Artaxerxes I at Naqsh-e Rostam

ARTAXERXES I, 465 - 424 BC: The Long-Handed Shah

Alongside his predecessors Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius, and thanks to his campaigns in Greece, Xerxes has gone down as perhaps one of the most well known of the Shahs of Persia. However for many, the main part of Xerxes's story ends following his withdrawal from Greece after the Battle of Salamis. Yet, as was common in the empire's history, the ascension of his son, Artaxerxes, to the throne would be one of plotting, family feuds and assassination.



Check out my previous Persian post on the rise of Xerxes to the throne.

Check out my previous Greek post on the poetry of Aeschylus.




While Xerxes was in Sardis following his withdrawal from Greece, he fell in love with the wife of his brother, Masistes. She did not fall for the king, however, and the king in return did not try to force any reciprocal love out of respect for his brother, and she in turn knew this respect was felt by Xerxes. With no other option, Xerxes arranged for his son, Darius, to marry the daughter of Masistes’ wife, a woman named Artaynte, thinking he would have more of a chance at seducing the woman in these circumstances. Once the couple were betrothed, Xerxes went to Susa, and having received Darius’s wife into his home, he tried seducing her instead - his own son’s wife - an attempt which ended up working.

Word of this eventually got out - Xerxes did, after all, still have a wife, named Amestris. When she found out about this affair, Amestris made a colourful and long shawl (an eastern-style cloth usually worn over the shoulders) and gave it to Xerxes, who in turn wore it when he next went to see Artaynte. After telling her that he would gladly give her anything she desired, Artaynte said that she would like a shawl. Keen for her not to wear it, Xerxes offered her boundless gold, her own armies and even her own city, but Artaynte refused, and Xerxes gave her the shawl, which she wore and flaunted openly.

Amestris, seeing this, decided that Artaynte’s mother - Masistes’ wife - was to blame, and began to plot her demise. While Xerxes was celebrating his birthday with a royal banquet, Amestris told Xerxes that she would like her gift to be Masistes’s wife. (Gift requests at Persian royal banquets could not be refused.) Xerxes’s mind clicked, and he knew that she knew. Reluctantly, he agreed, and sent for his brother, Masistes, and requested of him to divorce his wife in return for his own daughter. Masistes was understandably disgusted by this request, especially so since he and his wife already had grown children together. Refused, Xerxes told Masistes that he would, as punishment, no longer see his own wife again.

Meanwhile, Amestris called for Xerxes’ personal guards, and ordered them to capture and mutilate Masistes’ wife, cutting off her breasts and feeding them to dogs, before cutting off her ears, tongue, nose and lips, sending her mangled body back to her home. Expecting something bad to happen to him for refusing Xerxes’ commands, Masistes ran back to his home, only to find his wife’s mutilated body. He fled with his sons to Bactria, the satrapy he was the satrap of, intent on starting a revolt against Xerxes. This revolt would never manifest, however; Xerxes found out about the plot, and Masistes’ armies were killed in battle, before he too, and his sons, were murdered.




Artabanus, a member of the royal household guard of Xerxes and a chief official of Xerxes but not to be confused with Xerxes’ uncle of the same name, decided to have the king murdered to seize the throne for himself. He plotted alongside the eunuchs Aspamitres and Mithridates, Xerxes’s chamberlain, and Mithridates led Artabanus into Xerxes’s bed chambers one night, and the king was slain in the August of 465 BC.

File:Clay tablet. The cuneiform text mentions the murder of Xerxes I (r. 485-465 BCE) by his son and a lunar eclipse (609-447 BCE). From Babylon, Iraq. British Museum.jpg

[ABOVE: Cuneiform text from Babylon describing the murder of Xerxes, now held in the British Museum, London]

Artabanus next plotted alongside Megabyzus (the grandson of Megabyzus I, who was a member of the Conspiracy of the Seven) to kill Xerxes’s successor, Artaxerxes. While "Xerxes" roughly translated to "man of war", “Artaxerxes” roughly translated to “a Great Man of War”. The historian Plutarch also referred to Artaxerxes as “Makrókheir”, meaning “long-handed”, supposedly because the Shah’s right hand was notably longer than his left hand.

Through his own accomplishments, Megabyzus became a potential rival to Xerxes’ throne. As a descendant of a noble Persian bloodline, Megabyzus was a member of the Persian royal officials, and this prestige was enhanced even further when he married the daughter of Xerxes, Amytis. Megabyzus was also responsible for putting down the revolt in Babylon early on in Xerxes’ reign in 484 BC, and was present during the Persian Wars, while his father, Zopyrus, was likely a satrap (governor) of a province. During the Greco-Persian Wars, Megabyzus refused to sack the Temple to Apollo at Delphi, the holiest site in the Greek world, and for this the Greeks would praise him highly.


[ABOVE: A 5th century BC bust of an Achaemenid nobleman]

Amytis would, at some point, have an affair behind Megabyzus’s back, humbling him. This event also spurred Megabyzus to join a plot against the then-king Artaxerxes I, hatched by Artabanus. It’s thought that Megabyzus did not know of Artabanus’s plots beforehand, which may have been what allowed Artabanus to kill Xerxes, and his son Darius. 

Since Xerxes had three sons, Artabanus set out for these men too; Darius and Artaxerxes remained in the palace, while Hystaspes was in Bactria. Artabanus covered his tracks first, going first to Artaxerxes and telling him that his brother Darius had murdered his father instead, urging Artaxerxes to rise up and claim the throne before Darius went for him and did so first. With the help of the king’s personal bodyguard, Artaxerxes had Darius killed. Seeing his plan was going accordingly, Artabanus cried out for his sons, striking Artaxerxes with their swords. Merely receiving a slight wound, Artaxerxes held off Artabanus’s attack, fought back and killed him. Thus, Artaxerxes now ascended to the Achaemenid throne as Artaxerxes I. He would begin his forty years of reign by having all other members of the conspiracy murdered, including Aspamitres.

It happened that Artaxerxes was also the brother-in-law of Megabyzus, and this may have eventually influenced Megabyzus's decision to betray Artabanus’s plot to Artaxerxes. Despite his initial involvement in the plot to have Artaxerxes killed, Megabyzus does not seem to have had his prestige take any blow, and his standing remained high, for now; Another eunuch, Artoxares, attempted a reconciliation with Megabyzus and Artaxerxes I. For speaking on the behalf of Megabyzus, Artoxares was exiled to Armenia, and Megabyzus too would be exiled for killing a lion before Artaxerxes I while the two men were out on a royal hunting trip.


[ABOVE: The ruins of Persepolis]


The rest of Artaxerxes's reign would be somewhat shaky; while he did oversee the completion of the Hall of a Hundred Columns in Persepolis, the empire's ceremonial capital city, a revolt in Egypt would lead the Athenian Delian League to opportunistic campaigning once more.



NEXT BLOG: "EGYPT AND CYPRUS, 460 - 450 BC: End of the Persian Wars"






  • Herodotus, "The Histories", Book 7.106-113
  • Ctesias, "Persica"
  • Diodorus Siculus, "Library of History", Book XI.69




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Specialising in Ancient and Classical Greek, Persian and Roman studies, particularly military history.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire, 559 - 330 BC
The Achaemenid Persian Empire, 559 - 330 BC

Historical educational posts on Ancient Persian history. I'll be covering Persian history stretching from the founding of the empire under Cyrus the Great, to the fall of the empire under Darius III, covering topics ranging from daily life in the empire to all-out warfare. I'll also be looking a lot into Greek history, and their infamous conflicts with the Persians throughout history. All feedback, positive and/or negative, is very welcome. Hope ya learn plenty-a-stuff! :)

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