Gradual demise of Achaemenian Empire post the death of Xerxes I

The demise of Xerxes was a major turning point in Achaemenian history. Occasional flashes of intelligence and vigour by some of Xerxes’ successors were too scarce to avert eventual collapse but did let the empire to die a gradual death. The three kings who succeeded Xerxes on the throne one after the other—Artaxerxes I (465–425 BC), Xerxes II (425–424), and Darius II Ochus (423–404)—were all relatively weak as individuals and as kings, and any successes that the empire enjoyed during their reigns were mostly the result of the labours of subordinates or of the difficulties faced by their adversaries. Artaxerxes I confronted several rebellions, the most significant of which was that of Egypt in 459, not fully suppressed until 454. A gainful peace treaty (the Peace of Callias) with Athens was signed in 448 BC, whereby the Athenians agreed to leave Asia Minor to the Achaemenids and the Persians agreed to stay out of the Aegean. Athens broke the peace treaty in 439 BC in an attack on Samos, and in its aftermath some military gains in the west were made by the Persians. Xerxes II ruled for only about 45 days and was slain while in a drunken stupor by the son of one of his father’s concubines. The assassin was himself slain by Darius II, who rose to the throne via palace intrigue. Several revolts marred his rule, including one in Media, which was pretty close to home.

The key event of these three reigns was the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, which was fought, with intermittent pauses, over the later decades of the 5th century BC. The situation was quite ripe for exploitation by the famous “Persian archers,” the gold coins of the Achaemenids depicting an archer on their obverse and that were utilised with utmost skill by the Persians in bribing first one Greek state and then another. At first the Persians exhilarated Athens against Sparta and from this gained the Peace of Callias. Then, after the unsuccessful Athenian campaign against Sicily in 413, the Persians interfered on Sparta’s side. By the treaty of Miletus in 412, the Persians got complete liberty in western Asia Minor in return for assenting to pay for seamen to man the Peloponnesian fleet. Persian gold and Spartan soldiers combined to cause the fall of Athens in 404 BC. Despite the fact that the Persians played the two sides (Athens and Sparta) against each other to their own advantage, they could have done far better. One can easily note a certain lack of control from Susa by the king in these proceedings, and the two principal governors in Asia Minor who were involved, Pharnabazus of Hellespontine Phrygia and Tissaphernes of Sardis, appeared to have allowed a personal power rivalry to stand in the way of a truly coordinated Persian intervention in the Greek conflict. When Egypt revolted in 405 BC, Persia failed to do much about it, and from that point forward Egypt remained in effect an independent state. Eventually Achaemenian Empire ended when Darius III (last Achaemenid king) was murdered in 330 BC while fleeing the conqueror Alexander the Great.

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