(#'s are where references were)
To the eyes of the Greeks the first few years of Artaxerxes’ reign were catastrophic. Not only had a tiny force of brave Greeks seemingly humiliated the Persian King in his heartland but the great province of Egypt had rebelled without facing any royal retribution. The campaigns of the Spartans in Asia Minor following the vengeful return of Tissaphernes to the coast were characterised as spectacularly easy and triumphant ventures, culminating in the implication that the expedition of Aegisilaus was well on its way to overthrowing the entire empire#. But in reality the Perso-Spartan war had resulted in the Achaemenids claiming an authority over the Greeks that in some ways surpassed even Darius I. The victorious style of characterisation is largely down to the work of Xenophon and Plutarch who both wrote biographies of Aegisilaus. This is again supplemented by Diodorus but he also indirectly sources the Hellenica of the Oxyrhynchus historian, through his use of Ephorus, who contradicts Xenophon on a number of points and is considered by some scholars to offer a superior viewpoint#. Even so, Xenophon’s proximity to the events in question give him considerably more credibility than a writer like Plutarch.
In the wake of Artaxerxes’ victory over Cyrus, the Persian authorities were free to turn their attentions back to Egypt and reasserting control over Ionia. Prior to Cyrus’ recruitment of Greek soldiers the situation in Asia Minor had played out against the backdrop of a series of treaties between Persia and Sparta which, amongst other things, declared that all of the cities in Asia, including the Greek ones, would fall under the dominion of the King#. Lewis explains that these agreements were later fine tuned and discussed, with the direct involvement of the King, in order to more accurately illustrate the terms that both sides offered and to re-affirm their mutual support after the bad blood with Tissaphernes# but Cawkwell points out that the main factor involved in the negotiations was the pay for the fleet and the poor performance of Tissaphernes# and what the Spartans had secured was his replacement by the enthusiastic Cyrus. This agreement is presumed to have been largely in effect at the accession of Artaxerxes II, although Cartledge points out that Sparta maintained at least one garrison at Chalkedon#, but with the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger and the unquestionable support Sparta had given to the failed insurrection, Artaxerxes II could only have seen the Spartans as undeniable enemies to his throne; indeed he was reported to have viewed them as the most shameless of all men#. But to some extent the resumption of hostilities between Sparta and Persia can be indirectly traced back to the policy of Artaxerxes II himself. He surely could not have foreseen such events but if Cyrus the Younger had not been allowed to return to his holdings in Asia Minor then the Spartans would never have had cause to hope for a better champion for the Greeks in Asia. In any case, allowing Cyrus to recruit substantial numbers of mercenaries from the Peloponnese, particularly Arcadia, and turning a blind eye to the appointment of an exiled Spartan as their general# was a clear indication of Spartan failure to meet the terms of their agreement with Artaxerxes’ father which stipulated the need to make war upon the enemies of the Persian throne.
The campaigns themselves involved three different expeditions, each larger than the last and the inability of the Satraps’ ability to eject the Spartans by force is clearly what Xenophon is referring to in his Cyropaedia as he chastises the Persians weak control over its borders#. With the recent return of the remnants of Cyrus’ mercenaries and now several relatively unchallenged expeditions into Persian territory it is easy to see how people like Xenophon and Isocrates could happily denigrate the authority of the Achaemenid Empire. Thibron was the first expeditionary general and he was sent into Asia minor with a modest force nearing six thousand men but he bolstered his forces by recruiting the forces of Xenophon’s mercenaries which at this point should have numbered around eight thousand# thus giving Thibron about fourteen thousand men at his disposal. However, later on Dercylidas states that he had procured enough money to pay the army which is then implied to contain eight thousand men in all#. With such an army it is perhaps less surprising that there is no recorded instant response from the satraps to Thibron’s invasion and when Dercylidas took over command, the first measure taken against him by Tissaphernes was to come to terms#. After Dercylidas had made a strong position for himself Pharnabazus, who appears to have been unable to prevent the assault on Aeolis, also agreed to truce with the Spartans rather than forcibly removing them from his territory#. At this point the Spartans had been campaigning in Persia for almost two years without even seeing a Persian army and surely must have assumed that the Persian Empire was truly in decline if they could attack so freely. For, one hundred years prior to Thibron’s invasion, the Greek force that invaded and attacked Sardis was quickly hunted down and destroyed at Ephesus before they could make their escape#. But Hornblower illustrates that when Alexander the Great later invaded he soon encountered very fierce resistance at the Granicus#. So we cannot say that the reign of Artaxerxes presided over a steady decline in border defences since they were in good order to face the Macedonians.
The key must therefore rely in the magnitude of the invasions. The Athenians and Eretrians only sent twenty-five triremes worth of men to aid the Ionians# so a Persian call to arms could not have required a large-scale muster. Alexander however crossed the Aegean with thirty-five thousand troops# but since he was joining up with Macedonian forces who had already been campaigning in Asia Minor# the Persian Satraps would have already have had plenty of time to fully marshal their provincial forces and receive aid from the King. Compared to Thibron who arrived in Asia Minor only to be instantly reinforced by Xenophon’s mercenaries to an army of at least eight thousand we can see a large problem appearing in a very short space of time for Tissaphernes. Had the mercenaries perished in the Carduchian winter as the Persians had hoped the Spartan invasion force might have been less of an issue for the satrap. At any rate a clear problem is highlighted by this invasion and that is that the satraps were ill equipped to deal with large-scale invasion forces by themselves. Considering the westernmost satrapies were placed alongside a heavily militarised collection of states with a history of aggression towards Persia it would appear that this was an organisational oversight on the part of the Persian authority. The prime examples of this flaw are clearly demonstrated by Pharnabazus accepting truce with Dercylidas in order to gain time to request naval reinforcement from the King#. This is again the case with Tissaphernes when he is faced with the even larger force of Agesilaos and is forced to accept a truce to buy time to ask for a Royal army#. But this inability to muster large forces quickly cannot be said to be an argument for the decline of Persia under Artaxerxes II since no Persian King would have allowed large standing armies to be kept under arms by a mere satrap. Hornblower illustrates that maintaining the only standing army in the empire was an effective tool for keeping the satraps obedient# and Sekunda highlights the fact that Artaxerxes III ordered the disbandment of all satrapal, mercenary armies since they were considered dangerous#. Thus we cannot consider this inability to muster a personal failure of Artaxerxes II or a sign of a decline in the Persian military spirit. Rather than a case of decadent and lazy nobles too afraid to fight for their land it is instead the case that since the Achaemenid monarchs could never trust their subordinates with too much military power the most far flung provinces would always be at risk of being caught unawares by a large force. Artaxerxes II had good reason not to trust too greatly any single man, especially those far enough away to conceal their movements, after the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger. But even Cyrus the Great faced similar problems after his conquest of Lydia# and Darius the Great too had to deal with an overly ambitious satrap in Asia Minor#. So this lack of trust and the resulting reliance upon Royal reinforcement was in fact a problem that had always afflicted the empire. But even in the case of Alexander the slow reactions of the extreme provinces cannot be said to have been fatal since effective resistance was raised and we have already seen that Cyrus the Younger also encountered resistance in the very provinces he governed. In the case of Agesilaos and his fore runners it was certainly true that the Spartans were unable to seriously threaten Persian dominion but if they had been prepared with a better knowledge of siege warfare then they would have been able to make significant inroads against the empire before the Persians were fully able to react. The exceedingly fast capture of Aeolis by Dercylidas was a testament to this flaw#.
Another problem that Artaxerxes II faced was the tension between Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus. If the two satraps had united upon the arrival of Thibron just as the later satraps were to do against Alexander then the matter might have been concluded quickly. As it stood the invasion was prolonged by rivalry of the satraps which induced Tissaphernes to direct the Spartan army north to trouble the territory of his rival Pharnabazus. However when the Satraps put aside their differences and came to face the problem together it was quickly resolved. In fact the show of force that the satraps were able to put together was so impressive that Xenophon tells us a large part of the Spartan coalition began to desert at the sight of it#. This position of strength allowed Tissaphernes to lay the original treaty back on the table and attempt to eject the Spartans without a battle. So when confronted with a moderately sized expedition the satraps could also be expected to rely upon one another as well as the King but in this case the two satraps who should have been the first line of defence for the empire were actually acting in detriment to one another and therefore the empire. But again we cannot call this an example of decline since we do not see this problem occur after the reign of Artaxerxes, in fact the co-operation of the later satraps is well attested#, and it is difficult to lay the blame for this lack of cohesion at the King’s door since the failures of Tissaphernes were eventually punished by the King with execution#.
The campaign of Agesilaos is clearly the invasion that merits the most attention as it was considered to be the most successful of the Spartan ventures; so much so that Plutarch would later cast Agesilaos as a serious threat to the very throne of the empire#. It should also be noted that as Cartledge states that Agesilaos was in command of well over fifteen thousand men# he was in fact leading the largest foreign invasion force that Persia would see until Alexander the Great. In addition to Sparta’s own projected power they also had the support of the newly independent Egyptians who sent aid for the Spartan war effort#. Even though at the point of Agesilaos’ departure from Asia he had achieved almost no lasting gains for Sparta, Isocrates is still found to be proclaiming Agesilaos as the conqueror of everything west of the Halys river#. If this invasion was anywhere near as successful as Isocrates would have us believe then the empire of Artaxerxes II would look to be in severely dire straits. According to Xenophon, the objective of the campaign was announced at its outset to be the subjection of Asia#. The sacrifice at Aulis certainly attests to the grandeur which Agesilaos attached to his invasion but his first violent clash with the Persians revealed, very quickly, a great tactical deficiency in his force#. That Agesilaos attempted to campaign in Asia without adequate cavalry is a sign that either he had completely underestimated the capabilities of Artaxerxes II’s empire or that he never truly intended to fight for total supremacy. In either case the result is that the 4th century Greek impression of Persian stability was clearly far removed from reality.
The great victory that elevated Agesilaos to the status of a pan-Hellenic hero would have to be the clash with the forces of Tissaphernes near Sardis. Xenophon narrates this as a pitched battle resulting in clear victory over the cavalry of the Persians#. However, Bruce explains that Xenophon’s account is to be disregarded in favour of that of the Oxyrhynchus historian as Xenophon was in all likelihood still at Ephesus during this engagement and as such has clumsily reported the event#. Bruce does not, however, consider the possibility that Xenophon required his hero Agesilaos to defeat the Persian generalissimo in open battle rather than stealing his victory via a ruse and as such could have slightly manipulated the reports in order to engineer such a victory. Since his account of the expedition is so riddled with stereotypical criticism of the barbarian as weak and lazy# it is not impossible to imagine Xenophon twisting this engagement to his favour. In any case, the Spartans managed to accrue a great deal of booty but still no land. Briant asserts that this was precisely the objective of Agesilaos whose aims were misrepresented by his biographers#. But, as Cartledge explains, whilst operating in Asia the Spartans were unable to storm strong fortresses even though they desperately tried# and, in an assessment of how stable Achaemenid defences were, the inability of Agesilaos to capture any key cities or fortresses testifies to the assertion that Artaxerxes II possessed a realm with defences as strong as the empire he had inherited. Xenophon elects to refrain from mentioning the attempts of the Spartans to actually capture fortified land but the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia does not since the un-named historian does not appear to share the same pro-Spartan tendencies as Xenophon#. We must still remember, though, that in Phrygia, Pharnabazus did not appear to possess adequate forces to face Aegisilaus in open battle and had to resort to a guerrilla campaign.
The circumstances of the Spartan departure from Asia are all too often considered entirely in the light of his recall to fight in mainland Greece#. Whilst the outbreak of war with Thebes was undoubtedly the reason for his recall it is important to consider the position of Agesilaos on the eve of his departure. Even Xenophon offers no consolation to the fact that the desertion of Spithridates from Agesilaos was a cause for huge concern but even more poignantly he states that it was the Spartans who sent to Pharnabazus asking for peace not the other way around#. In the context of the defeat Pharnabazus had recently inflicted upon Agesilaos#, their inability to conquer Persian strongholds and now the desertion of his strongest cavalry contingent and only landholder the Spartan position was fairly miserable as they sued for peace. Agesilaos might then appear to be somewhat lucky to have been recalled as it would allow him to depart from Asia with his integrity intact. However, even with Xenophon himself reporting that Aegisilaus sued for peace, Diodorus is still keen to immortalise Aegisilaus as having the glory of conquering the whole Persian Empire snatched away at the last moment by his recall#.
At any rate the Spartan invasion came to an end without securing the liberty of the Greek cities of Asia; even with a considerably sized force Agesilaos could march across the land but he could not oust Persian power from Asia Minor. The Persian counter attack that followed is considerable evidence to suggest that the Achaemenid empire was certainly not declining and was in fact experiencing a period of ascendancy in the West under Artaxerxes II. The Satraps were able to hold off the invaders whilst they awaited Royal reinforcement and when the navy had been suitably prepared, Artaxerxes undertook a vigorous offensive to secure his holdings in Asia by force. The naval campaign of 394 B.C. shattered Spartan power in the Aegean, gave Athens fresh hope for revival, reasserted Persian authority over the cities of Asia and even managed to take the war to mainland Greece#. Lewis explains that the garrisoning of Cythera, off the coast of Laconia, would have been another decisive blow to Spartan morale and the embassy of Antalcidas to offer up the cities of Asia in exchange for Persian support was a direct result of this counter attack#. It is also important to note that when the Spartans tried to renew war with Persia, after having their peace offer rejected, their invasion force was shattered in open conflict#. In this case the Persian satrapy was already militarised and ready to face an invasion force as soon as it arrived. The result was a quick and decisive end to the campaign. Whilst the Spartans soon sent Diphridas to safeguard the cities that had welcomed Thibron, Briant points out that the Persians were still capable of administering the towns of Ionia#. The Athenians soon gave Artaxerxes cause to rethink his strategy when they began to support Evagoras who was in rebellion from the King# and a peace settlement was arranged with Antalcidas. The King’s peace that followed this period of conflict marked the resolution of Persian affairs on the western coast. Artaxerxes II had presided over the restoration of the Persian Empire’s western borders and could even claim to have considerable influence over the politics of mainland Greece. This feat was not accomplished simply via bribery and coercion as some modern scholars still believe# but was a result of the vigorous offensive undertaken by Artaxerxes II and as Briant remarks “The resoluteness and constancy of his deeds.#”
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