Statira I (c. 425–? BCE)

views updated

Statira I (c. 425–? bce)

Persian queen. Name variations: Stateira. Born around 425 bce; death date unknown; daughter of Hydarnes (a Persian noble); mother's name unknown; half-sister of Teritouchones; married Arsaces, later known as Artaxerxes II Mnemon, king of Persia (d. 359); children: probably sons Darius, Ariaspes, and Ochus (who was later known as Artaxerxes III); possibly daughters Atossa and Amestris.

Statira I, born around 425 bce, was the daughter of Hydarnes, a Persian noble. She married Arsaces, the eldest son and heir of the reigning Achaemenid ruler Darius II and his wife Parysatis I . (Darius II, like most Persian kings, had several wives and concubines.) Darius had arranged Statira's marriage to Arsaces as part of a policy to strengthen ties between the royal family and powerful aristocratic factions. One of the most influential of these was Statira's family, a fact made manifest by the fact that at about the time of her marriage, Statira's half-brother Teritouchones was also betrothed to Amestris , one of Darius' daughters. This second union, however, never occurred, for Teritouchones rejected Amestris (preferring instead to wed another of his own half-sisters). When this insult to the imperial dignity occurred, Parysatis exacted a terrible vengeance: she had all of Hydarnes' children executed except Statira, who escaped only because Arsaces intervened on her behalf.

After the death of his father Darius in 404 bce, Arsaces assumed the throne under the name of Artaxerxes II. The reign of Artaxerxes II was a long one, for he did not die until 359 bce. Nevertheless, his was not a peaceful rule either at home or abroad. Domestically, Artaxerxes faced a number of revolts across the far-flung Persian Empire, including insurrections led by a brother (Cyrus) and a son (Darius). To overcome these Artaxerxes came to rely heavily on the cunning of his mother Parysatis and his wife Statira, although when Cyrus was alive Parysatis favored him over Artaxerxes.

Statira was apparently Artaxerxes' only legitimate wife, a fact which pit her against Parysatis as both sought to be the dominant political influence in Artaxerxes' life. Statira was probably the mother of Artaxerxes' three attested legitimate sons: Darius, Ariaspes and Ochus. (Another of the king's sons, one Arsames, is said to have been "illegitimate." Whatever that meant in connection with the polygamous habits of the Achaemenids is not certain, but he cannot have been Statira's son.) The birth of so many children—she probably had daughters as well—suggests that Statira long remained in her husband's favor. In fact, perhaps at some time she became too influential, for Parysatis simply had Statira poisoned. For this heinous act, Parysatis was never sufficiently punished, and the whole affair indicates that Artaxerxes was easily manipulated by the women close to him, with his mother heading the list.

To prevent the rise of another strong rival, after Statira's death Parysatis is said to have urged Artaxerxes to marry his daughters (probably also the daughters of Statira) Atossa and Amestris . If he did so as attested, his incest (such unions were not common in Persia) clearly demonstrates Parysatis' power over her son. Parysatis' reason for so advising Artaxerxes undoubtedly was that she expected the newly acquired daughter-wives to be too inexperienced and too cowed by Parysatis to challenge her position at court.

After the death of Statira, Parysatis maintained her sway over Artaxerxes until she herself died. Statira's son Ochus ascended his father's throne, and thereupon ruled the Persian Empire from 359 to 338/7 bce, under the name Artaxerxes III.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California