Artaxerxes I, king of Persia (Ezra 7)

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Illustration: Ezra before King Artaxerxes

Artaxerxes -i (also called “Longimanus”), son of Xerxes I and Amestris and grandson of Darius I, ruled the Persian empire from 464 to 424 B.C.. His domain included most of the civilized world, extending from Egypt to the western edge of India. According to Diodorus Siculus in Library, 11.69, Artaxerxes came to power after Artabanus, a courtier, had assassinated Xerxes. Artaxerxes then killed his older brother, Darius, and defeated his other brother, Hystaspes, satrap  of Bactria. Artaxerxes is then said to have slain Aratabanus in hand-to-hand combat.

Like most Persian rulers Artaxerxes had o struggle to maintain the empire. The most significant was during his reign involved an Egyptian rebellion against Persian authority that was complicated by Athenian support for the Egyptians. The war lasted from 460 to 454 B.C., but Persian armies under the command of Megabyzus, satrap of Syria, ultimately prevailed.

Artaxerxes played a prominent role in the post-exilic Jewish community, but the chronology of events is somewhat difficult to unravel. Sometime prior to 445 B.C. Jews in Jerusalem began rebuilding the city’s defences, but adversaries informed the king and the work was halted (Ezra 4:7-23). Yet in 458 B.C. Artaxerxes I allowed Ezra, in exile in Babylon, to return to Judah as spiritual leader of the Jewish people (Ezra 7). Meanwhile, Nehemiah served as cupbearer to Artaxerxes I in Susa, the administrative capital of the empire (Nehemiah 1:1, 11). In 445 B.C. Atraxerxes commissioned Nehemiah as governor of Judah, a position he held for 12 years (Nehemiah 2:1-6, 5:14). The king gave Nehemiah permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, a feat the Jewish people accomplished in only 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). Fragmentary remains of Nehemiah’s wal have been discovered on the eastern edge of the City of David, south of the temple mount. Archaeological findings indicate that Ezra and Nehemiah established Judah as an economically viable province. Prior to their arrival Judah had been in a poor and ruinous state as a continuing result of the Babylonian conquest of 586 B.C.

Artaxerxes I was buried in an elaborate tomb cut into the face of a cliff 4,8 km north of Persepolis, the religious capital of the Persian empire.


 

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