Beautiful Africa

The cultural phase

Xerxes I was followed by Artaxerxes I (465–424 BCE), who moved the capital from Persepolis to Babylon. It was during this reign that Elamite ceased to be the language of government, and Aramaic gained in importance. It was probably during this reign that the solar calendar was introduced as the national calendar. Under Artaxerxes I, Zoroastrianism became the de facto religion of state, and for this Artaxerxes I is today also known as the Constantine of that faith. Artaxerxes I died in Susa, and his body was brought to Persepolis for internment in the tomb of his forebears. Artaxerxes I was immediately succeeded by his eldest son Xerxes II, who was however assassinated by one of his half-brothers a few weeks later. Darius II rallied support for himself and marched eastwards, executing the assassin and was crowned in his stead. From 412 Darius II (423–404 BCE), at the insistence of the able Tissaphernes, gave support first to Athens, then to Sparta, but in 407 BCE, Darius' son Cyrus the Younger was appointed to replace Tissaphernes and aid was given entirely to Sparta which finally defeated Athens in 404 BCE In the same year, Darius fell ill and died in Babylon. At his deathbed, his Babylonian wife Parysatis pleaded with Darius to have her second eldest son Cyrus (the Younger) crowned, but Darius refused. Darius was then succeeded by his eldest son Artaxerxes II Memnon. Plutarch relates (probably on the authority of Ctesias) that the displaced Tissaphernes came to the new king on his coronation day to warn him that his younger brother Cyrus (the Younger) was preparing to assassinate him during the ceremony. Artaxerxes had Cyrus arrested and would have had him executed if their mot er Parysatis had not intervened. Cyrus was then sent back as Satrap of Lydia, where he prepared an armed rebellion. Cyrus and Artaxerxes met in the Battle of Cunaxa in 401 BCE, where Cyrus was killed. Artaxerxes II (404–358 BCE), was the longest reigning of the Achaemenid kings and it was during this 45-year period of relative peace and stability that many of the monuments of the era were constructed. Artaxerxes moved the capital back to Persepolis, which he greatly extended. Also the summer capital at Ecbatana was lavishly extended with gilded columns and roof tiles of silver and copper (Polybius, 27 October 2012). The extraordinary innovation of the Zoroastrian shrine cults can also be dated to his reign, and it was probably during this period that Zoroastrianism was disseminated throughout Asia Minor and the Levant, from Armenia. The temples, though serving a religious purpose, were however not a purely selfless act: they also served as an important source of income. From the Babylonian kings, the Achaemenids had taken over the concept of a mandatory temple tax, a one-tenth tithe which all inhabitants paid to the temple nearest to their land or other source of income (Dandamaev & Lukonin, 1989:361–362). A share of this income called the quppu sa sarri, "kings chest"—an ingenious institution originally introduced by Nabonidus—was then turned over to the ruler. In retrospect, Artaxerxes is generally regarded as an amiable man who lacked the moral fibre to be a really successful ruler. However, six centuries later Ardeshir I, founder of the second Persian Empire, would consider himself Artaxerxes' successor, a grand testimony to the importance of Artaxerxes to the Persian psyche.