition in Greek literature of interest in the East, going back to Herodotus in the late fifth century, who began his account of the Persian invasions of Greece by tracing the history of Persia and describing its customs. Similarly, Xenophon’s fourth-century Education of Cyrus gave a fictionalized account of the upbringing and training of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire and ancestor of Artaxerxes. Both Herodotus and Xenophon, in different ways, used Persia as a means of reflecting on Greek society: what had led to the Persians’ initial success in making themselves masters of such a huge empire? Were Persian virtues like those of the Greeks? Why was it that the Greeks had been able to beat the Persians in the Persian Wars of the early fifth century? In the same way, Plutarch in this Life performs two related tasks: he gives his readers an exciting and exotic tale of Eastern despotism; and at the same time, by analysing the Persian court and the characteristics of its ruler, with the same conceptual tools that he applies to his Greek and Roman figures, he invites his readers to compare and contrast.

Artaxerxes’ power-struggle with his brother Cyrus dominates the first half of the Life. By comparison with the rash and impetuous Cyrus, Artaxerxes is presented as calm and mild; a series of anecdotes illustrates this mildness (chs. 2–5). He is also brave: after some initial wavering, he acquits himself courageously in the battle of Cunaxa and meets Cyrus face to face in combat (chs. 7–10). But once Cyrus is defeated, Artaxerxes becomes vainglorious and vindictive, punishing horribly any who threaten to diminish his own glory by claiming to have had a hand in Cyrus’ death. The middle part of the Life is a catalogue of the methods of execution and torture used against Artaxerxes’ victims. The focus here is on the king’s household and its intrigues, and Plutarch demonstrates how Artaxerxes is manipulated by members of this household, especially his mother, who is even more bloodthirsty than him. The Life ends with strife among Artaxerxes’ sons over who would succeed him. For Plutarch’s readers the inner world of the court will have stood in stark contrast to the public nature of Greek politics, centred on the assembly and agora. The difference in setting and the murderous intrigues which abound in this Life might have suggested to them an important truth (as they would have seen it) about the way monarchies, especially the Persian one, worked.

As often in the Lives, Plutarch’s narrative in Artaxerxes, though broadly chronological, does not always stick to chronological order, especially in the later part of the Life. For example, the execution of Tissaphernes, satrap of Lydia and Caria, which took place in 395, is placed immediately after the peace conference in Susa of 367 (chs. 22–3). This is followed by the failed attempt of Pharnabazus and Iphicrates to reconquer Egypt for Persia in 374/3, and by Artaxerxes’ own campaign against the Cadusii, which may have happened in the 380s (chs. 24–5). Plutarch is arranging his material here thematically, dealing first with Artaxerxes’ relationship with the Greeks, then with his campaigns elsewhere, before turning to the troubles within his own house (ch. 26 onwards).

Plutarch refers by name to his three most important sources, Xenophon, Ctesias and Deinon. For the sections on Cyrus, he used Xenophon’s work, Anabasis or March inland. Xenophon was himself one of the Greek mercenary commanders who fought with Cyrus. The early part of the Anabasis describes Cyrus’ preparations, the march inland, the battle of Cunaxa, and its aftermath, all from the point of view of the Greek participants on Cyrus’ side; the bulk of the Anabasis then describes the tribulations of these Greeks as they fought their way north to the coast. Plutarch mentions Xenophon several times in Artaxerxes, and in chapter 8 speaks admiringly of his skills as a vivid narrator and disavows any attempt to go over the same ground. Plutarch avoids mere repetition of Xenophon’s material in two ways. First, he shifts perspective and tells the story of the conflict between Cyrus and Artaxerxes from the Persian point of view. Second, he supplements Xenophon with additional material. A good example of this supplementing can be seen in the opening chapter, where Plutarch echoes the opening words of the Anabasis (‘Darius and Parysatis had two sons, of whom Artaxerxes was the elder, and Cyrus the younger’). But Plutarch, though sticking almost word for word to the Xenophontic original, speaks not of two but of four children, and provides the missing names.

Here and elsewhere Plutarch must be dependent on other sources, now lost to us. One of these was the Persica or Persian affairs of Ctesias. Ctesias claimed to have been a Greek doctor present at the Persian court in the early part of Artaxerxes’ reign; his work covered Persian history from early times to part way through the reign of Artaxerxes. He seems to have focused particularly on the scandals of court life and to have had a tendency to the sensational. His work had a reputation in antiquity as unreliable and exaggerated, and this impression is not dispelled by examination of the quotations or summaries of his work which survive in Plutarch and in other authors such as Diodorus, Nicolaus of Damascus and the Byzantine writer Photius. Plutarch refers to Ctesias frequently in Artaxerxes, though he often expresses caution about his reliability or even downright rejects his claims (e.g., chs. 1, 6, 11, 13, 18). Plutarch also drew on the Persica of another Greek historian, Deinon, whom he cites frequently. We know less about Deinon than about Ctesias, but he also seems to have had a tendency to the sensational; he wrote some time in the fourth century BC and was father of Cleitarchus, one of the historians of Alexander the Great.

As Artaxerxes is not part of the Parallel Lives, it is not paired with any other Life, nor is there any prologue or concluding comparison. The Life ends with a reference to Artaxerxes’ age and a statement that he ‘had the reputation of being a mild and benevolent ruler not least because of his son Ochus, who surpassed all in savagery and bloodthirstiness’ (ch. 30). This neatly recalls the opening words of the Life which refer to Artaxerxes I, the subject’s grandfather, ‘who surpassed all other Persian kings in mildness and magnanimity’. Similarly, the power-struggles which plague the court of Artaxerxes in his old age, and lead to the deaths of all but the most wicked and ruthless of his sons (chs. 26–30), recall the power-struggle between Artaxerxes and his brother with which the Life began. Thus Artaxerxes is sited within a series of other kings, with a suggestion that violent palace intrigue was endemic, and that the worst was yet to come. For Plutarch’s Greek readers, who knew that within thirty years of Artaxerxes’ death Alexander would have swept away the Persian royal family and its palace politics, this would all have been very suggestive.

Life of Artaxerxes

1. The first Artaxerxes,1 who surpassed all other Persian kings in mildness and magnanimity, was nicknamed Macrochir (‘long-hand’), because his right hand was longer than his left. He was the son of Xerxes.2 The second Artaxerxes, the subject of this work, was nicknamed Mnemon (‘mindful’), and was the son of the first Artaxerxes’ daughter, Parysatis. For Darius3 and Parysatis had four sons, of whom Artaxerxes was the eldest, then Cyrus, and then the youngest Ostanes and Oxathres.4 Cyrus was named after the earlier Cyrus, and it is reported that the latter took his name from the sun, since cyrus is said to be the Persian word for sun.5 Artaxerxes was at first called Arsicas. Deinon6 gives the name as Oarses, but Ctesias7 is more trustworthy here, since, even though in general he fills his books with a miscellaneous jumble of wild and incredible tales, it is unlikely that he did not know the name of the king at whose court he spent his time, acting as doctor to him, his wife, mother and children.

2. Now Cyrus was intense and impetuous from his youth, while Artaxerxes seemed milder in all things and was by nature gentler in his impulses. Artaxerxes married a beautiful and noble wife in accordance with his parents’ bidding, and kept her against their wishes. For his father, the king, had her brother killed and wanted to do away with her too. But throwing himself on his mother’s mercy and supplicating her with many tears, Arsicas (as he was then called) in the end succeeded in persuading them not to kill his wife nor to insist on a separation.

But their mother loved Cyrus more than his brother and wanted him to be king. So when their father was ill Cyrus was immediately summoned from the coast and began journeying inland, in full expectation that his mother had arranged for him to be declared successor to the throne.8 Indeed his mother did have a plausible argument, the same one that the elder Xerxes had used on the advice of Demaratus: that she had given birth to Arsicas when her husband was a private individual, but to Cyrus when he was a king.9However, she could not persuade Darius, and the elder of the two was proclaimed king under the new name Artaxerxes,10 while Cyrus was proclaimed satrap of Lydia and commander of the coastal provinces.11

3. Shortly after Darius’ death, the new king rode to Pasargadae in order that the initiation ceremony marking his accession to the throne might be carried out by the Persian priests. There is a shrine there to a warrior goddess, whom one might liken to Athena.12The candidate for the royal initiation has to enter this shrine and lay aside his own robes and put on those worn by the elder Cyrus before he became king. Then he should eat a cake of figs, chew some terebinth and drink a cup of sour milk.13 Whether they do anything else in addition is unclear to outsiders. Artaxerxes was on the point of doing these things when Tissaphernes arrived with one of the priests. This priest had supervised Cyrus’ boyhood studies when he was undergoing the traditional Persian education14and had taught him the wisdom of the Magi,15 and had seemed more distressed than any other Persian when Cyrus was not declared king. As a result he was given considerable credence when he made an accusation against Cyrus. He claimed that Cyrus was intending to lie in wait in the shrine; as soon as the king started taking off his clothes, he would attack and kill him. Some people say that Cyrus’ arrest followed this denunciation; others, however, maintain that Cyrus had actually entered the shrine and his hiding place was betrayed by the priest. He was almost put to death, but his mother threw her arms round him, entwined him with her hair and held him close, and with loud laments and entreaties succeeded in averting his death and had him conveyed down to the coast again. But Cyrus was not content with his command there and kept in mind not his release but his arrest; he seethed with rage and his determination to obtain the throne grew all the greater.

4. Some people say that Cyrus revolted against the king because he was not satisfied with the revenue he received for his daily meals.16 But that is ridiculous. For whatever else he might have lacked, he had his mother, and she could supply freely from her own wealth whatever he wanted. Evidence of his wealth is also provided by the mercenary troops that were maintained for him by his friends and allies, as Xenophon has reported.17 He did not bring these together into one body, as he was still trying to conceal his preparations, but he had agents scattered in different places recruiting troops for him on a variety of pretexts. Meanwhile at court his mother worked to allay the king’s suspicions, and Cyrus himself always wrote to Artaxerxes in an obsequious manner, sometimes requesting favours, sometimes making counter-accusations against Tissaphernes, as though his jealous rivalry were directed wholly against the latter.

Artaxerxes was by nature rather indecisive, though most people took this as clemency. At the beginning he seemed eager to emulate the mildness of his namesake, the first Artaxerxes. He was pleasant to deal with and gave greater honours and favours than their recipients really deserved,18 while from all punishment he took away the element of humiliation or sadistic pleasure. And whether he received favours or gave them, he appeared equally gracious and kind both to givers and recipients. No gift was too small for him to accept eagerly. Indeed, when a certain Omises presented him with a single pomegranate of surpassing size, he said, ‘By Mithras, this man could even transform a city from small to great, if it were entrusted to his care.’

5. Once, when Artaxerxes was on a journey and was being presented with a variety of gifts, a peasant who had not had time to find any suitable gift ran down to the river, scooped up some water in his hands and offered it to him.19 Artaxerxes was so delighted that he sent him a gold cup and 1,000 darics.20 On another occasion when Eucleidas of Sparta was haranguing him at length in an arrogant manner, Artaxerxes told his vizier to say to him, ‘You may have the power to say what you like, but I have the power to back up my words with action.’ Once on a hunt, Tiribazus pointed out that Artaxerxes’ robe was torn, and Artaxerxes asked what should be done. Tiribazus replied, ‘Put another one on and give that one to me.’ So the king did so, saying, ‘I am giving this one to you, Tiribazus, but I forbid you to wear it.’ But Tiribazus took no notice – not because he was wicked, but because he lacked judgement and was prone to act without thinking. He at once put on the king’s robe and decked himself out with golden necklaces of royal splendour. At this, all the others began to grow angry as this was not permitted.21 But the king simply laughed and said, ‘I grant you the right to wear the gold trinkets like a woman and the royal robe like a madman!’ And whereas traditionally none shared the king’s table except his mother and his wedded wife, the former sitting higher up than him, the latter lower down, Artaxerxes used to invite his younger brothers Ostanes and Oxathres to the same table as him. But what most pleased the Persians was the sight of his wife Stateira’s carriage, since she always travelled with the curtains open, thus allowing the common women to approach and greet her. For this reason the queen was held in great affection by the masses.22

6. However, those who were inclined towards revolution and intrigue thought that affairs were crying out for Cyrus, whom they credited with a dazzling character, exceptional skill in war and loyalty to his friends. The magnitude of the empire, they claimed, required a bold and ambitious king. So with no less confidence in his friends at court than in those around him, Cyrus began to prosecute the war. He even corresponded with the Spartans, requesting them to help him by sending out men to join his expedition, promising that he would give horses to any infantrymen who came along and chariots to any horsemen; if they had farms, he would give them villages, if villages, cities. Those who marched with him, he claimed, would have their pay weighed out to them rather than counted! He made many extravagant claims about himself, including that he had a sturdier heart than his brother, was more of a philosopher, was better versed in the wisdom of the Magi and could drink more and hold his wine better. His brother, he declared, was such a coward and a weakling that he could not keep his seat on a horse in a hunt or on the throne in times of danger. Accordingly, the Spartans sent out a dispatch-roll 23 to Clearchus24 ordering him to assist Cyrus in every way possible.

Cyrus began making his way inland against the king with a huge force of barbarians and nearly 13,000 Greek mercenaries. Meanwhile, he kept up a continual barrage of excuses to explain his expedition.25 But he did not manage to keep secret the real purpose of his mission for long, since Tissaphernes went to the king in person and reported it. The palace was filled with uproar; Parysatis was held most to blame for the war and her friends were regarded with suspicion and discredited. What mortified Parysatis most of all was Stateira, the king’s wife, who was outraged at the war and kept crying out, ‘Where are those pledges of yours now? Where are your pleas for mercy? You saved him when he was plotting against his brother and now have embroiled us in war and suffering!’ As a result Parysatis began to hate Stateira. Parysatis was by nature sullen and barbarous in her anger and resentment and so she now began plotting to kill Stateira. Deinon says that her plot was carried out during the course of the war, but Ctesias says that it was later; and it is scarcely likely that the latter was unaware of the chronology since he was actually present at the events and had no reason to want to shift the execution of the deed out of its proper time in his narration. (That is a common failing of his work, which is often diverted from the truth into the fantastic and dramatic.) Accordingly this event at least will keep the place assigned to it by Ctesias.26

7. As Cyrus advanced, rumours and reports kept on reaching him that Artaxerxes had decided not to fight at once and was in no hurry to rush into combat with him; rather, he had decided to wait in Persia until forces could be gathered there from all parts. And in fact there was some truth in this. For Artaxerxes had dug a ditch 60 feet wide and 60 feet deep for 45 miles across the length of the plain, and yet he let Cyrus penetrate this and get within a short distance of Babylon itself.27 According to tradition it was Tiribazus who first dared to suggest that Artaxerxes should not avoid battle nor abandon Media and Babylon and Susa and take refuge in Persia;28 he had a force many times bigger than Cyrus’ and innumerable satraps and generals, all better able to think and fight than Cyrus. At these words, Artaxerxes resolved to fight it out with Cyrus as quickly as possible. First he made a sudden appearance at the head of an army of 900,000 men, all brilliantly arrayed. The enemy, who in their confidence and disdain of their opponents were marching along in disorder and without their weapons at hand, were thrown into such confusion and consternation that, what with the deafening noise and the shouting, Cyrus was scarcely able to form them up for battle. Then Artaxerxes led his troops forward slowly in silence, causing great surprise among the Greeks at their discipline; for, given the enemy’s huge numbers, they were expecting his ranks to be confused and lacking in cohesion, with much raucous shouting and prancing. In addition, Artaxerxes cleverly drew up the sturdiest of his scythed chariots29 opposite the Greeks and in front of his own phalanx, with the aim that by the shock of their charge they would cut open the ranks of the Greeks before hand-to-hand combat actually began.

8. This battle has been reported by many writers, but Xenophon’s account30 is so vivid that he all but makes his audience share the passion and danger of those present, and feel not that the events had taken place in the past but that they are actually happening before their eyes.31 In view of this there is no sense in going through it all again, except for any points of interest which may have escaped Xenophon’s mention.

The place where the two armies deployed is called Cunaxa and is 55 miles from Babylon. It is reported that Clearchus begged Cyrus to stay behind the lines and not expose himself to danger, but he replied, ‘What are you talking about, Clearchus? Are you telling me that though I aspire to kingship I am unworthy of it?’ It is true that Cyrus made a grave mistake in plunging headlong into the midst of the fray and not taking account of the danger; but Clearchus made no less a mistake, and perhaps a greater one, in refusing to draw up the Greeks opposite the king and insisting on keeping his right flank in contact with the river to prevent an encirclement. For if safety and the avoidance of harm was his main object, then he should have stayed at home. He had marched under arms 1,100 miles inland under no compulsion but with the purpose of setting Cyrus on the royal throne, and he now started looking about for the location in which to draw up his troops which would enable him not to ensure the salvation of his leader and employer, but to fight safely and at his ease. Thus, through fear of present danger, he cast off all rational considerations for overall success and abandoned the purpose of the expedition. Events themselves proved that none of those drawn up around Artaxerxes could have withstood an assault by the Greeks. They would have been driven back and the king would either have fled or fallen on the field; and Cyrus would thus have triumphed and won not only his life but the throne as well. For this reason, Clearchus’ caution is more to blame than Cyrus’ rashness for the destruction of both Cyrus and his cause. For if Artaxerxes himself were looking out for a place where he might deploy the Greeks so that they would pose the least threat to him, he could have found no better position than that which was furthest away from him and his own troops. Indeed, Artaxerxes had no inkling that he had been defeated on that part of the field, and Cyrus was cut down before he could make any use of Clearchus’ victory. Yet Cyrus was not ignorant of what ought to be done and ordered Clearchus to take up his position in the centre. The latter replied that he was taking care that all would turn out for the best, but then went and ruined everything.

9. For the Greeks had no difficulty in beating the barbarians, and advanced a long way in their pursuit. But Cyrus, mounted on a high-bred but unruly and high-spirited horse called (according to Ctesias) Pasacas, was confronted by Artagerses, the ruler of the Cadusii, who rode up to him and cried out, ‘You disgrace the name of Cyrus, that most noble of names among the Persians. You are the most wicked of men and the stupidest, coming here with damnable Greeks on a damnable journey to seize the good things of Persia. You hope to kill your own brother and master, who has countless thousands of slaves who are better men than you – as you will experience this instant, for you will lose your own head here before you see the king’s face.’ With these words Artagerses hurled a javelin at him. Cyrus’ breastplate resisted the blow firmly and Cyrus himself was not wounded, but he reeled under the heavy blow. Artagerses turned his horse aside and Cyrus threw his javelin and hit him, and drove the point through his neck near the collar-bone.

Almost everyone agrees that Artagerses was killed by Cyrus. But the death of Cyrus himself gets only a simple and brief mention by Xenophon, since he was not actually present. Perhaps, then, there is nothing to stop me recounting Deinon’s version of it, followed by that of Ctesias.

10. Deinon says that, when Artagerses had fallen, Cyrus charged furiously into the troops stationed in front of the king, wounded his horse and knocked Artaxerxes to the ground. Tiribazus quickly helped Artaxerxes onto another horse and said, ‘My king, remember this day; it should not be forgotten.’ Again Cyrus spurred his horse forward and hurled the king to the ground. But on the third assault the king could bear it no longer and, saying to those around him that he would rather die than sit and wait, galloped forward to meet Cyrus, who was charging rashly and without caution into a hail of missiles. The king himself took aim at Cyrus with a javelin, as did those around him, and Cyrus fell, according to some hit by the king, but according to others, struck down by a Carian. As a prize for this exploit the king gave the latter the privilege of henceforth carrying on campaign a golden cock on his spear in front of the line. For the Persians call the Carians themselves cocks on account of the crests with which they adorn their helmets.

11. Ctesias’ narrative, on the other hand, to give it in a much abbreviated form, goes something like this. When Cyrus had killed Artagerses he began riding towards Artaxerxes himself and Artaxerxes towards him, both men in silence. Cyrus’ friend Ariaeus managed to throw his javelin first but did not wound the king. Artaxerxes launched his spear and missed Cyrus but hit and killed Satiphernes, a trusted and noble follower of Cyrus. Cyrus threw his javelin and pierced the king’s breastplate and wounded him in the chest, the javelin penetrating to a depth of two fingers, and the king fell off his horse with the blow. The king’s guard were thrown into confusion and fled; but Artaxerxes got to his feet and with a small party, Ctesias included, made it to a hill nearby and lay low there.

Meanwhile, Cyrus was in the thick of the enemy and was carried forward a long way by his horse, whose blood was up. As it was now dark, the enemy did not recognize him and his own men were unable to find him. But elated at his victory and full of rage and daring, he rode on through the enemy shouting, ‘Out of the way, you scum.’ He shouted this many times in Persian and some did get out of the way, prostrating themselves before him. But his tiara fell from his head and a young Persian called Mithridates, ignorant of who he was, hit him with a javelin in the forehead, near the eye. Dizzy and bleeding copiously from the wound, Cyrus fainted and fell to the ground. His horse escaped and wandered about, and his saddle-blanket, which had slipped off, was captured by the attendant of the man who had hit him, covered in blood as it was. As Cyrus began with great difficulty to come round from the blow, a few of his eunuchs32 who happened to be present tried to put him on another horse and convey him to safety. But he wanted to walk on his own feet, weak as he was, and so they supported him and helped him along, his head spinning and his feet stumbling as he went. He was under the impression that victory was his, since he heard the enemy fugitives addressing him as king and begging to be spared. Meanwhile, some Caunians, poor and destitute men, who were accompanying the king’s army as camp-followers to do menial tasks, by chance joined Cyrus’ company thinking they were on the same side. But when finally they made out that the tunics over their breastplates were crimson – whereas all the king’s soldiers wore white – they realized that they had fallen in with the enemy. So one of them, unaware at whom he was aiming, ventured to throw a javelin at Cyrus from behind. The blow pierced an artery behind his knee and he fell over, hitting his already wounded temple against a rock, and died. That is Ctesias’ account, in which he kills Cyrus off slowly, as though with a blunt dagger.

12. After Cyrus had died, Artasyras, the King’s Eye,33 happened to pass by on horseback. Recognizing the eunuchs who were lamenting, he asked the most trusted of their number, ‘Who is this, Parisca, over whom you sit mourning?’ He replied, ‘Don’t you see, Artasyras? It is Cyrus, dead.’ In amazement, Artasyras encouraged the eunuch to have no fear and guard the body, while he himself rode off at a gallop to Artaxerxes, who had by now given up his cause as lost and was in a bad way physically, on account both of thirst and of his wound, and told him with great joy that he had seen Cyrus’ body. Artaxerxes’ first impulse was to set out at once to see for himself and he told Artasyras to lead him to the place. But since there was a good deal of fearful talk about the Greeks, who were said to be carrying all before them in their victorious pursuit, he decided to send a larger party to see the body. So a group of thirty men with torches was dispatched. Artaxerxes himself was almost dead with thirst and Satibarzanes the eunuch began running about looking for something for him to drink, since the place had no water and was far from the camp. Finally, he came across one of the destitute Caunians who happened to have in a miserable skin some foul, dirty water amounting to about four pints, which he took and brought to the king and gave to him. When Artaxerxes had drunk it all, Satibarzanes asked him if the water did not utterly turn his stomach. But Artaxerxes swore by the gods that neither wine nor the freshest and cleanest water had ever tasted so pleasant.34 ‘So’, he declared, ‘if I cannot find and repay the man who gave you this, I pray that the gods will bless him and make him rich.’

13. Meanwhile, the party of thirty came riding up beaming with joy and reported to Artaxerxes the unexpected good fortune. He was already beginning to take heart from the number of men who were flocking to him and forming up, and he began to descend from the hill amid a blaze of torches. When he reached the corpse, and its head and right hand had been cut off in accordance with Persian law,35 he ordered the head to be brought to him and, grasping it by its thick and luxuriant hair, he began to display it to those who were still doubtful and in flight. They were amazed and started prostrating themselves before him, and soon 70,000 soldiers had rallied to him and marched back with him to the camp.

According to Ctesias, Artaxerxes had led 400,000 men out to battle, but Deinon and Xenophon put the number of combatants much higher.36 Ctesias says that the number of dead reported to Artaxerxes was 9,000, but that in his estimation they numbered not less than 20,000. That matter, then, is open to dispute. But it is certainly a flagrant lie on Ctesias’ part when he says that he himself was sent to negotiate with the Greeks, along with Phalinus of Zacynthus and some others. For Xenophon was well aware that Ctesias was in attendance upon the king; after all, he mentions him and has clearly read this part of his work. So if Ctesias had really come and acted as interpreter in such momentous events, Xenophon would hardly have left him nameless and specified only Phalinus of Zacynthus. But Ctesias, as it seems, is incredibly vain of his own honour, and no less biased towards Sparta and Clearchus, and always finds space for himself in his narratives, and there takes the opportunity to talk of Clearchus and the Spartans at length and in the highest terms.

14. After the battle Artaxerxes distributed gifts. The largest and finest were sent to the son of Artagerses, who had fallen at Cyrus’ hand, but he also honoured Ctesias and the others generously. He searched out the Caunian who had given him the water-skin and raised him from obscurity and poverty to honour and wealth. He also took great care over the punishment of those who had done wrong. For example, a certain Arbaces, a Mede who had deserted to Cyrus during the battle and then, after Cyrus’ death, had changed back, was charged with cowardice and weakness rather than with treachery or even ill-intent; his punishment was to carry a naked prostitute around the market-place on his shoulders for a whole day. Another man who, besides deserting, had also declared falsely that he had felled two of the enemy, was ordered to have his tongue pierced with three needles.

Artaxerxes thought – and wished everyone else to think and say – that he himself had killed Cyrus. So he sent gifts to Mithridates, who had been the first to hit Cyrus, and told the bearers to say ‘The king honours you with these gifts because you found Cyrus’ saddle-blanket and brought it to him.’ Furthermore, when the Carian who had struck Cyrus the fatal blow behind the knee also started asking for a gift, Artaxerxes told those who gave it to him to say ‘The king gives these things to you as a second prize for bringing good news. For Artasyras was the first and you the second to report the death of Cyrus.’ Now Mithridates, despite his disappointment, withdrew in silence. But the wretched Carian in his folly was overcome by a passion that is all too common. For he was corrupted, so it seems, by the good things that lay before him and convinced that he should claim what lay beyond him, and refused to accept the gifts as rewards for bringing good news. Instead, he began crying out angrily and protesting that he and no other had killed Cyrus and that he was being unjustly stripped of his glory. When the king heard this he was incensed and gave orders that the man should be beheaded. But the king’s mother, who was present, said, ‘Do not rid yourself of this wretched Carian like that, but let him receive from me the fitting reward for his outrageous words.’ The king handed him over and Parysatis ordered the executioners to stretch the man on the rack for ten days and then gouge his eyes out and pour molten bronze into his ears until he died.

15. A short while later Mithridates too met a bad end as a result of the same folly. He was invited to a dinner at which some eunuchs belonging to the king and his mother were present, and came decked out in the clothing and gold jewellery which he had received from the king. When it came to the time for drinking, the most powerful of Parysatis’ eunuchs said to him, ‘What fine attire is this that the king has given you, Mithridates, what fine necklaces and bracelets, and what a valuable dagger!37 Without a doubt, the king has made you happy, the object of all men’s admiration!’ Mithridates, who was already drunk, said, ‘Sparamizes, what does all this add up to? My services to the king on that day deserved greater and finer gifts than these!’ With a smile Sparamizes said, ‘No one would begrudge you them, Mithridates. But since the Greeks say that there is truth in wine,38 tell me, my dear fellow, what is so great or glorious in finding a saddle-blanket which has slipped off and bringing it to the king?’ Sparamizes opened this line of conversation not because he was ignorant of what had happened, but because he wanted to expose Mithridates to all those present. So he slyly played upon the vanity of the man, seeing that on account of the wine he had become talkative and was not in control of himself. Accordingly, Mithridates spoke out without restraint: ‘You can talk as much as you like about saddle-blankets and other such rubbish. But I tell you plainly that it was by this hand here that Cyrus was slain. I did not, like Artagerses, waste my throw, but I hit him in the temple, just missing the eye, and pierced it, and brought the man down. He died as a result of that wound.’ The guests could already see the end of Mithridates and his unhappy fate, and bowed their faces to the ground. But their host said, ‘Mithridates, my friend, for the present time let us drink and feast, and do obeisance before the king’s guardian spirit,39 and let us not concern ourselves with talk that is too weighty for us.’

16. Afterwards the eunuch reported to Parysatis what Mithridates had said, and she reported it to the king. The king was enraged, thinking that he was being exposed as a liar and was losing the finest and sweetest part of his victory. For he wanted everyone, barbarian and Greek alike, to believe that, when he had charged at Cyrus and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat, he had both given and received a blow, and, while he himself had been wounded, he had actually killed Cyrus. So he ordered Mithridates to die the death of the troughs. The death of the troughs is as follows. Two troughs are taken, designed to fit over one another exactly, and in one of them the man to be tortured is made to lie on his back. Then the other trough is fitted over the first and adjusted, so that the man’s head, hands and feet are left outside and the rest of his body is covered. They then give the man food to eat and if he refuses they force him by pricking his eyes. When he has eaten they pour a mixture of milk and honey into his mouth for him to drink and they slop it over his face. Then they keep his eyes constantly turned towards the sun, so that swarms of flies settle on his face and hide it completely. Since inside the trough he does what men must do when they have eaten and drunk, worms and maggots swarm up from the foul mess of excrement, consuming his body and burrowing their way inside. When at last the man is obviously dead, the upper trough is removed and the man’s flesh can be seen to have been eaten away and at his entrails are swarms of the animals I have mentioned, clinging and devouring his flesh. This was the manner in which Mithridates finally died, after wasting away for seventeen days.

17. Parysatis had one target remaining: the man who had cut off the head and hand of Cyrus, Masabates, one of the king’s eunuchs. So, as the latter did not himself provide any stranglehold for her to use against him, Parysatis contrived a plot against him along the following lines. She was a gifted woman and particularly good at dice. Accordingly, before the war she often used to play dice even with the king. After the war, when she had been reconciled with him, she did not try to avoid demonstrations of affection, but actually joined in his amusements and shared in his love-affairs, often being present and lending her assistance. In short, she left his wife Stateira only the smallest of opportunities to see him or spend time with him, since she hated Stateira more than anyone and wanted to wield the most influence herself. So one day, when Parysatis found Artaxerxes with nothing to do and in a state of agitation, she challenged him to a game of dice for 1,000 darics. First, she allowed him to win and paid over the gold. Then, pretending to be upset at the loss and eager to win herself, she challenged him to another game, this time for a eunuch, and he consented. They agreed on the following rules: that each should put out of the reckoning their five most trusted eunuchs, but that from the rest the loser had to give whichever the winner might choose. So they began dicing on these terms. Parysatis took the matter very seriously and threw herself in earnest into the game, and since the dice this time seemed to favour her, won the game and took possession of Masabates, for he was not on the list of those set aside. Before the king’s suspicion was roused, she delivered him into the hands of the executioners and ordered them to flay him alive, impale his body sideways on three stakes and nail out his skin separately. When this was carried out, the king was filled with resentment and anger against her. But she said with an innocent laugh, ‘My dear, you are so silly to get upset at one wicked old eunuch, when I happily accept the loss of 1,000 darics without complaining.’ So the king, although he regretted the way he had been deceived, did not make a fuss. But Stateira, who was clearly opposed to Parysatis in general, took this particularly badly, as she could see that Parysatis was lawlessly and with great cruelty destroying the king’s faithful retainers on account of Cyrus.

18. When Clearchus and the other generals had been tricked by Tissaphernes,40 and contrary to a sworn truce had been arrested and sent up country in chains, Ctesias says that Clearchus asked him to supply him with a comb.41 He got it and attended to his hair and was so appreciative of the gift that he gave Ctesias his ring; Ctesias could show it to Clearchus’ relatives and friends in Sparta as a token of their friendship. The engraving on the seal-stone was of Caryatids dancing.42 Ctesias also reports that the rations that were sent to Clearchus were being continually pilfered and consumed by the soldiers who were in prison with him, and who gave Clearchus only a very small part. He says that he remedied the matter by seeing to it that not only were Clearchus’ rations increased but also separate rations were given to the soldiers, and he adds that he performed this service to please Parysatis and with her full approval. He says also that a side of ham was sent in each day to Clearchus to supplement his rations and that the latter begged him, and told him that it was his duty, to smuggle in a small knife concealed in the meat and not to allow his end to be dependent on the king’s cruelty. But Ctesias says that he was afraid and refused. He also says that the king’s mother implored Artaxerxes not to kill Clearchus and that he agreed and swore an oath to that effect, but later was persuaded by Stateira and had them all killed, except for Menon. This was the reason, according to Ctesias, that Parysatis plotted against Stateira and contrived to poison her. But this is not a very plausible story and is totally illogical as a motive, if we are to believe that Parysatis carried out such a dreadful crime, and put herself in such danger, for the sake of Clearchus – daring to kill the king’s lawfully wedded wife and the mother by him of children reared for the throne. But it is quite obvious that Ctesias adds this melodramatic detail out of respect for the memory of Clearchus, since he also says that after they had been executed, the bodies of the other generals were torn apart by dogs and birds, but not that of Clearchus; his corpse was buried by a sandstorm, which formed a great mound of earth and hid his body. Some dates were scattered there and in a short time a wonderful grove of trees grew up and covered the site with its shade, so that even the king was filled with deep regret for having put Clearchus to death, believing that he was a man dear to the gods.

19. Now Parysatis had from the beginning nurtured a secret hatred for Stateira and looked upon her as a rival. But when she saw that her own influence was based on the king’s respect and honour, whereas Stateira’s influence was based on the king’s love and trust, and so was firm and solid, she hatched a plot against her and ventured all, she thought, for the highest stake. Parysatis had a trusted maidservant called Gigis, whom she valued highly. It was this Gigis, according to Deinon, who assisted in the poisoning. But Ctesias says that she was merely complicit in the plot, and that against her will. Ctesias gives the name of the man who actually administered the poison as Belitaras, Deinon as Melantas.

Parysatis and Stateira had put aside their earlier suspicion and made up their differences and had begun to frequent the same places and take their meals together. But they were still afraid and on their guard, and so were careful to partake of the same food from the same dishes. Now the Persians have a little bird, called the rhyntaces. It produces no excrement but is packed full of fat inside, so that they think the creature actually lives on wind and dew. Ctesias says that Parysatis cut one of these birds in half with a small knife, on one side of which she had smeared the poison. She thus wiped the poison on one half of the bird but not on the other. She put the safe, clean half in her own mouth and began to eat it and gave the poisoned part to Stateira. Deinon, however, says that it was not Parysatis but Melantas who used the knife to cut the bird in half and placed the meat before Stateira. As Stateira lay dying in great pain and with violent convulsions, she began to realize what had happened; and the king too became suspicious of his mother, well aware as he was of her savagery and implacability. So he rushed at once to investigate the matter and arrested his mother’s servants and waiters and tortured them on the rack. But Gigis was for a long time kept hidden in her palace by Parysatis, and when the king demanded her surrender, Parysatis refused. Later, however, when Gigis asked to be allowed to go home one night, the king got word of it and set an ambush for her, seized her and condemned her to death. By Persian custom poisoners are put to death in the following way: they place the head on a certain flat stone and then strike and crush it with another stone until the head and face are beaten to a pulp. So Gigis died in this way. But Artaxerxes took no action either in word or in deed against Parysatis. He merely sent her away, at her own request, to Babylon, declaring that as long as he lived he would never set eyes on that city. Such, then, was the state of affairs in the king’s household.

20. Artaxerxes was no less eager to capture the Greeks who had marched inland with Cyrus than he had been to overcome Cyrus and secure his throne. But he failed and, although they had lost Cyrus and their own generals, they managed to escape,43 as it were, from the palace itself. They thus made it plain for all to see that the Persian empire and its king abounded in gold, luxury and women, but was otherwise an arrogant façade with no substance.44 The whole of Greece accordingly took heart and looked with disdain on the barbarians, and the Spartans thought that it would be a disgrace not to liberate from slavery the Greeks living in Asia and to put an end to their humiliation at the hands of the Persians. To fight this war they appointed first Thibron, then Dercyllidas, neither of whom achieved anything remarkable. Then they entrusted its conduct to Agesilaus, their king. As soon as he had made the crossing to Asia, he at once fell to the task with great energy and began to build up a wide reputation for himself. He beat Tissaphernes in a pitched battle and proceeded to start winning over the Greek cities.45 At this point, Artaxerxes realized how the war should be waged and sent Timocrates of Rhodes to Greece with a large sum of gold and orders to use it to bribe the leading figures in the Greek cities and so open up a Greek front against Sparta. Timocrates set about doing this, and the largest cities began conspiring together against the Spartans, and the Peloponnese descended into turmoil.46 The result was that the authorities were forced to recall Agesilaus47 from Asia. Tradition has it that, as he was leaving, Agesilaus remarked to his friends that the king was driving him out of Asia with 30,000 archers – for Persian coins had an archer depicted on them.

21. Artaxerxes also drove the Spartans from the sea by employing Conon the Athenian as his commander, in conjunction with Pharnabazus. For Conon had taken refuge in Cyprus after the sea-battle at Aegospotami.48 But he was not content merely to have found a safe refuge; rather he was biding his time and waiting for the direction of affairs to change, like the wind at sea. And seeing that he lacked the power to put his own plans into effect, while the king lacked a shrewd commander to direct his power, Conon sent a letter to the king in which he explained his intentions. He told the bearer of the letter to do all in his power to pass it to the king via Zenon of Crete, a dancer, or Polycritus of Mende, a doctor. If they were not there, he should pass it via Ctesias the doctor. It is said that Ctesias took this letter and added to Conon’s recommendations a clause requesting that Ctesias be sent to Conon as he would likely be of use in matters down on the coast. Ctesias, however, says that the king gave him this new duty of his own accord.

Anyway, through the agency of Pharnabazus and Conon, Artaxerxes won the sea-battle off Cnidus and stripped the Spartans of their hegemony at sea.49 He thus made all Greece dependent on himself and so was able as arbitrator to dictate the terms of the infamous peace-treaty known as the Peace of Antalcidas.50 Antalcidas was a Spartan, the son of Leon. Acting in collaboration with the king he succeeded in making the Spartans abandon to Artaxerxes all the Greek cities of Asia and the islands off the Asian coast;51they would henceforth be subject to his authority and taxation. Peace was also imposed on the Greeks – if one can call ‘peace’ the mockery and betrayal of Greece, a peace more ignominious than the end of any war ever was to the conquered.

22. For this reason, although Artaxerxes detested all the rest of the Spartans and thought, as Ctesias tells us, that they were the most shameless of all men, he showed remarkable affection to Antalcidas when the latter travelled up from the coast. Once he even took a garland of flowers, dipped it in perfume of the most expensive kind and sent it to Antalcidas after dinner, and all were amazed at the gesture. But Antalcidas was a fit person, so it seems, to enjoy such luxury and receive such a garland, since he had danced away among the Persians the fame of Leonidas and Callicratidas.52 It is true that when someone said to Agesilaus, ‘Alas for Greece when the Spartans medize,’ he is said to have replied, ‘No, it is rather the Medes who are laconizing.’ But this clever turn of phrase did not take away the shame of what was actually happening. Indeed, although it was after their disastrous performance at the battle of Leuctra that the Spartans lost their hegemony,53 the honour of Sparta had already been lost through this peace-treaty.

Now as long as Sparta reigned supreme, Artaxerxes continued to treat Antalcidas as his guest and call him his friend. But when they were defeated and brought low at Leuctra and in need of money, and sent Agesilaus out to Egypt, Antalcidas travelled up to Artaxerxes to ask him to help the Spartans.54 But Artaxerxes so ignored, slighted and rejected him that when he had travelled back to the coast, he was laughed at by his enemies and, in fear of the ephors,55 starved himself to death.

Ismenias and Pelopidas the Thebans, the latter of whom had just won the battle of Leuctra, also travelled up to the king.56 Pelopidas did nothing to be ashamed of, but when Ismenias was ordered to prostrate himself before the king, he threw his ring down on the floor in front of him and then stooped to pick it up, thus giving the impression that he was doing obeisance.57 As for Timagoras the Athenian,58 when he sent in a secret note via the king’s secretary Belouris, Artaxerxes was so pleased with him that he gave him 10,000 darics and, as Timagoras had to drink cow’s milk on account of illness, the king ordered that eighty dairy cows accompany him wherever he went. He also sent him a bed, together with bedclothes and servants to make the bed – on the grounds that Greeks did not know how to make beds properly – as well as bearers to carry him down to the coast in his weak condition. In addition, when Timagoras was at court, Artaxerxes had wonderful banquets sent to him,59 so that Ostanes, the king’s brother, remarked, ‘Timagoras, remember this meal. For it is not for free that such a marvellous spread is laid before you’ – an insulting insinuation that he was a traitor rather than a reminder to appreciate the favour he was enjoying. At any rate, Timagoras was condemned to death by the Athenians for accepting bribes.

23. Now Artaxerxes, in return for all the anguish which he caused the Greeks, did bring them one item of joy, when he executed Tissaphernes, their most bitter enemy. He killed him on account of false charges made against him which his mother, Parysatis, seconded.60 For the king’s anger with her did not last very long and he was soon reconciled with her and sent for her to return to court. He could see that her intellect and pride were those befitting a queen, and that there was now no longer any reason for them to hold each other in suspicion or upset each other when they were together. In consequence, she endeavoured to please the king in all things, and by finding fault with nothing that he did she gained great influence over him and obtained whatever she wanted. She realized that he was madly in love with one of his own two daughters, Atossa. Some writers say that he was trying to keep it a secret, not least on his mother’s account, and to keep his passion in check, though he had already had secret meetings with the young girl. So when Parysatis became suspicious, she began to treat the girl with greater affection than before and to praise her beauty and character to Artaxerxes, saying that she was truly royal and majestic. In the end she persuaded him to marry the girl and declare her his lawful wife, thus ignoring the principles and customs of the Greeks and presenting himself to the Persians as the embodiment of divinely appointed law and arbitrator of right and wrong. Furthermore, some historians, including Heracleides of Cyme, say that Artaxerxes did not marry just one of his daughters, but also a second, called Amestris, of whom we shall have more to say later. At any rate, he was so fond of his consort Atossa that when her body became covered with leprosy, he was not in the least disgusted but prayed on her behalf to Hera, and prostrated himself and touched the earth with his hands – something he would do for no other deity. Furthermore, at his bidding, his satraps and friends sent so many gifts to the goddess that the road between the temple and the palace, a distance of two miles, was lined with gold, silver, purple and horses.

24. He waged war on Egypt, but failed when his commanders, Pharnabazus and Iphicrates, fell out with one another.61 He campaigned in person against the Cadusii with 300,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry.62 But the country which he invaded was rough and hard and prone to mist; it produced no grain whatsoever, although it did produce pears and apples and other such fruit, which sustained a warlike and spirited people. Thus, without realizing, he found himself in an extremely difficult and dangerous situation. For it was impossible to find food in the country itself or to bring it in from outside. His men were reduced to butchering their pack animals, so that a donkey’s head fetched as much as 60 drachmas. The royal banquets were abandoned, and only a few horses were left, as they had consumed the rest.

At this point Tiribazus, a man whose bravery had often set him in the front rank but whose stupidity had equally often led to his being spurned, and who at this time was despised and overlooked,63 saved the king and his army. For the Cadusii had two kings who were encamped at some distance from each other. Tiribazus had a meeting with Artaxerxes and explained his plans, and then went in person to one of the two kings and sent his son secretly to the other. Each of them managed to fool the king to whom he had gone by saying that the other king was sending envoys to Artaxerxes and trying to secure friendship and alliance for himself alone; each of them, if he had any sense, they argued, should arrange a meeting with Artaxerxes before the other one did. They themselves promised to lend help in any way they could. Both kings were persuaded by this and, under the impression that they were stealing a march on the other, sent off delegations to Artaxerxes, accompanied respectively by Tiribazus and Tiribazus’ son. But as time dragged on, suspicions and attacks on Tiribazus began to reach Artaxerxes’ ears. He himself was pessimistic about the whole thing and beginning to regret that he had trusted Tiribazus, and this gave encouragement to Tiribazus’ rivals to malign him. But finally Tiribazus arrived, and his son arrived too, bringing with them the Cadusian envoys. A peace-treaty was agreed with both parties and Tiribazus, now an influential and splendid figure, began to march for home with Artaxerxes.

It was on this occasion that the king made it clear that cowardice and lack of moral fibre do not spring from luxury and extravagance, as most people suppose, but from an abject and ignoble nature under the influence of wicked sentiments. For the king was not prevented by his gold, his fine robes or the 12,000 talents’ worth of jewellery which always adorned his person, from undergoing the toils and hardships of the journey like anyone else. He dispensed with his horse and, with his quiver strapped to his back and shield in hand, personally led the column on foot as it marched through mountainous and precipitous country. This had such an effect on the rest of the army that they felt they had grown wings and had their burdens lifted, seeing as they did his determination and strength. Indeed, he accomplished marches of 25 miles a day or more.

25. Finally, Artaxerxes descended from the high ground and reached a royal travelling-lodge, which was equipped with wonderful parks,64 beautifully tended. This stood in striking contrast to the bare and treeless country round about. Since it was cold, he gave the soldiers permission to cut down trees from the gardens for firewood, sparing neither pine nor cypress. When they hesitated and were inclined to spare the trees on account of their size and beauty, he himself took up an axe and cut down the largest and most beautiful one. After this, the men procured the firewood they needed and lit numerous fires and thus passed the night comfortably. Nevertheless, he lost many good men on that march and nearly all the horses, and when he arrived back he became suspicious of the chief men, thinking that they despised him because of the disastrous failure of the expedition. Indeed, he executed many of them in anger and was afraid of even more. For it is fearfulness which is the most murderous thing in tyrannies, whereas confidence makes the tyrant merciful, gentle and unsuspicious. It is the same with animals: the wildest horses and those which are most difficult to train are the most fearful and frightened of noise, whereas the noble ones are more trusting because of their courage and do not recoil from friendly advances.

26. Artaxerxes was now advanced in years, and he realized that his sons were competing for influence among his friends and those who wielded power in order to secure the succession for themselves. For men of sense thought that, just as Artaxerxes had himself received the throne by virtue of seniority, so he would leave it to Darius as the eldest of his sons. But his youngest son, Ochus, who was of an extreme and violent disposition, had gathered a good number of supporters at court and was also confident of winning his father over through the agency of Atossa. For he cultivated her by saying that after the death of his father he would marry her and that she would rule alongside him. There is even a report that he had relations with her secretly while Artaxerxes was still alive. At any rate, although Artaxerxes was unaware of this latter matter, he was eager to disabuse Ochus of his expectations swiftly, so that he would not try the same thing as Cyrus has done and plunge the kingdom again into war and conflict. So he proclaimed Darius, who was then fifty years old,65 king and gave him permission to wear upright the so-called ‘tiara’.66

Now it was a Persian custom that the one designated as successor could ask for a favour, and that the one who so designated him should, if at all possible, give him whatever he asked for. Accordingly, Darius asked for Aspasia,67 who had been Cyrus’ special favourite and was now a concubine of the king. She was a native of Phocaea in Ionia, the child of free parents and had had a decent upbringing. This woman had been brought in with a group of other women at one of Cyrus’ dinners. The rest of them sat down near him and he began to amuse himself and touch them and make jokes, all of which they accepted with good grace. But Aspasia stood by the couch in silence and paid no heed when Cyrus called her over. When his valets wanted to lead her over to him, she said, ‘If any of them lays hands on me he will regret it.’ Those present thought she was ungracious and uncouth, but Cyrus was amused and laughed and said to the man who had brought in the women, ‘Do you see? This is the only free and unblemished woman, you have brought me!’ From this time on Cyrus was devoted to her; he was more attached to her than to any other woman and gave her the name ‘Wise’. She was captured after Cyrus’ death in the battle, when his camp was plundered.

27. It was this woman that Darius asked for, thus upsetting his father. For barbarian society is terribly prone to sexual jealousy, so that it is punishable by death not only to come up and touch one of the royal concubines, but also, while travelling, to ride past or overtake the carriages in which they are conveyed.68 And yet despite this, Artaxerxes had relations with Atossa, whom he had married out of love, contrary to the law, and he also maintained in addition 360 concubines of surpassing beauty.69 However, since he had been asked for Aspasia, he said that she was a free woman and told Darius to take her, if she was willing, but not to force her against her will. So Aspasia was summoned, and when against the king’s expectations she chose Darius he was forced by custom to give her to him. But shortly after he had given her he took her away. For he declared her priestess of Artemis of Ecbatana, whom they call Anaïtis,70 in order that she might remain chaste for the rest of her life, thinking that in this way he would take a mild and rather amusing revenge on his son. But the latter did not take it at all mildly, whether because he was passionately in love with Aspasia or because he thought he had been humiliated and ridiculed by his father.

When Tiribazus realized that Darius felt like this, he sought to embitter him all the more, seeing in Darius’ plight his own grievance, which was as follows. The king had quite a number of daughters, and he declared that he would give Apama in marriage to Pharnabazus, Rodogune to Orontes and Amestris to Tiribazus. Although he kept his word to the other two, he broke it in Tiribazus’ case, and married Amestris himself, and in her place betrothed to him his youngest daughter, Atossa. But when he fell in love with her too and married her, as has been mentioned, Tiribazus, who in general did not have a stable character but was unpredictable and impetuous,71 became utterly hostile to him. For he was one moment in the highest regard and the next moment out of favour and treated with contempt, and he could bear neither change of circumstance with moderation. When he found himself held in honour he was offensive in his vanity, and when he had his wings clipped he could not take it humbly or quietly, but was bitter and arrogant.

28. So when Tiribazus attached himself to the young Darius72 it was like adding fire to fire. Tiribazus kept on repeating that a tiara standing upright on the head was of no help at all to those who did not seek by their own efforts to stand upright in affairs of state, and that Darius was stupid if he thought that his succession to the throne was secure, while his brother was insinuating himself into the affairs of state by means of the harem, and while his father was so fickle and unstable in character. For there was no way that someone who was ready to set at nought an inviolable custom of the Persians for the sake of a mere Greek girl could be trusted to live up to his promises when it came to matters of the greatest importance. It was not the same thing, he said, for Ochus to fail to get the throne as it was for Darius to be deprived of it. For there was nothing to stop Ochus from living a happy life in a private station, whereas he, once he had been proclaimed heir, must either take up the throne or lay down his life. Now perhaps in general, as Sophocles says, ‘Swiftly treads persuasion unto evil conduct.73 For smooth and downward sloping is the path towards what we desire,74 and most people desire what is bad for them through ignorance and inexperience of what is good. However, in this case it was the size of the kingdom and Darius’ fear of Ochus that provided Tiribazus with material, although, since Aspasia had been taken away, ‘Cypriote Aphrodite was not altogether blameless75 either.

29. So Darius surrendered himself to Tiribazus’ influence, and as the number of conspirators grew, a eunuch betrayed to the king both the nature of the plot and the manner in which it was to be carried out. He had detailed knowledge that they had decided to burst into the king’s bedroom at night and kill him in his sleep. When Artaxerxes heard this he decided that it would be a serious mistake to ignore such a great danger and pay no heed to the report; on the other hand, he thought it an even more serious mistake to believe it without any investigation. So he put into effect the following plan. He told the eunuch to stick close by the conspirators wherever they went. Meanwhile, he had the wall of his bedroom behind the bed cut away and a doorway added and covered with a hanging. When the hour was at hand and the eunuch reported the exact time for the assassination, he kept his place on the bed and did not jump up until he had seen the faces of his assailants and recognized each one clearly. When he saw them rushing at him with drawn daggers, he raised the hanging and retreated into the inner chamber and slammed the door with a cry. The assassins had been seen by him but had accomplished nothing, and fled through the doors and told Tiribazus and his friends to make their escape as the plot was revealed. The rest of the conspirators scattered and fled, but Tiribazus killed many of the king’s bodyguards as they tried to arrest him. Finally, he was struck by a javelin thrown from a distance and fell.

Darius together with his children was brought before the king and consigned to trial before the royal judges. The king was not himself present at the trial, as others brought the prosecution, but he ordered his servants to write down the decision of each judge and to bring it to him. The judges were unanimous in their decision and condemned Darius to death. So the servants seized him and took him to a nearby chamber, and the executioner was summoned and arrived carrying a razor with which the heads of the condemned are cut off. But when he saw Darius he was dumbfounded and retreated towards the doors with head averted, saying that he had neither the power nor the courage to murder a king. Outside, however, the judges began to threaten and exhort him, so he turned round and, grasping Darius’ hair with one hand and pulling him down, slit his throat with the razor. Some say that the sentence was passed in the presence of the king himself and that Darius, when he was overwhelmed with proofs, fell prostrate before him and begged for mercy. But the king jumped up in anger, drew his dagger and stabbed at him until he died. Then he went forth into the courtyard and did obeisance to the sun and declared: ‘Depart joyfully, Persians, and tell all you meet that those who contrived a wicked and unlawful plot have been punished by the great Oromazes.’76

30. Such then was the end of the conspiracy. Ochus was already full of hopeful expectation and buoyed up by Atossa, but he still feared Ariaspes, the only other surviving legitimate son, and Arsames, who was illegitimate. For Ariaspes was considered by the Persians worthy of the throne, not because he was older than Ochus but because he was mild, straightforward and humane. Arsames was also considered wise and Ochus was quite aware of how dear he was to his father. So he plotted against both, and since he was at the same time both devious and bloodthirsty, he indulged the savagery of his nature against Arsames and his malice and cunning against Ariaspes. For to the latter he surreptitiously sent eunuchs and friends of the king, who kept on telling him of various threats and terrifying utterances, implying that his father had decided to kill him in a cruel and humiliating way. They pretended that these daily reports were secret and kept repeating that now the king was delaying or now he was on the point of acting, and they so terrified the man and thrust him into such anxiety, confusion and despondency that he procured a fatal poison and by drinking it rid himself of the need to go on living. When the king learnt of the manner of Ariaspes’ death, he mourned him and also had suspicions as regards the real cause. But being utterly incapable on account of his age of seeking out and convicting the guilty, he became even more attached to Arsames and clearly placed great trust in him and spoke freely in his presence. Therefore Ochus did not postpone the deed but assigned it to Arpates, the son of Tiribazus, and through him killed the man.

Already by that time Artaxerxes had only a tenuous grip on life due to his old age, and so when on top of all else news of the fate of Arsames reached him, he could hold out no more but at once expired out of grief and despondency. He had lived ninety-four years and reigned for sixty-two.77 He had the reputation of being a mild and benevolent ruler not least because of his son Ochus,78 who surpassed all in savagery and bloodthirstiness.

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