Artabazus was born in c.389 as younger son of Pharnabazus II, the satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, i.e., the northwest of what is now Turkey. The family descended from Pharnaces I, the chief economic official of king Darius I the Great (522-486), who happened to be Pharnaces' nephew. Pharnaces owned large possessions in Hellespontine Phrygia and his son, Artabazus I, and knew the country, was appointed satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia in 477. From that moment on, the country was always ruled by a descendant of Pharnaces.
In 360s, several satraps in the west rebelled against king Artaxerxes II Mnemon. The revolt was started in 367 by Ariobarzanes I, one of the Pharnacids; soon, the satraps Maussolus of Caria, Orontes of Armenia, Autophradates of Lydia and Datames -who was already leading a rebel army in northern Turkey- joined him. In 362, the rebels were defeated; Ariobarzanes was betrayed by his son Mithradates and crucified.
Now Artabazus II, a younger brother of Ariobarzanes and Mithradates, became satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia. Although he must have known about his brother's fate, he also decided to revolt, probably in 358, after the death of king Artaxerxes II Mnemon. It is unclear why Artabazus revolted, especially since his army was not particularly strong.
He made use of the services of an Athenian army under command of Chares; this army ought to be fighting against revolting Athenian allies, but was short of money and therefore willing to serve as mercenaries. With Athenian help, Artabazus defeated a Persian army in 355 in a battle that was celebrated in Greece as "a second Marathon".
By now, king Artaxerxes III Ochus had established his rule. He sent a letter to Athens in which he demanded the recall of Chares; if the Athenians continued to support Artabazus, the Persian navy would support the rebellious allies. Athens accepted the humiliation and Artabazus was again left without army. He tried to hire 5,000 Thebans (353), but was defeated before they had arrived.
Artabazus fled to Macedonia, where he stayed at the court of king Philip II for ten years. Here, he met the young crown prince Alexander and the philosopher Aristotle of Stagira. As satrap, he was succeeded by Arsites, who was probably not a member of the Pharnacid family.
Artabazus owed his recall and his second career in the Achaemenid empire to his son-in-law. Among the Greek mercenaries in his service were two brothers from Rhodes, Mentor and Memnon; Artabazus had married their sister and Mentor was married to Artabazus' daughter Barsine. Memnon joined Artabazus in his Macedonian exile, but Mentor managed to receive a pardon from king Artaxerxes III and rendered important services during Artaxerxes' Egyptian war. When the king asked Mentor how he could express his gratitude, the Rhodian asked for the recall of his brother and his father-in-law. The king pardoned the former rebels, and they returned to Persia in 342. Artabazus gave the king invaluable information about the plan of Philip to attack Persia, which was to be executed as soon as he had subdued the Greek cities.
It is not known what Artabazus did during the next twelve years, but we know something about his family life: his son-in-law Mentor died in 340 and Barsine remarried to her husband's brother Memnon, who died in 333.
We can make some guesses about Artabazus' political life in the years after his recall. The Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia tells us that during Alexander's conquest of the Achaemenid empire, the Persian king Darius III Codomannus was arrested by his courtier Bessus in July 330.
Bessus had received the royal salute from the Bactrian cavalry and all the Persians who had been with Darius on his retreat, except Artabazus and his sons -and the Greek mercenaries- who were loyal. These, unable to prevent what had taken place, had left the main road and made for the hills on their own, refusing to take any part in the action of Bessus and his supporters. [Arrian, Anabasis 3.21.4; tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt]
This is a very important text. In the first place, it proves that Artabazus and his family remained loyal to Darius when it seemed better to switch alliance to Bessus. This behavior strongly suggests a more personal tie between Darius and Artabazus, and this may be confirmed by the fact that both men came from the northwestern parts of the empire (Artabazus had been satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, Darius III had been satrap of Armenia). It is probable that in the years 339-336, when it was unclear who was to succeed Artaxerxes III Ochus, Artabazus sided with Darius against Artaxerxes IV Arses.
Another interesting aspect of the text quoted above, is that it mentions Artabazus together with the Greek mercenaries. These men had fought under Memnon and Artabazus' son Pharnabazus III in the Aegean sea, had been transferred to Syria, and had fought in the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. The name of the liaison officer, who was responsible for the communications between the Persian headquarters and the mercenary leaders, is not known, but it must have been Artabazus, because he was bilingual and had a good name among the mercenaries.
A few weeks later, Artabazus surrendered to Alexander, who was campaigning in Hyrcania. Artabazus can not have found it difficult to switch sides, because the Macedonian leader had announced that he considered himself to be the successor of Darius and had given the Persian king a royal burial. Besides, Artabazus had lived at the Macedonian court for ten years and had known Alexander when he was a boy. The Greek mercenaries surrendered immediately after the surrender of Artabazus, which again suggests that he had been their liaison officer.
At Alexander's court, Artabazus met his daughter Barsine again. When her husband Memnon had left for his command in the Aegean sea, she had stayed with king Darius, perhaps as a hostage. After the battle of Issus (333), she was taken captive by the Macedonians, and Alexander had fallen in love with her. (Maybe, they had already met each other when Artabazus was exiled to Macedonia.)
Artabazus became one of the most influential Persian advisers of Alexander: after all, he was bilingual, had gained the thrust of the Greek mercenaries, was an experienced governor, knew Macedonia well, and was the father of Alexander's lover. Artabazus must have convinced many Iranians to give up the resistance against the invaders. Later, when Alexander was marching from Arachosia to Gandara, Artabazus suppressed a native rising in Aria (329), led by Satibarzanes.
Alexander rewarded Artabazus by making him satrap of Bactria. This proves that the Macedonian king trusted him completely. The Macedonians were now fighting north of Bactria in Sogdia, and all roads to Sogdia led through Bactria. If Artabazus revolted, Alexander would be helpless. Artabazus did not disappoint Alexander, although his capital Bactra (Balkh, near modern Mazâr-e Sharîf) was at some stage attacked by Scythiansand needed to be reinforced. In the Summer of 328, he commanded an army (with Alexander's friend Hephaestion) that was to operate in the extreme north of Sogdia; this is interesting, because it is likely that Iranian horsemen were the backbone of this army - proof that Alexander was willing to give the native population an important role in his empire.
In 327, Artabazus asked to be relieved of the satrapy on account of his age: he was probably sixty-two. Alexander accepted the request and made him governor of a fortress in Sogdia, which seems to have been sinecure function. On this Sogdian rock, Alexander had met Roxane, with whom he married. This must have been a very deep disappointment for Artabazus and Barsine -who had just given birth to Alexander's first-born son, Heracles-, but they are not known to have entertained resentments.
It is not known what became of Artabazus. However, it is certain that his sons were honored by Alexander and received important positions: e.g., Cophen was a member of the Macedonian elite regiments and Pharnabazus became a cavalry commander. In 324, Artabazus' daughter Artacama married to Alexander's friend Ptolemy and his daughter Artonis married Eumenes, the royal secretary. An anonymous granddaughter, child of Mentor and Barsine, married to Nearchus, Alexander's admiral.