63: The Little Pharaoh That Could(n’t)

After Artaxerxes I came to power in 465 BCE, a minor rebellion broke out in western Egypt led by the would-be Pharaoh Inaros II. Inaros quickly came to a stalemate with the local satrap, but in 460 BCE the Egyptian rebel reached out to Athens for aid. The Athenians came in force, broke the stalemate, killed the satrap (and Artaxerxes’ uncle), and joined Inaros as he marched on Memphis.
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62: Death In Quick Succession

Themistocles standing before Artaxerxes for the first time illustrated by Walter Crane in The story of Greece : told to boys and girls by Mary Mcgregor via Wikimedia

In late 465 BCE, Xerxes I – the King of Kings – was murdered in his sleep by his own captain of the guard, Artabanus the Hyrcanian. Artabanus and a group of highly placed conspirators chose their victim’s third son, Artaxerxes to be their puppet on the throne and moved to secure their coup. Unbeknownst to them, Artaxerxes was not easily manipulated. When the conspirators turned on one another, the Achaemenid Empire plunged headfirst into the age of Artaxerxes with a new round of civil wars.
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61: Blood on the Eurymedon

Most of the decade following the first offensive Greek campaigns against Xerxes’ forces are lost to us. There are hints at great battles and rapid Athenian expansion, but almost nothing is certain until the Battle of the Eurymedon. In the mid-460s BCE, the Persian fleet had recovered enough to stage a renewed offensive, but the Athenian general Kimon had advanced warning. He commanded a fleet from Athens’ Delian League and made a preemptive strike in southern Anatolia, where he destroyed the fleet and routed the Persian army. This battle at the mouth of the Eurymedon River once again changed the direction of Persia’s war with Athens, effectively kicking Persian military power out of the Aegean for decades to come.

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59: Holy War

An Old Persian copy of the Daiva Inscription discovered at Persepolis, via Livius.org

Early in Xerxes’ reign, an infamous and dramatic story of religious conflict was inscribed at Persepolis. When Xerxes became king he put down a rebellion, but in the process encountered a community dedicated to a god or gods he considered false and immoral. As consequence he destroyed their sanctuary and worshiped Ahura Mazda in their place.
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58: Persia’s First Family

Xerxes depicted in Guillaume Rouillé’s Promptuarium Iconum Insigniorum, 1553

As the reign of another king draw’s toward a close, it’s time to look at the royal family. Xerxes’ household was like a microcosm of early Achaemenid history. His mother, Atossa, drew a direct connection back to Cyrus, his uncles, cousins, and siblings were woven into the political scene of his reign. Herodotus’ catalog of Persian commander’s is also a catalog of the Great King’s family, and many of them held positions of power as Satraps across the empire. The royal family is also an opportunity to look forward, and introduce the next generation of kings, satraps, generals, and rebels.
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56: Domestic Affairs

“The Mishandling of the Wife of Masistes, daughter-in-law of the Persian King Darius” – Print by Jan Luyken, 1699

As the war with the Greeks drags on into obscurity, it is time to investigate what was happening inside the empire under Xerxes. In the far west, most territories slipped from Persian control completely. The Mediterranean coastal region was reconfigured and given a new leadership class to carry on the war against Athens. In the royal court, Xerxes dealt with infamous court drama and intrigue, while in Babylon the daily minutia of government wore on and dealt with economic crises.
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55: Still Loud on the Western Front

The Achaemenid fortress at Eion as seen today from Amphipolis, via Wikimedia

After the Persian defeat at Mycale, the stories of the Greco-Persian war get less dramatic, but the war itself did not come to an end. Late 479 BCE saw the beginning of Greek offensives in Persian territory, which continued long after the Spartans pulled out of the war in 478. The third year of war between Xerxes and Athens saw the foundation of the Delian League, which could continue to lead Greek attacks on Persian cities for years to come.
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54: Two By “Sea”

Mycale battlefield diagram via Livius.org

Supposedly on the same day as the Battle of Plataea, another battle was unfolding at the foot of Mount Mycale (modern Mount Dilek). The Greek fleet agreed to aid Samian rebels against Persia and sailed all the way to mainland Anatolia to fight the Persian fleet. Still recovering from Salamis, the Persians opted to turn the confrontation into a land battle, but the new general, Tigranes, and his men were overwhelmed and even more of the fleet was destroyed by Greek hands.
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53: One By Land

The Death of Masistios as imagined by M.A. Barth in 1832

After a year of relative success, the Persian occupation of northern Greece received its second massive defeat. For the first time, the Hellenic League managed to field the full might of a Greek army against the occupation force commanded by Mardonius. They clashed repeatedly in the plains surrounding the small town of Plataea until their maneuvers drew both sides into a decisive and bloody confrontation.
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Interview: Sean Manning

Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects by Sean Manning (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2021).

I sat down with Dr. Sean Manning, author of the new book: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects to discuss the military might of the Persian Empire (and why it’s so hard to find anything written about it). That includes both the academic nuances of which sources deserve primacy, and ever exciting topics of arms, armor, and tactics.

Dr. Manning’s research represents an invaluable resource for anyone trying to engage with the military history of Achaemenid Persia – especially when we try to disentangle it from the Greek Wars.
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