(Ar·ta·xerxʹes) [Persian, Artakhshatra].
A name or title applied to several Persian kings. The suggested meaning is “he whose empire is perfected,” or simply “great kingdom.”
1. The Persian ruler who caused the building of Jehovah’s temple at Jerusalem to be stopped. (Ezra 4:7-24) Between the reigns of Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem (537 B.C.E.), and of Darius I (Persian), who removed (520 B.C.E.) the ban imposed on the temple construction, two kings ruled: Cambyses and the Magian Gaumata, who (at least according to King Darius) pretended to be Smerdis and who obtained the throne by imposture and usurpation. Cambyses is evidently represented by the “Ahasuerus” mentioned at Ezra 4:6 to whom the first protest was made by the opposers of the temple reconstruction. Therefore, beginning with Ezra 4:7, the ruler referred to as “Artaxerxes” is evidently Gaumata, whose rule lasted but eight months (522 B.C.E.). He was thereafter put to death by Darius Hystaspis, who succeeded him to the Persian throne.
2. The Greek Septuagint translation refers to Ahasuerus, the husband of Esther, as “Artaxerxes.” (Esther 1:1 to 2:23) He is believed to be the king known in secular history, however, as Xerxes I (486-474 B.C.E.).—See AHASUERUS No. 3
3. Artaxerxes Longimanus (474-423 B.C.E), the son of Xerxes I, is considered to be the king referred to at Ezra 7:1-28 and Nehemiah 2:1-18; 13:6. Modern secular historians, not taking into account the two kings previously considered (Gaumata and Xerxes I), designate Longimanus as Artaxerxes I. According to the ancient historian Plutarch, the name Longimanus derives from the fact that the king’s right hand was longer than his left.
During Longimanus’ reign he extended permission to priest Ezra and also to Nehemiah to make trips to Jerusalem. (Ezra 7:1-7; Neh. 2:1, 7, 8) Ancient historians credit him with a generally benign and generous character. This coincides with his actions during the seventh year of his reign (468 B.C.E.), when Longimanus granted Ezra “all his request” in a decree that provided for silver and gold and vessels for temple use (gifts that totaled some $4,946,000 at modern values), in addition to provisions of wheat, wine, oil and salt. (Ezra 7:6, 12-23; 8:25-27) This generous contribution may explain why Artaxerxes (Longimanus) is included along with Cyrus and Darius at Ezra 6:14 as one of those whose orders contributed to the ‘building and finishing’ of the temple, although the actual construction was completed by 515 B.C.E., some forty-seven years previous. The king’s decree even authorized Ezra to appoint magistrates and judges to teach God’s law (as well as that of the king), and to use capital punishment against violators where necessary.—Ezra 7:25, 26.
ARTAXERXES LONGIMANUS’ TWENTIETH YEAR
During the twentieth year of his reign, Artaxerxes Longimanus granted permission to Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls and gates of the city. (Neh. 2:1-8) Because this edict is referred to at Daniel 9:25 as relating to the time of the promised coming of the Messiah, the date of Artaxerxes’ twentieth year has been a matter of considerable study. Whereas most secular works fix the date of the start of his reign at 465 or 464 B.C.E., there is sound reason for placing it at an earlier date, as follows:
The first year of the reign of Xerxes, father and predecessor of Longimanus, ran from December of 486 B.C.E. to the spring of 485 B.C.E. During 480-479 B.C.E. (the seventh year of his reign) he attempted an invasion of Greece but suffered defeats due to the tactics of the Athenian general Themistocles. The book of Esther (which calls him Ahasuerus) refers to the twelfth year of Xerxes’ rule (Esther 3:7) and indicates that his rule likely extended on into its thirteenth year (474 B.C.E.). Though modern historians generally extend Xerxes’ reign on to include a total of twenty-one years, and although some clay tablets referring to a sixteenth, twentieth and twenty-first year have been assigned by certain scholars to his reign, there is strong testimony to show that Xerxes’ rule ended in 474 B.C.E. and that he was then replaced by his son, Artaxerxes Longimanus.—See CHRONOLOGY.
The key to the matter relates to the flight of Athenian general Themistocles to the Persian capital, because of being accused of treason in his own land. The Greek historian Thucydides of Athens lived during the reign of Artaxerxes, and he records that Themistocles fled to Persia when Artaxerxes had but “lately come to the throne.” (See Thucydides in Book I, chapter 137.) Nepos, a Roman historian of the first century B.C.E., supports this statement, saying: “I know that most historians have related that Themistocles went over into Asia in the reign of Xerxes, but I give credence to Thucydides in preference to others, because he, of all who have left records of that period, was nearest in point of time to Themistocles, and was of the same city. Thucydides says that he went to Artaxerxes.” (Nepos, Themistocles, chap. 9) Similarly, the Greek biographer Plutarch, of the first century C.E., says: “Thucydides, and Charon of Lampsacus, say that Xerxes was dead, and that Themistocles had an interview with his son, Artaxerxes; but Ephorus, Dinon, Clitarchus, Heraclides and many others, write that he came to Xerxes. The chronological tables better agree with the account of Thucydides.”—Themistocles, c. 27; see also The Encyclopedia Americana, 1956 ed., Vol. 26, p. 507.
The weight of historical evidence, therefore, points to Themistocles’ flight as occurring in the reign of Artaxerxes, not of Xerxes. As to the date of that flight, Jerome’s Eusebius places Themistocles’ arrival in Asia in the fourth year of the 76th Olympiad (four-year periods beginning in 776 B.C.E.), that is, in the year 473/472 B.C.E. Confirming this are the annals or chronology of Diodorus the Sicilian, a Greek historian of the first century B.C.E., which place the date of Themistocles’ death in 471 B.C.E. Since after his arrival Themistocles is reported to have requested one year’s time in which to learn Persian before receiving audience with the king, it fits well that his arrival would reasonably have taken place about two years before his death or by the year 473 B.C.E. And since, as Thucydides records, Themistocles arrived when Artaxerxes had but “lately come to the throne,” then the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign evidently began in 474 B.C.E. The noted German scholar Ernst Wm. Hengstenberg (1802-1869) in his work entitled “Christology of the Old Testament” (Vol. 2, p. 395) states: “Krueger . . . places the death of Xerxes in the year 474 or 473, and the flight of Themistocles a year later.” Archbishop James Ussher, of Ireland (1581-1656), as a chronologist, also held that Artaxerxes Longimanus ascended the Persian throne in 474 B.C.E., as did the celebrated writer Vitringa (1659-1722).
Accepting the year 474 B.C.E. on this basis as the initial year of Artaxerxes’ reign, we conclude that the twentieth year of his rule should have been the year 455 B.C.E., at which time his decree sent to Palestine by Nehemiah for the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem would go into effect, thus marking the start of the “seventy weeks” of Daniel’s prophecy. (Dan. 9:24) Hengstenberg sums up the matter in saying (Vol. 2, p. 394): “The difference [of opinion] concerns only the year of the commencement of the reign of Artaxerxes. Our problem is completely solved, when we have shown that this year falls in the year 474 before Christ. For then the twentieth year of Artaxerxes is the year 455 before Christ, according to the usual reckoning.” Undoubtedly the strongest proof for the date of 455 B.C.E. as the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, however, is the fact of the Messiah’s appearance in the year 29 C.E., and his death in 33 C.E., in fulfillment of the time period indicated in Daniel’s prophecy.—Dan. 9:25, 26; see MESSIAH.
Nehemiah 13:6 refers to the “thirty-second year of Artaxerxes,” at which time (443-442 B.C.E.) Nehemiah returned to Babylon for a time. Artaxerxes Longimanus evidently died in 424 or 423 B.C.E. (according to Babylonian Chronology 626 B.C.—A.D. 75 by Parker and Dubberstein, page 18) and was succeeded by Darius II.