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Dive into the intricate history of the Kings of the Medo-Persia Empire. Learn about influential rulers like Artaxerxes, Darius, and Xerxes, and how their reigns shaped ancient history, impacted relations with neighboring empires, and intersected with biblical accounts. Understand their legacies and contributions in a broader historical context.
The Medes and Persians are often mentioned together, both in Biblical accounts and secular history. Originating from ancient Aryan (Indo-Iranian) tribes, the Persians are likely descendants of Japheth, possibly through Madai, who was a common ancestor of the Medes (Genesis 10:2). Darius the Great, a significant Persian ruler, even declared himself as “a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan seed.”
Geopolitical Shifts: From Parsua to Parsa
Assyrian inscriptions from the era of Shalmaneser III (who likely lived during the same period as Jehu of Israel) describe an invasion of Media and tribute received from the kings of Parsua. This region was situated to the west of Lake Urmia and bordered Assyria. Scholars often debate whether “Parsua” refers to ancient Persia or is connected with the Parthians. In subsequent records, the Persians are described as living further south, in an area called Parsa, which is near present-day Fars in Iran. They also occupied Anshan, an area close to Elam.
Geography and Lifestyle of Early Persia
In their earlier periods, the Persians occupied only the southwestern portion of the extensive Iranian plateau. Their borders included Elam and Media to the northwest, Parthia to the north, Carmania to the east, and the Persian Gulf to the south and southwest. The terrain was dominated by the southern portion of the rugged Zagros Mountain range, complemented by fertile valleys. These valleys had a temperate climate, whereas the elevated plateau regions were arid and experienced severe cold in winter.
The Persians, much like the Medes, engaged in stock-raising and agriculture. Darius the Great even boasted that his homeland was beautiful and rich in horses and men.
Cultural Transformation and Military Prowess
Initially living a relatively simple and sometimes nomadic lifestyle, the Persians later developed a penchant for luxury and opulence, especially during the period of the empire. Examples can be seen in the Book of Esther (Esther 1:3-7; 8:15). Artifacts from Persepolis illustrate the Persians in flowing, ankle-length robes and low-laced shoes, while the Medes wore tight, long-sleeved coats. Both groups wore trousers, and Persian soldiers were depicted in trousers and sleeved tunics over iron-scaled armor. Notably, they were expert horsemen, and cavalry was a pivotal aspect of their military strategy.
Language and Writing Systems
The Persian language belongs to the Indo-European family and shows similarities to Indian Sanskrit. At some point, they adopted the cuneiform style of writing, though with fewer symbols than Babylonian and Assyrian cuneiform. During the time of the Persian Empire, some inscriptions appeared in Old Persian, Akkadian, and a language often referred to as “Elamite” or “Susian.” For administrative purposes, however, Aramaic was primarily used as an international language (Ezra 4:7).
The Rise of the Medo-Persian Empire
Like their close relatives, the Medes, the Persians were initially governed by various noble families. One such family birthed the Achaemenian dynasty, the royal line from which Cyrus the Great emerged. According to historical accounts by Herodotus and Xenophon, Cyrus was born to a Persian father and a Median mother. Prior to Cyrus’s leadership, the Medes held a dominant position over the Persians. However, this power dynamic shifted dramatically when Cyrus swiftly defeated the Median King Astyages and seized his capital, Ecbatana, in 550 B.C.E. (Compare Daniel 8:3, 20). The Median Empire was subsequently absorbed under Persian control.
The Dual Nature of the Empire
While the Medes remained subordinate to the Persians for the rest of the Achaemenian period, the empire that emerged had a distinctly dual character. As cited in the book History of the Persian Empire, “The close relationship between Persians and Medes was never forgotten. Ecbatana, even after being plundered, remained a favored royal residence. Medes were honored on par with Persians, occupied high office, and led Persian armies. When foreigners spoke of the empire, they often referred to it as the land of the Medes and Persians.”
Expansion and Conquest
Cyrus’s reign saw the Medo-Persian Empire expand westward, reaching as far as the Aegean Sea. This expansion was fueled by a decisive victory over King Croesus of Lydia and the subsequent subjugation of several Greek coastal cities. However, the most monumental conquest occurred in 539 B.C.E. Cyrus led a combined force of Medes, Persians, and Elamites to capture the formidable city of Babylon, fulfilling Biblical prophecies (Isaiah 21:2, 9; 44:26–45:7; Daniel 5:28).
This event marked a shift in world dynamics: it ended a long-standing Semitic hegemony and ushered in a new world power primarily of Aryan (Japhetic) descent. The land of Judah, along with Syria and Phoenicia, came under Medo-Persian control.
Impact on the Jewish People
Notably, the conquest of Babylon had significant implications for the Jewish people. By a decree issued in 537 B.C.E., Cyrus allowed the Jews, who had been exiled and whose homeland had lain desolate for exactly 70 years, to return to Judah (2 Chronicles 36:20-23). This momentous act solidified the Medo-Persian Empire’s place not just in geopolitical history, but also in the unfolding of Biblical events.
Capitals of the Medo-Persian Empire
Multiple Capitals Reflect Dual Nature
The Medo-Persian Empire maintained multiple capital cities, reflecting its dualistic nature. Darius, a Mede, governed the defeated Chaldean kingdom under Cyrus’ authority. (Daniel 5:31; 9:1). Babylon remained an important royal, religious, and commercial center, although its scorching summers made it generally suitable only as a winter residence for Persian emperors.
Ecbatana and the Cyrus Cylinder
After conquering Babylon, Cyrus returned to Ecbatana, situated in a high-altitude area with bitterly cold winters but pleasant summers. It was here that Cyrus’ decree concerning the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s temple was later discovered. (Ezra 6:2-5)
Pasargadae and Persepolis
The earlier capital, Pasargadae, was succeeded by Persepolis, built by Persian emperors like Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes Longimanus. This city featured a vast network of underground tunnels for fresh water supply.
Susa: Administrative Epicenter
Another significant capital was Susa, located strategically between Babylon, Ecbatana, and Persepolis. The heat was extreme in the summers, but Susa became increasingly important as the administrative center of the empire.
Religion and Law in the Empire
The Persian rulers, though not lacking in cruelty, aimed for a degree of fairness and legality when dealing with conquered peoples. Their religion included a focus on ethics, featuring deities like Ahura Mazda and Mithra, the latter being considered the god of contracts and agreements.
Values and Legal System
Historian Herodotus highlighted the Persians’ emphasis on truthfulness. While the rulers were not above political intrigue, they respected the “law of the Medes and the Persians,” a principle that could not be changed (Daniel 6:8, 15; Esther 1:19; 8:8). Thus, when Cyrus’ earlier decree on Jerusalem’s temple was found, King Darius acknowledged its legal validity and supported the Jewish effort. (Ezra 6:1-12)
Councils and Satraps
The empire displayed considerable administrative skill, with an advisory board composed of “seven princes of Persia and Media” (Esther 1:14; Ezra 7:14). Satraps governed major regions, enjoying autonomy in local judicial and financial matters.
Communication and Infrastructure
A sophisticated communication system connected the imperial capital with jurisdictional districts through a royal mail service. Royal highways facilitated movement, including one that stretched from Susa to Sardis in Asia Minor.
Thus, the Medo-Persian Empire stands as an enduring example of how dualistic elements and complex systems can be harmoniously integrated in a vast geopolitical landscape.
From Cyrus to Darius: A Period of Intrigue and Transition
The End of Cyrus the Great’s Reign
Cyrus the Great died in 530 B.C.E., ending his reign while on a military campaign. His son, Cambyses, succeeded him and successfully conquered Egypt. Though the Bible does not name him as Cambyses, it is generally accepted that he is the “Ahasuerus” mentioned in Ezra 4:6, to whom accusations against the Jews were sent by those opposed to the temple reconstruction.
Mysterious Circumstances: Cambyses’ Downfall
The circumstances surrounding the end of Cambyses’ rule are murky. According to Darius the Great’s Behistun Inscription, and similar accounts by Herodotus, Cambyses had his brother Bardiya (also called Smerdis by Herodotus) secretly killed. A Magian named Gaumata, who also went by the name Smerdis, then impersonated Bardiya and seized the throne during Cambyses’ absence in Egypt. Cambyses died on his return, thereby securing the imposter’s rule. Alternatively, some historians believe that Bardiya was not killed, and it was he who seized the throne.
Brief Interlude: A Halt to Temple Construction
Cambyses’ rule ended in 522 B.C.E., followed by a seven-month reign of either Bardiya or the imposter Gaumata, also ending in 522 B.C.E. through assassination. During this time, another accusation was levied against the Jews, this time to a king named “Artaxerxes” in the Bible. This resulted in a royal ban on the temple’s construction, causing the work to stop “until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:7-24).
Darius the Great: A New Phase
Darius I, also known as Darius the Great or Darius Hystaspis, is believed to have orchestrated the overthrow of the reigning monarch and seized the throne for himself. Under his rule, the temple work in Jerusalem was resumed and completed during his sixth year in 515 B.C.E. (Ezra 6:1-15).
Imperial Expansion and Prophetic Fulfillment
Darius’ rule was marked by territorial expansions, stretching the empire as far east as India and as far west as Thrace and Macedonia. By this point, the prophetic imagery in Daniel 7:5 and 8:4, symbolizing the Medo-Persian Empire as a bear and a ram, had been fulfilled. These symbols represented the empire’s expansion in three primary directions: north, west, and south.
Defeat and Death
However, Darius’ military campaign against Greece ended in defeat at Marathon in 490 B.C.E. He passed away in 486 B.C.E., concluding a period of both successes and setbacks for the empire.
The Epochs of Xerxes and Artaxerxes: A Tale of Kings, Courts, and Temple Restoration
Xerxes: From Greek Campaigns to Palace Intrigues
Xerxes, the son of Darius, is likely the king referred to as Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. His actions align with the Daniel 11:2 prophecy describing a Persian king who would stir conflict against Greece. In a bid to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon, Xerxes led a monumental military campaign against Greece in 480 B.C.E. Though victorious at Thermopylae and destructive in Athens, his army faced defeat at Salamis and Plataea, prompting his return to Persia.
Xerxes’ reign featured administrative reforms and continued construction projects in Persepolis that his father had begun. Greek accounts of his reign often focus on harem disarray, marital issues, and his subservience to some courtiers. These narratives may bear some semblance, albeit distorted, to the scriptural accounts in Esther, which discuss the dethroning of Queen Vashti and the elevation of Esther and Mordecai (Esther 2:17; 10:3). According to non-biblical sources, Xerxes met his end through assassination by a courtier.
Artaxerxes Longimanus: A Patron of Jerusalem’s Rebuilding
Succeeding Xerxes, Artaxerxes Longimanus distinguished himself by authorizing Ezra’s return to Jerusalem, along with significant resources for the temple, in his seventh year (468 B.C.E.) (Ezra 7:1-26; 8:24-36). During his 20th year in 455 B.C.E., he granted Nehemiah permission to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:3; 2:1, 5-8). Nehemiah would later return to Artaxerxes’ court in the king’s 32nd year (443 B.C.E.) (Nehemiah 13:6).
Controversies in Dating the Reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes
The scholarly consensus often places Artaxerxes’ accession year at 465 B.C.E., attributing a 21-year reign to his father Xerxes that began in 486 B.C.E., upon Darius’ death. The first official year of Xerxes’ reign is usually set at 485 B.C.E., with both his 21st year and Artaxerxes’ accession year commonly dated to 465 B.C.E. For Artaxerxes, scholars generally believe his last year of rule began in 424 B.C.E., marking a 41-year reign that started in 465 B.C.E.
However, there exists compelling evidence from Greek, Persian, and Babylonian sources to recalculate the final year of Xerxes and the start of Artaxerxes’ reign as 475 B.C.E. This shifts our understanding of these reigns and adds another layer of complexity to the period’s historical landscape.
Artaxerxes’ Accession: Unpacking the Greek Chronicles
Themistocles and the Transition of Power in Persia
A critical moment in Greek history offers us valuable insight into the commencement of Artaxerxes’ rule. Themistocles, a revered Greek statesman and military leader, fell out of favor in his homeland and sought refuge in Persia. According to the historically reliable Greek historian Thucydides (I, CXXXVII, 3), Themistocles wrote a letter to “King Artaxerxes son of Xerxes, who had lately come to the throne.” Another account in Plutarch’s Lives (Themistocles, XXVII, 1) confirms that Xerxes was deceased and that it was his son Artaxerxes with whom Themistocles communicated. Charon of Lampsacus, who lived through this transition of power, also validates this information. Thus, we conclude that when Themistocles arrived in Persia, Artaxerxes had only recently ascended the throne.
Dating Artaxerxes’ Reign through Themistocles
To determine when Artaxerxes began his rule, we can trace back to the time of Themistocles’ death. Different historical references offer varying dates, but the historian Diodorus Siculus relates that Themistocles passed away during the archonship of Praxiergus in Athens, which occurred in 471/470 B.C.E. (Greek and Roman Chronology, Alan E. Samuel, 1972, p. 206). Thucydides recounts that Themistocles spent a year learning the Persian language before gaining an audience with Artaxerxes, after which he was honored with a settlement in Persia. If Themistocles died in 471/470 B.C.E., his settlement must have occurred no later than 472 B.C.E., and his initial arrival in Persia must have been in 473 B.C.E., corroborating that Artaxerxes “had lately come to the throne.”
Chronological Affirmations from Scholars
M. de Koutorga, citing the chronology of Thucydides, observes that Xerxes died toward the end of 475 B.C.E., and Themistocles arrived in Asia Minor shortly after Artaxerxes’ accession (Mémoires présentés… Paris, 1864, p. 147). E. Levesque further substantiates this timeline, placing Xerxes’ death in 475 B.C.E. and arguing that Artaxerxes would have been a mere 16 years old at that time (Revue apologétique, Paris, Vol. 68, 1939, p. 94).
Addressing the 21-Year Reign of Xerxes
Some historical documents claim a 21-year reign for Xerxes, which poses a discrepancy if he died in 475 B.C.E. after Darius died in 486 B.C.E. This can be reconciled through the concept of coregency, where a king and his successor rule simultaneously. If Xerxes co-ruled with Darius for 10 years and then ruled alone for 11 years, he would have a total reign of 21 years by some counts, while others might only credit him with 11 years.
Evidence of Coregency: Herodotus’ Account
Herodotus, another Greek historian (VII, 3), supports the idea of a coregency. He mentions that Darius declared Xerxes as king, implying that Xerxes was made king during Darius’ lifetime. This dual reign offers a plausible explanation for the diverging accounts of Xerxes’ rule duration.
By piecing together these historical accounts, we construct a more accurate, coherent chronology of the reigns of Xerxes and his successor Artaxerxes.
Persian Artifacts: A Glimpse into Xerxes’ Coregency with Darius
The Role of Bas-Reliefs in Understanding Coregency
In the ancient city of Persepolis, several bas-reliefs serve as compelling evidence of a coregency between Xerxes and his father Darius. These carved images portray Xerxes standing right behind his father’s throne, donning the same attire and having his head level with Darius’. This is a noteworthy departure from the norm, where the king’s head would customarily be elevated above all others. In his 1932 study A New Inscription of Xerxes From Persepolis, Ernst E. Herzfeld notes that both the inscriptions and architectural designs of Persepolis indicate a coregency. Herzfeld asserts on page 8, “The peculiar tenor of Xerxes’ inscriptions at Persepolis…have always implied a kind of coregency of Xerxes.”
Sculptures That Speak Volumes
In particular, Herzfeld points to two sculptures that vividly capture this coregency. In one, Darius sits enthroned, supported by the representatives of his empire’s various nations. Xerxes stands beside him, depicted with the same royal accoutrements. Notably, Xerxes’ left hand rests on the high back of the throne—a gesture that, Herzfeld emphasizes, signifies more than mere succession; it explicitly conveys coregency.
Dating the Reliefs: Insights from Ann Farkas
As for the specific timing when these reliefs might have been created, Ann Farkas offers some insights in her work Achaemenid Sculpture (Istanbul, 1974, p. 53). Farkas suggests that these reliefs might have been moved into the Treasury around 494/493–492/491 B.C.E. However, she notes that the carving of these sculptures likely took place during the 490s B.C.E.
Through a meticulous study of these artifacts and inscriptions, we gain a deeper understanding of the nature and timeline of the coregency between Xerxes and Darius, thereby shedding light on this significant period of Persian history.
Babylonian Artifacts and Their Implications for Understanding Xerxes’ Coregency
A Palace in Babylon: The First Indicator
Babylonian excavations have unearthed compelling evidence that suggests Xerxes began a coregency with his father, Darius, during the 490s B.C.E. Specifically, a palace constructed for Xerxes was completed in 496 B.C.E. A.T. Olmstead, in his History of the Persian Empire (p. 215), points out that as early as October 23, 498 B.C.E., the “house of the king’s son,” referring to Xerxes, was in the process of being built in Babylon. By 496 B.C.E., a business document from Borsippa referred to this palace as already completed.
Intriguing Clay Tablets: A Closer Look
Adding more weight to the coregency theory are two unusual clay tablets. One discusses the rental of a building and is dated to Xerxes’ accession year, during the month of Nisan. The other tablet is dated to the month of Ab, also during Xerxes’ accession year, and notably lacks the customary title of “king of Babylon, king of lands” usually attributed to Xerxes at that time. These tablets are especially intriguing because they defy traditional dating methods. Normally, a king’s accession year starts after the predecessor’s death. However, these tablets suggest that Xerxes’ accession year began while his father Darius was still alive, indicating a period of coregency.
Implications for the Chronology of Xerxes’ Reign
If Xerxes’ accession year was 496 B.C.E., which aligns with the completion of his Babylonian palace, his coregency with Darius would have officially begun the following year in 495 B.C.E. and lasted until 475 B.C.E. This period would include 10 years ruling alongside his father Darius (496–486 B.C.E.) and 11 subsequent years of independent rule (486–475 B.C.E.).
The Chronological Intricacies of Artaxerxes Longimanus and Darius II
The Length of Artaxerxes’ Reign: Unveiling the Ambiguities
Historians generally agree that Darius II’s first year of reign began in the spring of 423 B.C.E. However, tablets reveal that his predecessor, Artaxerxes, was still ruling past the traditionally accepted end of his 41st regnal year. One tablet even dates to Artaxerxes’ 50th year, strongly suggesting that Artaxerxes ruled for more than 41 years.
The Harmonization of Multiple Sources
By considering the first regnal year of Darius II as starting in 423 B.C.E., Artaxerxes’ 51st year would be dated to 424 B.C.E., leading to the conclusion that his first year of reign was 474 B.C.E. This aligns with testimonies from Greek, Persian, and Babylonian sources, which all point to Artaxerxes’ accession year as 475 B.C.E.
The Prophetic Significance in the Danielic Timeline
This chronological arrangement places the 20th year of Artaxerxes in 455 B.C.E., a crucial date when considering Daniel 9:24 and the prophetic 70 weeks. Counting 69 weeks of years (or 483 years) from this point brings us to 29 C.E., a year of monumental importance. This was the year Jesus of Nazareth was baptized and began His public ministry, fulfilling the role of the long-anticipated Messiah as recorded in Luke 3:1, 2, 21, 22.
By meticulously examining Babylonian, Persian, and Greek sources, we can reconcile various chronologies and recognize the broader implications, not only for understanding the reigns of these ancient kings but also for a biblically significant timeline.
The information provided is detailed and presents an alternative view to the commonly accepted historical dating of Artaxerxes’ reign, suggesting a date of 475 B.C.E. for his accession, rather than the more widely accepted 465 B.C.E. This shifts some key biblical events, such as Ezra’s return to Jerusalem and Nehemiah’s permission to rebuild the city, to different years.
The argument presented relies on various sources — Greek, Persian, and Babylonian — and also discusses the possibility of a coregency between Xerxes and his father Darius. Each of these elements individually does make a compelling case for re-evaluating the commonly accepted dating of Artaxerxes’ reign.
However, it’s worth noting that the mainstream scholarly consensus, based on extensive historical, archaeological, and textual evidence, currently places the start of Artaxerxes’ reign in 465 B.C.E., following the death of his father Xerxes. (see below) This dating is largely based on various lines of evidence, including the “astronomical diary” texts from Babylon, which provide detailed astronomical observations that help to date specific years.
The alternate dating proposed does conflict with this mainstream view, and the implications are not just limited to biblical chronology but would also require a reevaluation of various other historical events and timelines that are currently understood based on the conventional dating of Artaxerxes’ reign.
While the points presented are indeed worthy of consideration and further investigation, they would need to be reconciled with the existing body of evidence that supports the commonly accepted dating.
Given my emphasis on the importance of literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, it’s crucial to carefully weigh all available evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, when considering such an important issue as the dating of a reign that is key to understanding biblical events. So, wse will delve deeper into any specific point?
The dating of the reign of Artaxerxes I to 465 B.C.E. is based on a number of converging lines of evidence. Let’s break these down:
A Brief Overview of the Historical Evidence
Chronological Lists: Ancient historians like Diodorus Siculus, Ctesias, and Thucydides provide various lists and accounts that help situate Artaxerxes within a specific timeline relative to other historical figures and events.
Cross-Referencing: Events from Artaxerxes’ reign can be cross-referenced with other historical accounts. For example, the Athenian statesman Themistocles sought refuge at Artaxerxes’ court, a well-documented event in Greek history. These records offer external benchmarks for dating the reign.
Inscriptions and Tablets: The Persepolis Fortification Tablets, and various inscriptions provide primary source material that can be dated to specific periods. The information these provide often corroborates other forms of evidence.
Artifacts: Items such as pottery, sculptures, or coins featuring Artaxerxes or events from his reign can be dated using methods like stratigraphy and carbon dating, thereby adding another layer of evidence for the dating of his reign.
Canon of Ptolemy: This document lists kings and their reigns and has been crucial in establishing the chronology of ancient rulers, including Artaxerxes.
Biblical Texts: While they are religious texts, books like Ezra and Nehemiah in the Bible also serve as historical documents. They describe events that took place under Artaxerxes, and these descriptions can be harmonized with other historical data.
Economic Documents: Records of economic transactions from the time period, often in the form of clay tablets, provide another form of dating. These documents are dated according to the reigning monarch, providing more evidence for the length and specific years of Artaxerxes’ rule.
Lunar and Solar Eclipse Records: Ancient records of solar and lunar eclipses can be recalibrated with modern astronomical data to provide precise historical dates.
Saros Cycle Texts: These Babylonian texts record lunar eclipses and can be correlated with modern astronomical calculations, allowing scholars to date historical events with a high degree of accuracy.
Astronomical Diaries: Babylonian diaries that contain day-to-day astronomical observations are another source that helps in precisely dating ancient events.
These are broad categories, and each includes a wealth of specific artifacts, texts, and other evidence. Scholars cross-reference these various types of evidence to create as accurate a historical timeline as possible. Therefore, the mainstream dating of Artaxerxes I to 465 B.C.E. is not based on a single piece of evidence but is instead the result of synthesizing multiple lines of inquiry.
GOING MUCH DEEPER CONCERNING THE DATING OF THE REIGN OF ARTAXERXES I TO 465 B.C.E.
The chronological lists from ancient historians like Diodorus Siculus, Ctesias, and Thucydides play a significant role in establishing the historical timeline, including the reign of Artaxerxes I. Here’s a closer look at how each of these sources contributes:
Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who lived in the 1st century B.C.E. His monumental work, “Bibliotheca historica,” provides a universal history, from the mythical times to his own life. This work provides chronological lists of rulers and significant events, which can be corroborated with other historical data. His accounts place Artaxerxes’ reign after that of his father, Xerxes I, and offer chronological details that align with other historical accounts.
Ctesias was a Greek physician and historian from the 5th century B.C.E. He served in the Persian court and had firsthand knowledge of its history. His works, like “Persica,” have not survived in full but are cited by later historians like Photius. He offers a list of Persian kings and the lengths of their reigns, though it’s worth mentioning that Ctesias is often criticized for inaccuracy. Nevertheless, his data on the reigns of Persian rulers still contribute to our understanding of where Artaxerxes fits chronologically.
Thucydides was a Greek historian who also lived in the 5th century B.C.E. Though he primarily focuses on the Peloponnesian War, his work allows for some cross-referencing. He doesn’t give explicit lists like Diodorus or Ctesias, but he mentions events that are significant for understanding the geopolitical landscape of the era. For example, he discusses the policy of the Persian kings toward the Greek city-states, which helps indirectly place Artaxerxes in a wider context.
Importance of Cross-Referencing
Given the issues of reliability and fragmentary nature of these ancient sources, it’s crucial to cross-reference their information with other forms of evidence. When scholars find consensus among these varying accounts, they gain greater confidence in the chronological placement of historical figures, including Artaxerxes I.
The lists and accounts of these ancient historians are valuable because they provide an organized chronological framework. By analyzing their work alongside other forms of historical, archaeological, and textual evidence, scholars have been able to accurately place the reign of Artaxerxes I, situating its start around 465 B.C.E.
Cross-referencing events from Artaxerxes I’s reign with other historical accounts is crucial for establishing a reliable chronology. These external benchmarks serve to corroborate the details provided in lists from historians like Diodorus Siculus, Ctesias, and Thucydides.
The Case of Themistocles
One of the most well-documented events that involve Artaxerxes I is the case of Themistocles, the Athenian statesman. Themistocles had been a key figure in the Greek resistance against the Persians, notably at the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C.E. However, he later fell out of favor in Athens and was ostracized. He eventually sought refuge at the Persian court. According to ancient sources like Thucydides and Plutarch, Themistocles was received by Artaxerxes, indicating that he was the ruling monarch at the time.
The dates for Themistocles’ ostracism and subsequent death are relatively well-established in ancient Greek history. His journey to Persia is believed to have occurred around 465-462 B.C.E., which correlates well with the assumed start of Artaxerxes’ reign in 465 B.C.E.
Another event that helps in cross-referencing the reign of Artaxerxes is the Egyptian revolt. Artaxerxes I attempted to quash a rebellion in Egypt, which was a Persian satrapy at the time. The details of this campaign can be cross-referenced with Egyptian sources and other historical accounts to pinpoint the timeframe within which Artaxerxes must have been ruling.
Additionally, clay tablets and archival records from this period in Persia offer internal evidence that can be cross-referenced with external events. Though these are more difficult to date precisely, they still serve as another layer of corroborative evidence.
Although not directly related to Artaxerxes I, astronomical data like solar and lunar eclipses mentioned in ancient texts can sometimes be used for dating other historical events. When these dates align with the reigns of known rulers, they can serve as additional benchmarks for dating.
By cross-referencing the events and timelines mentioned in different sources, historians gain a more reliable and comprehensive understanding of the period. For Artaxerxes I, such external benchmarks, including the reception of Themistocles and the Egyptian revolt, corroborate the dating of his reign, strengthening the scholarly consensus that places the start of his reign in 465 B.C.E.
Inscriptions and Tablets
Inscriptions and tablets such as the Persepolis Fortification Tablets are invaluable resources for historians trying to date the reign of Artaxerxes I with precision.
Persepolis Fortification Tablets
The Persepolis Fortification Tablets are a cache of thousands of clay tablets found at the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. These tablets primarily contain administrative records, including lists of workers, rations, and other logistical details. They are written in Elamite, the administrative language of the Persian Empire at the time.
The tablets are particularly valuable because they often include dates, expressed in terms of the reigning monarch and the year of his reign. By connecting these dates with other forms of evidence, researchers can derive a more accurate timeline for the reigns of the Persian kings, including Artaxerxes I.
Inscriptions made by or commemorating a king are another vital source of evidence. These are often carved in stone or metal and placed in prominent locations, such as palaces or temples. The inscriptions usually mention the king’s accomplishments, decrees, or lineage. Because they were intended to be permanent, these inscriptions can often be dated with reasonable accuracy based on their content, style, and archaeological context.
In the case of Artaxerxes I, there are inscriptions that attribute various building projects and decrees to him. These can be cross-referenced with other historical records to corroborate the timing of his reign.
Corroboration with Other Evidence
Both types of evidence—tablets and inscriptions—can be cross-referenced with other historical accounts or events, such as the Athenian statesman Themistocles seeking refuge at Artaxerxes’ court or the Egyptian revolt against Persian rule.
When these various pieces of evidence align, it provides a robust framework for dating a king’s reign. In the case of Artaxerxes I, these inscriptions and tablets align well with the established date of 465 B.C.E. for the start of his reign.
In summary, inscriptions and tablets such as the Persepolis Fortification Tablets provide primary source material that is crucial for establishing a historical chronology. When combined with other forms of evidence like cross-referencing and astronomical data, they contribute significantly to the scholarly consensus that places the beginning of Artaxerxes I’s reign in 465 B.C.E.
Artifacts like pottery, sculptures, and coins provide another layer of evidence to corroborate the dating of a historical figure’s reign. These items are particularly useful because they can be physically dated using scientific methods, and they also often bear inscriptions or artistic features that can be cross-referenced with known historical events or periods. Here’s how these artifacts contribute to the dating of Artaxerxes I’s reign to 465 B.C.E.
Stratigraphy is the study of rock and soil layers, and it is a key method in archaeology for dating artifacts. When an excavation is conducted, the various layers of soil are carefully documented. Items found in the same layer are assumed to be of a similar age. By analyzing the layers where Artaxerxes I-era artifacts are found, archaeologists can gain valuable clues regarding the period in which these items were created or used.
While carbon dating is more commonly used for organic material, it can sometimes provide indirect evidence for dating artifacts. For instance, organic material found in close proximity to an artifact can be carbon-dated, offering a likely range of dates for the artifact itself. This method has its limitations in terms of accuracy and applicability but can still offer additional data points.
Types of Artifacts
Pottery: Ceramics were widely used in the ancient world, and their style often changed over time in ways that are well-understood by archaeologists. Pottery from Artaxerxes I’s reign would exhibit specific characteristics that distinguish it from pottery produced during other periods.
Coins: Coins are often invaluable for dating because they frequently feature the likenesses of reigning monarchs and other inscriptions. Coins from the era of Artaxerxes I would likely bear his image or inscriptions referring to him, providing direct evidence of the period in which they were minted.
Sculptures and Reliefs: Like coins, sculptures and reliefs often feature prominent individuals or events. Works from Artaxerxes I’s reign would depict him, his deeds, or significant events from his rule, helping to confirm the timeline.
Artifacts often have inscriptions or other identifying features that allow them to be cross-referenced with historical records or other types of evidence. For example, a coin bearing the likeness of Artaxerxes I and an inscription detailing a specific event could be matched with textual evidence of that event, thereby reinforcing its date.
The presence of dated or datable artifacts like pottery, sculptures, and coins adds a tangible element to the historical record, and when these physical pieces of evidence are combined with textual records and other forms of dating like stratigraphy or carbon dating, they create a more complete and reliable picture. In the case of Artaxerxes I, these artifacts align well with the broadly accepted starting date of his reign in 465 B.C.E.
Canon of Ptolemy
The Canon of Ptolemy is an important historical text that lists the reigns of kings in Babylon and Persia, along with the lengths of their rule. This document is considered a cornerstone in ancient chronology and has been invaluable in constructing timelines for rulers like Artaxerxes I. The Canon was written by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greco-Roman mathematician, astronomer, and geographer who lived in the 2nd century C.E. His work has stood the test of time and is still consulted by scholars today.
Specifics about Artaxerxes I in the Canon
In the Canon of Ptolemy, Artaxerxes I is listed among the kings of the Achaemenid Empire, and the length of his reign is indicated. This information is crucial because it provides a fixed point in a long sequence of rulers that can be cross-referenced with other historical data.
Reliability and Cross-Verification
The Canon of Ptolemy has been found to be remarkably accurate when checked against other historical sources and lists of rulers. Its reliability is further bolstered by the astronomical observations recorded alongside the political data, which have been cross-verified with modern astronomical calculations. Because the Canon is so accurate, its listing of Artaxerxes I has been used to anchor him firmly within the timeline of ancient history, supporting the 465 B.C.E. starting date for his reign.
Use in Modern Scholarship
Modern scholars often use the Canon of Ptolemy as a starting point for constructing ancient chronologies. While it isn’t the only source of information on Artaxerxes I or other ancient rulers, it provides a stable framework that can be supplemented by other forms of evidence, such as inscriptions, tablets, and artifacts.
The Canon of Ptolemy is considered a highly reliable historical document for the period it covers. Its listing of Artaxerxes I, along with the duration of his reign, serves as a vital piece of the puzzle in dating his rule to 465 B.C.E. This dating is then further corroborated by other forms of historical evidence, creating a multi-layered, reliable chronology.
Biblical texts like the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are considered significant historical documents that offer insights into the period of Artaxerxes I’s reign. These texts are part of the canonical Hebrew Bible and are held in high regard by scholars who adhere to a conservative, historical-grammatical method of interpretation.
Specific Mentions of Artaxerxes in Ezra and Nehemiah
Both Ezra and Nehemiah serve under Artaxerxes I and interact with him directly. Ezra 7 describes how Ezra received a decree from King Artaxerxes to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem and bring offerings to the temple. Nehemiah, who was a cupbearer to the king, similarly received royal permission to go to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of its walls (Nehemiah 2:1-8). These events provide a fixed historical context for the activities described in the books.
Harmonization with Other Historical Data
The accounts in Ezra and Nehemiah can be harmonized with other historical evidence, such as the aforementioned Canon of Ptolemy, inscriptions, and external historical records. For instance, the 20th year of Artaxerxes I, mentioned in Nehemiah 2:1, can be cross-referenced with the Canon of Ptolemy to arrive at a specific year—445 B.C.E., given that Artaxerxes’ reign began in 465 B.C.E.
Verification Through Corroboration
The mentions of specific administrative practices, the language used in the decrees, and the names of other officials and places in Ezra and Nehemiah also align well with what is known from other ancient Near Eastern documents. This makes it possible to construct a corroborative framework of Artaxerxes’ reign that supports the 465 B.C.E. starting date.
Relevance to Dating Artaxerxes’ Reign
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah not only corroborate the details found in other historical documents but also provide the kind of narrative details that allow for a fuller understanding of the period. These texts, when interpreted using a historical-grammatical method, affirm the chronology that places the beginning of Artaxerxes I’s reign in 465 B.C.E.
In conclusion, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah serve as significant historical texts that contribute to our understanding of Artaxerxes I’s reign. They offer a coherent and complementary picture when harmonized with other forms of historical evidence, thereby reinforcing the dating of Artaxerxes’ reign to 465 B.C.E.
Economic documents, often preserved on clay tablets or inscriptions, are invaluable resources for constructing a reliable chronology of ancient rulers, including Artaxerxes I. These records usually relate to transactions, land grants, tax collections, or trade agreements and are dated explicitly in relation to the reign of the sitting monarch.
Specific References to Artaxerxes’ Reign
Many of these economic records will mention the specific year of the king’s reign in which the transaction or record was made. For instance, a trade agreement might be dated to “the fifth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes.” This provides a year-by-year account that can be matched with other historical data to confirm the beginning and end of a reign.
Length and Specific Years of Rule
Because these documents are often so precisely dated, they are excellent for not only confirming the length of a king’s rule but also for identifying specific years within that reign. If multiple documents are found dated to different years of the same king’s rule, it allows for the construction of a more precise and comprehensive timeline.
Moreover, the nature of the economic activities themselves—such as the commodities traded or the tax rates applied—can offer additional clues about the era’s social and economic conditions. This information can often be cross-referenced with other historical accounts or evidence to construct a coherent and corroborative historical framework.
Corroboration with Other Data
Economic documents can be aligned with other forms of evidence like inscriptions, historical accounts, and Biblical texts. For instance, if a tablet references an economic transaction in “the 20th year of Artaxerxes,” and this aligns with events mentioned in other sources, such as the book of Nehemiah, it offers a mutually reinforcing set of data points.
Preservation and Authenticity
The clay tablets on which many of these economic records are written have a high likelihood of preservation compared to other materials. Additionally, the routine and mundane nature of these documents lends them a level of authenticity as they were typically not created for propagandistic or monumental purposes but for practical, administrative ones.
In summary, economic documents serve as robust additional layers of evidence for dating the reign of Artaxerxes I to 465 B.C.E. Their precise dating mechanisms, along with their capacity for corroboration with other types of historical data, make them crucial in constructing a reliable and comprehensive chronology.
Lunar and Solar Eclipse Records
Lunar and Solar Eclipse Records are among the most precise tools available for the dating of historical events, including the reign of Artaxerxes I. Here’s why:
Eclipses are astronomical events that can be calculated with great precision. Modern astronomy allows us to compute not only future eclipses but also past ones, down to the exact date and location where they were visible. This makes them an extremely reliable point of reference.
Ancient historians, astronomers, and scribes often recorded solar and lunar eclipses. These records, sometimes inscribed in stone, on clay tablets, or in manuscripts, can be linked to specific reigns, battles, or other historical events.
Cross-Referencing with Modern Data
By comparing ancient records of eclipses with modern astronomical calculations, historians can pinpoint the exact dates of these celestial events. This, in turn, can be used to accurately date historical events mentioned in conjunction with the eclipse.
Case in Point for Artaxerxes I
Let’s say an ancient text mentions a lunar eclipse occurring in a specific year of Artaxerxes’ reign. Modern astronomers can calculate the exact date of past lunar eclipses and cross-reference this with the mentioned year in Artaxerxes’ rule. If the dates align, it provides strong evidence for the dating of his reign.
Validation of Other Dating Methods
If an eclipse is mentioned in economic documents, inscriptions, or other types of records dated to Artaxerxes’ reign, it can serve as a validation point for those documents as well. This creates a web of corroborative evidence that strengthens the overall historical chronology.
Eclipses are often visible only from certain geographic locations. If a record of an eclipse comes from a location under the control of Artaxerxes or closely tied to events of his reign, it further strengthens the reliability of the dating.
In conclusion, lunar and solar eclipse records offer a high level of precision that few other dating methods can match. They are, therefore, an invaluable tool in corroborating and refining the dating of Artaxerxes I to 465 B.C.E., especially when used in conjunction with other forms of historical and archaeological evidence.
Saros Cycle Texts
The Saros Cycle Texts are a series of Babylonian records that document lunar eclipses in a very systematic way. The Saros cycle itself is an eclipse cycle of about 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours that can be used to predict eclipses of the Sun and Moon. This ancient understanding of the Saros cycle provides an incredibly stable framework for dating historical events, particularly for historians interested in the Near Eastern context.
Correlation with Modern Astronomy
Modern astronomical calculations can retroactively determine the exact dates and locations of lunar eclipses going back thousands of years. By matching these calculations with the Saros Cycle Texts, historians can confirm the accuracy of these ancient records and, consequently, any historical data tied to them.
Dating Artaxerxes I
If a Saros Cycle Text references a lunar eclipse during the reign of Artaxerxes I, and this data can be matched with modern astronomical calculations, it would provide strong evidence supporting the accepted date for the start of his reign in 465 B.C.E. The Saros Cycle Texts, being quite meticulous, would also likely include other contextual information, such as which year of a king’s reign the eclipse occurred, thereby providing a solid anchor point for chronology.
Authenticating Other Historical Data
The Saros Cycle Texts not only help to date the reigns of kings but also serve as a control against which other forms of historical data can be verified. If an economic document, for instance, cites an eclipse in a year that aligns with a Saros Cycle Text and modern calculations, it adds an extra layer of credibility to that document.
Building a Comprehensive Chronology
The Saros Cycle Texts can work in conjunction with other lines of evidence, like economic documents, inscriptions, and historical accounts, to build a comprehensive and accurate chronology. Since the texts were often cited in economic, administrative, and historical contexts, they serve as a central pillar around which other dating methods can be organized.
Geographic and Political Context
The Babylonian origin of the Saros Cycle Texts is significant because Babylon was a major political and cultural center during the time of Artaxerxes I. Records from Babylon thus have a high degree of historical relevance for dating the Achaemenid dynasty to which Artaxerxes belonged.
In summary, the Saros Cycle Texts are an invaluable resource for historians, providing a highly accurate and independently verifiable method for dating historical events, including the reign of Artaxerxes I.
The Astronomical Diaries are a series of Babylonian texts that systematically record a variety of celestial events, including but not limited to eclipses, planetary movements, and other notable astronomical phenomena. These diaries date back to several centuries and were maintained with great rigor and detail, often noting the precise positions of celestial bodies and any unusual events like meteor showers or the appearance of comets. The astronomical data contained in these diaries offer historians a powerful tool for dating historical events with significant precision.
Cross-Validation with Modern Astronomy
Much like the Saros Cycle Texts, the Astronomical Diaries can be cross-validated with modern astronomical calculations. Contemporary astronomers can retroactively calculate the timing and locations of astronomical phenomena noted in the diaries, providing an external check for the historical dates recorded therein.
Relevance to Artaxerxes I
If an Astronomical Diary includes observations that are stated to have occurred during the reign of Artaxerxes I, that provides a chronological anchor point that can be checked against other historical records and forms of evidence. Such information can help to solidify the dating of his reign, typically accepted to have begun in 465 B.C.E.
Complementing Other Sources
The Astronomical Diaries can be used in conjunction with other lines of evidence—like inscriptions, economic documents, and historical texts—to build a more comprehensive understanding of the historical chronology. If, for instance, an economic document dated by the year of Artaxerxes’ reign mentions a specific celestial event that also appears in an Astronomical Diary, this would add another layer of corroboration to both the date of the document and the accepted timeline of Artaxerxes I’s reign.
Geographic and Cultural Context
The Astronomical Diaries were maintained in Babylon, a significant cultural and administrative center during the period of Artaxerxes I and the broader Achaemenid Empire. This adds an additional layer of relevance to these records, given the geopolitical influence Babylon exerted in the region.
Broad Scope of Application
One of the unique benefits of the Astronomical Diaries is their broad applicability. They not only serve to date royal reigns but also provide context for other events, such as military campaigns, economic changes, and natural phenomena, adding layers of detail to the historical narrative.
In summary, the Astronomical Diaries offer a remarkable source of precise dating that, when corroborated with other historical evidence and modern scientific calculations, serves as an invaluable tool for confirming the generally accepted start of Artaxerxes I’s reign in 465 B.C.E.
Down to the Fall and Division of the Empire
Persian Succession Post-Artaxerxes Longimanus
The information about the rulers of Persia following Artaxerxes Longimanus is elucidated by the historian Diodorus Siculus. He states that after Artaxerxes, King Xerxes ascended to the throne but ruled for merely a year or according to some, just two months. Succeeding him was Sogdianus, his brother, who reigned for seven months before being assassinated by Darius, who reigned for nineteen years. This Darius, originally named Ochus, took on the name Darius upon his coronation. It’s likely that this Darius is the same individual referred to in Nehemiah 12:22.
Artaxerxes II and Subsequent Rulers
Next in line was Artaxerxes II, also known as Mnemon. His rule spanned from 404 to 359 B.C.E., and it was under his reign that relations with Egypt and Greece deteriorated. Following him was his son, Artaxerxes III (Ochus), who ruled for about 21 years (358-338 B.C.E.) and was notably one of the most violent of all Persian rulers. His primary accomplishment was the reconquest of Egypt.
The Fall of the Persian Empire
Secular history records that Artaxerxes III was succeeded by Arses, who ruled for two years, and then by Darius III (Codommanus). During Darius III’s rule, Philip of Macedonia was assassinated in 336 B.C.E., and his son Alexander succeeded him. Alexander initiated his campaign against Persia in 334 B.C.E., winning decisive battles at Granicus and Issus. The empire’s final defeat came at Gaugamela in 331 B.C.E., marking the end of the Persian Empire.
Post-Alexander and the Seleucid Dynasty
After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided, and Seleucus Nicator gained control over the central Asian territories, making Persia the heart of his rule. This marked the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty, which lasted until 64 B.C.E. In the biblical context, Seleucus Nicator is likely the first to fulfill the role of the “king of the north” as prophesied in Daniel 11:4-6, standing against the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, the “king of the south.”
Later Developments and Biblical References
The Seleucid dominion was eventually confined to its western territories due to the incursions of the Parthians, who seized the region of Persia in the third and second centuries B.C.E. Ultimately, they were conquered by the Sassanians in the third century C.E., whose rule continued until the Arab conquest in the seventh century.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 27:10) includes the Persians among those who contributed to the military might and grandeur of Tyre. The Persians are also listed among the nations that align with the symbolic “Gog of the land of Magog” against Jehovah’s covenant people (Ezekiel 38:2, 4, 5, 8, 9).