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Plutarch, Life of Artaxerxes

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Artaxerxes II on the Mausoleum of Pericles of Limyra. Archaeological Museum of Antalya (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
Artaxerxes II on the Mausoleum of Pericles of Limyra (Archaeological Museum of Antalya)
The Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II Mnemon (ruled 404-358) is the subject of one of the biographies written by the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.122). It is a remarkable treatise, because its author has inserted much confused and disjointed information, includes unusually lengthy quotations (from Ctesias), and is -Plutarch always being a Greek in the first place- uncharacteristically kind towards "the barbarian". In other words, it is possibly not written by Plutarch.

The translation offered here was made by Bernadotte Perrin; it was originally put online (with all original notes from the Loeb edition) by Bill Thayer on LacusCurtius. This hyperlinked version was prepared by Jona Lendering.
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The king also expelled the Lacedaemonians from the sea, employing Conon the Athenian as his commander along with Pharnabazus. For Conon passed the time at Cyprus, after the sea-fight at Aegospotami, not satisfied with mere safety, but awaiting a reversal in the course of affairs, as he would a change of wind at sea. And seeing that his own plans needed a military force, and the king's force needed a sagacious leader, he wrote a letter to king explaining his purposes. This letter he ordered the bearer, if possible, to give the king by the hand of Zeno the Cretan or Polycritus the Mendaean (Zeno was a teacher of dancing, and Polycritus was a physician); but if these were not at court, by the hand of Ctesias the physician. And it is said that Ctesias, on receiving the letter, added to the suggestions which Conon made to the king a request to send Ctesias also to him, as likely to be of service in matters on the sea-coast. Ctesias, however, says that the king of his own accord conferred upon him this new duty.

But after Artaxerxes, by the sea-fight which Pharnabazus and Conon won for him off Cnidus, had stripped the Lacedaemonians of their power on the sea, he brought the whole of Greece into dependence upon him, [386] so that he dictated to the Greeks the celebrated peace called the Peace of Antalcidas. Now Antalcidas was a Spartan, son of Leon, and acting in the interests of the king he induced the Lacedaemonians to surrender to the king all the Greek cities of Asia, and all the islands adjacent to Asia, to possess them on payment of tribute; and peace was thus established among the Greeks, if the mockery and betrayal of Greece can be called peace, a peace than which no war ever brought a more inglorious consummation to the defeated. 

For this reason Artaxerxes, although he always held other Spartans in abomination, and considered them, as Deinon tells us, the most shameless of all mankind, showed great affection for Antalcidas when he came up to Persia. On one occasion he actually took a wreath of flowers, dipped it in the most costly ointment, and sent it to Antalcidas after supper; and all men wondered at the kindness. But Antalcidas was a fit person, as it would seem, to be exquisitely treated and to receive such a wreath, now that he had danced away among the Persians the fair fame of Leonidas and Callicratidas. For Agesilaus, as it would appear, when someone said to him: "Alas for Greece, now that the Spartans are medizing," replied, "Are not the Medes the rather spartanizing?" However, the wittiness of the speech could not remove the shame of the deed, [371] and the Spartans lost their supremacy in the disastrous battle of Leuctra, though the glory of Sparta had been lost before that by this treaty.

So long, then, as Sparta kept the first place in Greece, Artaxerxes treated Antalcidas as his guest and called him his friend; but after the Spartans had been defeated at Leuctra, they fell so low as to beg for money, and sent Agesilaus to Egypt, while Antalcidas went up to Artaxerxes to ask him to supply the wants of the Lacedaemonians. The king, however, so neglected and slighted and rejected him that, when he came back home, being railed at by his enemies, and being in fear of the ephors, he starved himself to death.

Ismenias the Theban also, and Pelopidas, who had just been victorious in the battle of Leuctra, went up to the king. Pelopidas did nothing to disgrace himself; but Ismenias, when ordered to make the obeisance to the king, threw his ring down on the ground in front of him, and then stooped and picked it up, thus giving men to think that he was making the obeisance. With Timagoras the Athenian, however, who sent to him by his secretary, Beluris, a secret message in writing, the king was so pleased that he gave him ten thousand darics, and eighty milch cows to follow in his train because he was sick and required cow's milk; and besides, he sent him a couch, with bedding for it, and servants to make the bed (on the ground that the Greeks had not learned the art of making beds), and bearers to carry him down to the sea-coast, enfeebled as he was. Moreover, during his presence at court, he used to send him a most splendid supper, so that Ostanes, the brother of the king, said "Timagoras, remember this table; it is no slight return which thou must make for such an array." Now this was a reproach for his treachery rather than a reminder of the king's favor. At any rate, for his venality, Timagoras was condemned to death by the Athenians.

But there was one thing by which Artaxerxes gladdened the hearts of the Greeks, in return for all the evils which he wrought them, and that was [395] his putting Tissaphernes to death, their most hated and malicious enemy. And he put him to death in consequence of accusations against him which were seconded by Parysatis. For the king did not long persist in his wrath against his mother, but was reconciled with her and summoned her to court, since he saw that she had intellect and a lofty spirit worthy of a queen, and since there was no longer any ground for their suspecting and injuring one another if they were together.

After this she consulted the king's pleasure in all things, and by approving of everything that he did, acquired influence with him and achieved all her ends. She perceived that the king was desperately in love with one of his two daughters, Atossa, and that, chiefly on his mother's account, he was trying to conceal and restrain his passion, although some say that he had already had secret intercourse with the girl. When, accordingly, Parysatis became suspicious of the matter, she showed the girl more affection than before, and would speak to Artaxerxes in praise of her beauty and her despair, saying that she was truly royal and magnificent. At last, then, she persuaded the king to marry the girl and proclaim her his lawful wife, ignoring the opinions and laws of the Greeks, and regarding himself as appointed by Heaven to be a law upon the Persians and an arbitrator of good and evil.

Some, however, say, and among them is Heracleides of Cyme, that Artaxerxes married, not one of his daughters only, but also a second, Amestris, of whom we shall speak a little later. Atossa, however, was so beloved by her father as his consort, that when her body was covered with leprosy he was not offended at this in the least, but offered prayers to Hera in her behalf, making his obeisance and clutching the earth before this goddess as he did before no other; while his satraps and friends, at his command, sent the goddess so many gifts that the sixteen furlongs between her sanctuary and the royal palace were filled with gold and silver and purple and horses.

[385, 383] In the war which Pharnabazus and Iphicrates conducted for him against [king Achoris of] Egypt he was unsuccessful, owing to the dissensions of these commanders; [early 370's?] against the Cadusians, therefore, he made an expedition in person, with three hundred thousand footmen and ten thousand horse. But the country which he penetrated was rough and hard to traverse, abounded in mists, and produced no grains, although its pears and apples and other such tree-fruits supported warlike and courageous population. Unawares, therefore, he became involved in great distress and peril. For no food was to be got in the country or imported from outside, and they could only butcher their beasts of burden, so that an ass's head was scarcely to be bought for sixty drachmas. Moreover, the royal banquets were abandoned; and of their horses only a few were left, the rest having been consumed for food.

Here it was that Teribazus, a man whose bravery often set him in a leading place, but whose levity as often cast him down, so that at this time he was in disgrace and overlooked, saved the king and his army.  For the Cadusians had two kings, and each of them encamped separately. So Teribazus, after an interview with Artaxerxes in which he told him what he purposed to do, went himself to one of the Cadusian kings, and sent his son secretly to the other. Each envoy, then, deceived his man, telling him that the other king was sending an embassy to Artaxerxes to secure friendship and alliance for himself alone: he should, therefore, if he were wise, have an interview with Artaxerxes before the other did, and he himself would help him all he could.

Both kings were persuaded by this argument, and each thinking that he was anticipating the other, one sent his envoys along with Teribazus, and the other with the son of Teribazus. But matters were delayed, and suspicions and calumnies against Teribazus came to the ears of Artaxerxes he himself also was ill at ease, and repented him of having put confidence in Teribazus, and gave occasion to his rivals to malign him. But at last Teribazus came, and his son came too, both bringing their Cadusian envoys, and a peace was ratified with both kings; whereupon Teribazus, now a great and splendid personage, set out for home with the king.

And the king now made it plain that cowardice and effeminacy are not always due to luxury and extravagance, as most people suppose, but to a base and ignoble nature under the sway of evil doctrines. For neither gold nor robe of state nor the twelve thousand talents' worth of adornment which always enveloped the person of the king prevented him from undergoing toils and hardships like an ordinary soldier; nay, with his quiver girt upon him and his shield on his arm he marched in person at the head of his troops, over precipitous mountain roads, abandoning his horse, so that the rest of the army had wings given them and felt their burdens lightened when they saw his ardor and vigor; for he made daily marches of two hundred furlongs and more.

At length he came down to a royal halting-place which had admirable parks in elaborate cultivation, although the region round about was bare and treeless; and since it was cold, he gave permission to his soldiers to cut the trees of the park for wood, sparing neither pine nor cypress. And when they hesitated and were inclined to spare the trees on account of their great size and beauty, he took an axe himself and cut down the largest and most beautiful tree. After this the men provided themselves with wood, and making many fires, passed the night in comfort. Nevertheless, he lost many and brave men, and almost all his horses before he reached home. And now, thinking that his subjects despised him because of the disastrous failure of his expedition, he was suspicious of his chief men; many of these he put to death in anger, and more out of fear. For it is cowardly fear in a tyrant that leads to most bloodshed; but bold confidence makes him gracious and mild and unsuspicious. So also among wild beasts, those that are refractory and hardest to tame are timorous and fearful, whereas the nobler sorts are led by their courage to put more confidence in men, and do not reject friendly advances.

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Online 2007
Revision: 26 April 2007
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