Artaxerxes III Ochus ( 358 BC to 338 BC )
Ochus, who obtained the crown in the manner related above, was the most cruel and sanguinary of all the Persian kings. He is indeed the only monarch of the Achaemenian line who appears to have been bloodthirsty by temperament. His first act on finding himself acknowledged king (B.C. 359) was to destroy, so far as he could, all the princes of the blood royal, in order that he might have no rival to fear. He even, if we may believe Justin, involved in this destruction a number of the princesses, whom any but the most ruthless of despots would have spared. Having taken these measures for his own security, he proceeded to show himself more active and enterprising than any monarch since Longimanus.
Attempt to recover Egypt, trouble in Phoenicia
It was now nearly half a century since one of the important provinces of the Empire?gypt?ad successfully asserted its independence and restored the throne of its native kings. General after general had been employed in vain attempts to reduce the rebels to obedience. Ochus determined to attempt the recovery of the revolted province in person. Though a rebellion had broken out in Asia Minor, which being supported by Thebes, threatened to become serious, he declined to be diverted from his enterprise. Levying a vast army, he marched into Egypt, and engaged Noctanebo, the king, in a contest for existence. Nectanebo, however, having obtained the services of two Greek generals, Diophantus, an Athenian, and Lamius, a citizen of Sparta, boldly met his enemy in the field, defeated him, and completely repulsed his expedition. Hereupon the contagion of revolt spread. Phoenicia assumed independence under the leadership of Sidon, expelled or massacred the Persian garrisons, which held her cities, and formed an alliance with Egypt. Her example was followed by Cyprus, where the kings of the nine principal towns assumed each a separate sovereignty.
Perian Empire coin of Sidon
The chronology of this period is somewhat involved; but it seems probable that the attack and failure of Ochus took place about B.C. 351; that the revolts occurred in the next year, B.C. 350; while it was not till B.C. 346, or four years later, that Ochus undertook his second expedition into these regions. He had, however, in the meanwhile, directed his generals or feudatories, to attack the rebels, and bring them into subjection.
The Cyprian war he had committed to Idrieus, prince of Caria, who employed on the service a body of 8000 Greek mercenaries, commanded by Phocion, the Athenian, and Evagoras, son of the former Evagoras, the Cyprian monarch; while he had committed to Belesys, satrap of Syria, and Mezseus, satrap of Cilicia, the task of keeping the Phoenicians in check. Idrieus succeeded in reducing Cyprus; but the two satraps suffered a single defeat at the hands of Tennes, the Sidonian king, who was aided by 40,000 Greek mercenaries, sent him by Nectanebo, and commanded by Mentor the Rhodian. The Persian forces were driven out of Phoenicia; and Sidon had ample time to strengthen its defences and make preparations for a desperate resistance.
The approach, however, of Ochus, at the head of an army of 330,000 men, shook the resolution of the Phoenician monarch, who endeavored to purchase his own pardon by treacherously delivering up a hundred of the principal citizens of Sidon into the hands of the Persian king, and then admitting him within the defences of the town. Ochus, with the savage cruelty which was his chief characteristic, caused the hundred citizens to be transfixed with javelins, and when 500 more came out as suppliants to entreat his mercy, relentlessly consigned them to the same fate. Nor did the traitor Tennes derive any advantage from his guilty bargain. Ochus, having obtained from him all he needed, instead of rewarding his desertion, punished his rebellion with death.
Sidon Destroys itself
Hereupon the Sidonians, understanding that they had nothing to hope from submission, formed the dreadful resolution of destroying themselves and their town. They had previously, to prevent the desertion of any of their number, burnt their ships. Now they shut themselves up in their houses, and set fire each to his own dwelling. Forty thousand persons lost their lives in the conflagration; and the city was reduced to a heap of ruins, which Ochus sold for a large sum. Thus ended the Phoenician revolt. Among its most important results was the transfer of his services to the Persian king on the part of Mentor the Rhodian, who appears to have been the ablest of the mercenary leaders of whom Greece at this time produced so many.
Artaxerxes invades Egypt again
The reduction of Sidon was followed closely by the invasion of Egypt. Ochus, besides his 330,000 Asiatics, had now a force of 14,000 Greeks?000 furnished by the Greek cities of Asia Minor; 4000 under Mentor, consisting of the troops which he had brought to the aid of Tennes from Egypt; 3000 sent by Argos; and 1000 from Thebes. He divided his numerous armament into three bodies, and placed at the head of each two generals?ne Persian and one Greek. The Greek commanders were Lacrates of Thebes, Mentor of Rhodes, and Nicostratus of Argos, a man of enormous strength, who regarded himself as a second Hercules, and adopted the traditional costume of that hero? club and a lion's skin. The Persians were Rhossaces, Aristazanes, and Bagoas, the chief of the eunuchs. Nectanebo was only able to oppose to this vast array an army less than one third of the size. Twenty thousand, however, out of the 100,000 troops at his disposal were Greeks; he occupied the Nile and its various branches with a numerous navy the character of the country, intersected by numerous canals, and full of strongly fortified towns, was in his favor; and he might have been expected to make a prolonged, if not even a successful, resistance. But he was deficient in generals, and over-confident in his own powers of command: the Greek captains out-manoeuvred him; and no sooner did he find one line of his defences forced than his ill-founded confidence was exchanged for an alarm as little reasonable. He hastily fell back upon Memphis, leaving the fortified towns to the defence of their garrisons. These consisted of mixed troops, partly Greek and partly Egyptian; between whom jealousies and suspicions were easily sown by the Persian leaders, who by these means rapidly reduced the secondary cities of Lower Egypt, and were advancing upon Memphis, when Nectanebo in despair quitted the country and fled southwards to Ethiopia. All Egypt submitted to Ochus, who demolished the walls of the cities, plundered the temples, and after amply rewarding his mercenaries, returned to his own capital with an immense booty, and with the glory of having successfully carried through a most difficult and important enterprise.
It has been well observed that "the reconquest of Egypt by Ochus must have been one of the most impressive events of the age," and that it "exalted the Persian Empire in force and credit to a point nearly as high as it had ever occupied before." Ochus not only redeemed by means of it his former failure, but elevated himself in the opinions of men to a pitch of glory such as no previous Persian king had reached, excepting Cyrus, Cambyses, and the first Darius. Henceforth we hear of no more revolts or rebellions. Mentor and Bagoas, the two generals who had most distinguished themselves in the Egyptian campaign, were advanced by the gratitude of Ochus to posts of the highest importance, in which their vigor and energy found ample room to display themselves. Mentor, who was governor of the entire Asiatic sea-board, exerted himself successfully to reduce to subjection the many chiefs who during the recent troubles had assumed an independent authority, and in the course of a few years brought once more the whole coast into complete submission and dependence. Bagoas, carried with him by Ochus to the capital, became the soul of the internal administration, and maintained tranquillity throughout the rest of the Empire. The last six years of the reign of Ochus form an exceptional period of vigorous and successful government, such as occurs nowhere else in the history of the later Persian monarchy. The credit of bringing about such a state of things may be due especially to the king's officers, Bagoas and Mentor; but a portion of it must reflect upon himself, as the person who selected them, assigned them their respective tasks, and permanently maintained them in office.
It was during this period of vigor and renewed life, when the Persian monarchy seemed to have recovered almost its pristine force and strength, that the attention of its rulers was called to a small cloud on the distant horizon, which some were wise enough to see portended storm and tempest. The growing power of Macedon, against which Demosthenes was at this time in vain warning the careless Athenians, attracted the consideration of Ochus or of his counsellors; and orders went forth from the Court that Persian influence was to be used to check and depress the rising kingdom. A force was consequently despatched to assist the Thracian prince, Cersobleptes, to maintain his independence; and such effectual aid was given to the city of Perinthus that the numerous and well-appointed army with which Philip had commenced its siege was completely baffled and compelled to give up the attempt (B.C. 340). The battle of Chseroneia had not yet been fought, and Macedonia was still but one of the many states which disputed for supremacy over Greece; but it is evident that she had already awakened the suspicions of Persia, which saw a rival and a possible assailant in the rapidly growing monarchy.
The Death of Artaxerxes III
Greater and more systematic efforts might possibly have been made, and the power of Macedon might perhaps have been kept within bounds, had not the inveterate evil of conspiracy and revolution once more shown itself at the Court, and paralyzed for a time the action of the Empire on communities beyond its borders. Ochus, while he was a vigorous ruler and administrator, was harsh and sanguinary. His violence and cruelty rendered him hateful to his subjects; and it is not unlikely that they caused even those who stood highest in his favor to feel insecure. Bagoas may have feared that sooner or later he would himself be one of the monarch's victims, and have been induced by a genuine alarm to remove the source of his terrors. In the year B.C. 338 he poisoned Ochus, and placed upon the throne his youngest son, Arses, at the same time assassinating all the brothers of the new monarch.
It was evidently his aim to exercise the supreme power himself, as counsellor to a prince who owed his position to him, and who was moreover little more than a boy. But Arses, though subservient for a year or two, began, as he grew older, to show that he had a will of his own, and was even heard to utter threats against his benefactor whereupon Bagoas, accustomed now to crime, secured himself by a fresh series of murders. He caused Arses and his infant children to be assassinated, and selected one of his friends, Codomannus, the son of Arsanes, to fill the vacant throne. Bagoas then tried to poison Darius as well, but Darius was warned and forced Bagoas to drink the poison himself About the same time (B.C. 336), Philip of Macedon was assassinated by the incensed Pausanias; and the two new monarchs?odomannus, who took the name of Darius, and Alexander the Great?ssumed their respective sceptres almost simultaneously.
Tomb of Artaxerxes III