Satrap's Revolt, c.370s-350s

The Satrap's Revolt (c.370s-350s) was a prolonged period of unrest within the Persian Empire, marked by a series of revolts by the satraps, or provincial governors. By the end of the period the Persian emperors had regained control of most of their empire, mainly because the satraps rarely coordinated their activities. A key feature of the period is that the loyal satraps of one stage of the revolt became the rebels of the next stage,

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The nearest we have to a narrative account of the revolt is provided by Diodorus (XV 90-3 and XVI), but he focuses on the third phase of the revolt. Nepos provides a life of Datames, the leader of the first phase of the revolt in the 370s and a key figure in the third and main phase of the revolt. Xenophon provides some details of the second phase in his life of Agesilaus of Sparta. Polyaenus provides a series of anecdotes about several of the Persian satraps involved in the revolt. These are perhaps the most frustrating, hinting at otherwise unknown battles and campaigns.

The revolt is poorly documented, and many of the details that we do have come as anecdotes about individual commanders, or contradict each other. Here we will follow the framework used in the second edition of the Cambridge Ancient History, but other reconstructions are perfectly possible. The CAH splits the revolt into four phases. First was the revolt of Datames in the 370s. Second was the revolt of Ariobarzanes in the early-mid 360s. The third phase was most serious and involved most of the satraps of Asia Minor as well as the Egyptians. These three revolts were all against Artaxerxes II, but by the end of his reign the Empire had largely been restored. The four and final phase of the revolt came in the mid 350s, during the reign of Artaxerxes III. This time the main rebel was Artabazus, one of the key loyalists in the earlier parts of the revolt.

1: Datames's Revolt, 370s

In c.373 a massive Persian attack on Egypt, led by Pharabazus and with Greek mercenary supplied, failed.  In 372 Datames, satrap of Cilicia, was appointed Persian commander in Egypt, replacing Pharabazus (at about the same time as Timotheus replaced Iphicrates in command of the Athenian contingent to the Persian army). Datames's friends at court warned him that many of Artaxerxes II's courtiers were plotting against him, and any failure in Egypt would lead to lead to his downfall. Datames decided to rebel, left the Persian army, and moved to Cappadocia and Paphlagonia.

Artaxerxes was warned of the revolt by Datames's son Scismas, who deserted the rebels. Artaxerxes sent Autophradates of Lydia to deal with the revolt. Autophradates was defeated in the first battle of the campaign, and then in a series of small encounters. Eventually Autophradates was forced to admit defeat. Datames probably made a face-saving deal, sending envoys to Artaxerxes II, but effectively become independent. His coins have been found at Sinope and Amisus on the Black Sea coast, Tarsus on the Cilician coast (southern Asia Minor) and Side in Pamphylia, further west along the same coast. After the eventual defeat of Datames during the third stage of the revolt the coastal part of Cappadocia (Pontus) remained independent.

2: Ariobarzanes's Revolt

There were probably two completing satraps of Hellespontine Phrygia at the start of the 360s. Until around 387 the post had been held by Pharnabazus, but it that year he was recorded as being at court for his marriage to a daughter of Artaxerxes II, and he didn't return. In that year Ariobarzenes, was acting as satrap of Phrygia, possibly as regent for Artabazus, son of Pharnabazus. By the start of the 360s Artabazus had come of age, and may have been driven into exile by Ariobarzanes, who was probably his uncle (Xenophon, Hellenica, IV.1.40 in passing).

In 368 Philiscus of Abydus, an ambassador from Ariobarzanes, arrived in Greece. He arrived in the middle of the brief period of Theban ascendency, at a point when Athens and Sparta were allied against Thebes. His first act was to summon a peace conference at Delphi, but this fell apart over the issue of Messene (Sparta wanted to maintain her control over that city, Thebes wanted her to be independent). After the failure of the peace conference, Philiscus began to recruit of mercenaries. According to Xenophon (Hellenic, VII.1.27) these troops were being raised to help Sparta, but the general suspicion is that Ariobarzanes was preparing to revolt. 

Despite these preparations, Ariobarzanes's revolt didn't go well. Artaxerxes sent Mausolus, satrap of Caria and Autophradates, satrap of Lydia, to attack him. When our sources resume the story Ariobarzanes was being besieged in either Adramyttium in Mysia or Assus (further west along the same coast), while his allies were besieged in Sestos, on the Thracian Chersonese (modern Gallipoli). Ariobarzanes asked for help from Athens and Sparta. Both cities sent troops, but the Athenians withdrew when they realised that this would break their terms of their treaty with Artaxerxes II. The Spartans, led by King Agesilaus, were more active. Autophradates is said to have fled in terror when they arrived, while Mausolus was persuaded to lift his naval blockade. In the aftermath of the sieges Mausolus paid the Spartans a considerable sum, possibly to hire mercenaries for his own revolt.

3: The General Revolt

The exact nature of this largest phase of the revolt is unclear. Diodorus lists a number of local peoples who rose against Artaxerxes (the coastal inhabitants of Mysia, Pamphylia, Lycia and the Greek cities of Asia), but also says that the satraps and generals made war of Artaxerxes. His account of the revolt supports the idea that it was carried out by the satraps and their troops.

The revolt involved most of the satraps of western Asia Minor. Orontes, satrap of Armenia or Mysia, was given command of the revolt. Mausolus of Caria, Autophradates of Lydia, Datames and Ariobarzanes of Hellespontine Phrygia were also involved. Tachos, pharaoh of Egypt, was involved in the last stage of the revolt. Artabazus probably remained loyal to Artaxerxes. Between them these satraps controlled most of the western satrapies, although the situation in Greater Phrygia in the interior of Asia Minor is unclear.

In 362 BC the rebels probably attempted a three-pronged assault on the heart of the Persian Empire. Datames attacked across the Euphrates into the heart of the empire. Orontes moved into Syria. Tachos and Agesilaus invaded Phoenicia from the south.

At this point the revolt collapsed. Orontes proved to have been a poor choice of commander. He evidently decided that he could gain more by betraying his fellow rebels. When the money arrived he arrested the couriers, and handed them over to Artaxerxes. He then handed over many cities and their garrisons to Artaxerxes's officers. As reward he was probably made satrap of Armenia. 

Tachos was undone by his lack of financial sense. He raised a powerful army (200 triremes, 10,000 Greek mercenaries and 80,000 Egyptian troops according to Diodorus). The Greek troops were commanded by King Agesilaus of Sparta, the Greek fleet by Chabrias of Athens. Another 500 talents and 50 warships were give to Rheomithres, an envoy from the rebel satraps, who on his return to Asia Minor changed sides and betrayed a number of his former conspirators to Artaxerxes.

Tachos decided to advance into Phoenicia with most his army. He left Tjahepimu in charge of the garrison of Egypt, where the costs of the war had caused a great deal of discontent. Tjahepimu rebelled in the name of his son Nectanabo, then serving with the army in Phoenicia. He had command of the Egyptian troops and had been sent to besiege a number of cities. When the news of his father's revolt reached him, Nectanabo won over his troops. With Egypt and his army lost, Tachos fled to Artaxerxes, who pardoned him and took him into his service. Nectanabo took the throne as Nectanebo II (r.c.360-343 BC), the last native Egyptian pharaoh.

The fate of Datames is well recorded, although the campaign that led up to it is rather less clear. Polyaenus records a campaign against Artaxerxes in which Datames crossed the River Euphrates, but was forced to retreat when Artaxerxes threatened him with a larger army. The Cambridge Ancient History places this campaign in 362, although Polyaenus was more interested in anecdotes and doesn't say what order his stories occurred in.

Diodorus places a battle between Datames and Artabazus at this point in his narrative, but also includes the betrayal of Datames by his father in law Mithrobarzanes, which other sources suggest happened somewhat earlier. Datames is victorious, and Artaxerxe decided to have him murdered (Diodorus, XV 91.2-6)

Cornelius Nepo and Polyaenus tell the same story about his eventual defeat. Artaxerxes agreed to give Mithridates son of Ariobarzanes a free hand to deal with Datames. Mithridates pretended to join the revolt, and ravaged a number of Persian provinces. This convinced Datames that he could be trusted, and he came to a meeting with Mithridates. Mithridates had picked the location, and had buried some weapons at the site. At the end of the meeting he dug up one of the hidden weapons, and stabbed Datames (Cornelius Nepos, Datames, X-XI, Diodorus)

Mausolus returned to Persian loyalty by 361/0 and kept his posts in Caria (some also suggest that he got Lycia as a reward).

4: Revolt of Artabazus

In 359 Artaxerxes II died and was succeeded by Artaxerxes III. In an attempt to end the endless run of revolts, the new emperor ordered the satraps to disband their mercenary armies. Most obeyed, but Artabazus refused, and after a record of loyalty finally rebelled.

Artabazus seems to have relied very heavily on Greek mercenaries. At the start of his revolt he was able to employ Chares, an Athenian commander who had been sent to Asia Minor to put down a revolt amongst Athenian allies (Social War). Chares ran short of money, and was hired by Artabazus. Together they won a battle which Chares rather boastfully described as 'a sister to Marathon'. Artaxerxes was worried enough to apply pressure on Athens, threatening to provide 300 warships to support their enemies. The Athenians recalled Chares.

Artabazus then turned to Thebes, then suffering financially in the Third Sacred War and lacking first-rate leadership since the death of Epaminondas in 362. Thebes sent 5,000 troops under the able Pammenes. Pammenes and Artabazus won two victories, but Artabazus then became suspicious of Pammenes and had him murdered. At some point soon after this Artaxerxes paid Thebes 300 Attic talents, one years pay for 5,000 men, suggesting that he had hired the leaderless Thebans. 

Artabazus still had the support of some able leaders, including the brothers Mentor and Memnon of Rhodes, but despite their best efforts he was forced into exile at the court of Philip II of Macedon. Memnon accompanied him, while Mentor went to Egypt. Eventually Mentor entered the Persian service, and was able to convince Artaxerxes to pardon Artabazus, whose career lasted into the reign of Alexander the Great.

In his Against Aristocrates of c.353-2 Demosthenes refers to the recent arrest of Artabazus by Autophradates. This may have come at the end of this stage of the revolt, after the failure of the rebellion but before Artabazus went into exile.


The end of the Satrap's Revolt didn't end unrest with the Persian Empire. There was a revolt in Phoenicia in around 351 after the failure of an attack on Egypt, but Artaxerxes III was generally successful. He was finally able to re-conquer Egypt in 343 after a series of unsuccessful Persian attacks. The constant unrest must also have made an impressive in Greece and Macedonia, playing a part in convincing Philip II of Macedon that the Persian Empire was vulnerable to attack.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 July 2015), Satrap's Revolt, c.370s-350s ,

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