Persia 31: The Persian Year of Four Emperors

At the end of an exceptionally long reign, Xerxes cum Artaxerxes planned out his death and succession with as much care as he had his life. Xerxes, although originally associated with the typecasting of Judah and Issachar, would not be killed but like the later Jesus of the Gospels lay down his life at the time of his own choosing. Both he and his wife were said to have died on the same day.

The succession of Artaxerxes followed the classic precedent established in the time of Sargon the Great. The personal typecasting of Sargon was in his youth as a Benjamin, but he later assumed the role of a Jacob. Sargon designated as his successor Rimush, who was the family Judah. However, Rimush was transformed into an Issachar by his jealous brothers. Rimush was killed by conspiracy of Naram-Sin and Mannu-Dannu in the roles of Simeon and Levi, respectively. They were in turn overthrown by Gudea as a new Benjamin. Although this was a corrupted or abbreviated emulation of the divine tragedy known from mythology, it nevertheless became accepted as somewhat standard in future royal generations.

Xerxes/Artaxerxes came to identify with Sargon in both his adversity and the glory of his kingdom. Artaxerxes named a son, Xerxes II, as his successor. Xerxes II like Rimush was struck down by a Simeon and Levi named Secyndus/Sogdiana and Mannustanu/Menostanes. The recently deceased Artaxerxes and Queen Damaspia were buried together with Xerxes II by a “eunuch” named Bagorazus, who was subsequently also killed by the new king Secydianus for a breach in protocol (tradition) related to the burials. Bagoazus was probably the minister called upon to “close the eyes” of the old queen and king, and thereby initiate the succession sequence. He however buried them as though he were the heir and successor to the throne. This became a justification for eliminating Bagorazus. Secydianus might also have hoped to abort the plan to put Darius II on the throne and retain it for himself. (See Pierre Bryant, From Cyrus to Alexander, p 590.)

The name Secyndus connotes “second”, as in the second son of Jacob named Simeon. His partner was Menostanes (Babylonian Manustanu) son of Artarius. Recall that the earlier son of Sargon the Great named Mannu-dannu was not only the Levi of his generation but also true son of the family Reuben (Manishtushu/Ur-Bau). He also became “judge” (second in the throne) and a king/pharaoh of Egypt. Likewise was Menostanes in the Persian Period, who was appointed by Secyndus as chiliarch (“prime minister”). His father Artarius can be associated with Prince Darius/Achaemenes eldest son of Darius the Great by Atossa, a leading Reuben figure as noted in previous segments of this Persia study.

After the death of Bagorazus, the rise of Darius II as a new Benjamin/Jacob figure (after Gudea son of Sargon the Great) was orchestrated by another “king maker” named Artoxares. Artoxares urged Darius to claim the throne and he finally agreed after much (feigned) protest. Artoxares later tried to take the throne and was put to death by Darius. Of course Darius was the intended successor of Artaxerxes all along. However, it was necessary for the succession to be in accordance with established tradition. Artaxerxes left nothing to chance. The necessary “sacrifices” had to be made. (In fact, one wonders if Artaxerxes really had died before he saw his favored son securely on throne.)

Prior to the death of Artaxerxes, Darius had been exceptionally well positioned. He was satrap of Hyrcania (and therefore an archetypal “John Hyrcanus”), as well as satrap in Babylon under the name Artarius/Artarios (Ar-Darius), not to be confused with the father of Menostanes by that name who was long dead. As successor to Artaxerxes (Archedemus) in Sparta, Darius was called Agis (a name with Jacob the Grabber connotations). Darius was probably known by the further variants of Arbareme and Artareme. To the Greeks he was called Ochos (perhaps a play on Agis). This name alludes to an earlier Hyksos Period king Arik-den-ili, who in the Bible is called Arioch (connoting “golden lion”, i.e., a Judah) and Zeeb (“to be yellow”, “a wolf”, i.e., a Benjamin). Once Darius advanced with overwhelming force to claim the throne, Secyndus yielded with only token resistance. The more serious challenge seems to have come from one Arsites (an Issachar/Arsa/Ezer figure judging from his name, perhaps one and the same as Artoxares, and thought to have been a full-brother of Darius II).

For more about Arioch/Zeeb, see

The Persian “Year of Four Emperors” Compared with the Roman “Year of Four Emperors”

At the very end of the Persian Period, that same unmistakable Sargonic-progression was played out again, but this time with an extra-sardonic twist. After the deaths of Artaxerxes III & IV and succession of Darius III (occurring in a similar fashion to the earlier deaths of Xerxes/Artaxerxes and Xerxes II followed by the succession of Darius II), Darius III was challenged and deposed by Alexander the Great.

Concerning the succession of Artaxerxes III, Pierre Bryant remarks, “the situation was quite similar to the conditions after the demise of Artaxerxes I” (From Cyrus to Alexander, p 772).

The tale-tale pattern that resulted in Darius III mounting the throne was as follows. A “eunuch” named Bagoas (after the earlier Bagorazus) acted as assassin of the old king, Artaxerxes III. Bagoas as “king maker” then assured the orderly succession of Artaxerxes IV. Bagoas next assumed the Simeon role by murdering very king he installed, as Xerxes II was killed soon after the death of Artaxerxes I by Secyndus. Bagoas also murdered all the other offspring of Artaxerxes III, except for one prince, whose name Bisthanes (Pi-suth-nes) designates him as a Levi/Seth figure. (The significance of the name Bisthanes/Pisuthnes, which was an epithet of the third/Levi son of Atossa, will be examined in more detail in the next segment.) Finally Bagoas crowned Darius III (a.k.a. Artasatas/Codoman) as king and was put to death by him.

The Persian Empire had arguably been the largest, longest, and most illustrious empire prior to the Roman Empire. And our study thus far of the Persian Period has shown that Rome emulated the typecasting of that Era quite meticulously. Tiberius Claudius Nero (Herod the Great) and Octavius (Caesar Augustus) shared power much as Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great had at the start of the Persian Dynasty. However, Augustus did not have many sons like Darius. He is thought to have had only one daughter. The sons attributed to Herod the Great (by Josephus) corresponded to the great princes of the early Roman Empire.

For example, Queen Livia Drusus (Herodian Dorus) was the mother of Drusus (Herodian Antipater) and also of Tiberius (Herodian Gorias/Gurion). Queen Scribonia (Herodian Mariamne) was the mother of Publius Cornelius Scipio (Herodian Alexander) prior to her marriages to Augustus and then to Herod the Great. Scribonia was mother of another prominent son, but his name and father (said to have been of consular rank) are now uncertain from the surviving sources. This second son of Scribonia corresponds to the second son of Herodian Mariamne named as Aristobulus. The princes in question were not necessarily listed (by Josephus) strictly on the basis of age, but according to the roles that they ended up playing. Nor were they all true sons of Herod the Great.

As the leading Judah of his day, Tiberius (a.k.a. Gorias/Gurion) was modeled after Xerxes of the Persian Empire. Within the genealogy provided by Josephus, Tiberius is associated with the mysterious “fourth son” of Herod the Great. (The basis for Josephus claiming that he had died at an early age stems from the “premature death” of Xerxes and his subsequent transformation into Artaxerxes. There is a further precedent in the life of another Persian Era Judah, that being Perdiccas son of Amyntas of Macedon. His rise (“after death”) to become Great King Artaxerxes III will be discussed in a future segment of the Persia study. It will then be even more obvious why the succession of Artaxerxes was modeled so closely after Artaxerxes I.

Upon the death of Tiberius, the plan was for a series of royal stooges (minimum of two) to take the throne before a true descendant of unpopular Tiberius would be recognized (happily it was hoped) as the lasting and legitimate emperor. Tiberius did have a true grandson Gemellus (son of Tiberius’ son Drusus-Julius-Caesar, who was presumed dead but actually only dead to Rome proper) that was named as a co-heir. His other co-heir, Caligula son of Germanicus, was implicitly tagged as the first victim, and put in the role of Xerxes II in the Persian Period. Caligula duly succeeded Tiberius, but he didn’t die as quickly as anticipated (after apparently being poisoned). He was later brutally murdered, and the handicapped Claudius was raised up as the next victim.

It is presently not clear who was orchestrating the succession behind the scenes, that is, operating in the style of a former Persian “king maker”. The stage was nevertheless set for a true descendant of Tiberius to come from the East (as had Darius II satrap of Hyrcania) and “save the day”. It didn’t happen. According to Josephus, the profligate prince Agrippa alerted Claudius as to what was about to happen. Agrippa was a nominal member of the Aristobulus line, third son (“Levi”) of Herod the Great. Agrippa may have been expected to cooperate with Herod Antipas (who emerges as the still living Drusus Julius Caesar) and possibly even assassinate Claudius.

Instead, Agrippa traded the prospect of a short stint as Caesar for a more lasting throne in Israel. Herod Antipas was accused on charges of stockpiling arms and conspiring with the Parthians, which of course he was actively doing as part of the overall scheme set in motion by Tiberius. Not only was Herod Antipas/Drusus not able to establish himself (or his son Gemellus) as Caesar, but he was also deposed in Israel and Agrippa elevated in his place! Gemellus would a short time later also be stripped of his Roman royal identity, which later on made a political comeback far more difficult. That the succession of Gemellus was thwarted and ultimately abandoned is perhaps also testament to the general dislike for Tiberius.

Claudius, recast as a limping Jacob figure (see note below), went on to enjoy a substantial rule as Caesar, but was eventually done in by his wife Agrippina (daughter of Germanicus) and her son Nero. Nero’s strategy for image-making was to claim that the reigns of Caligula and Claudius had been mistakes. Tiberius had only been the “Judah”, that is, fulfillment of the reign of Xerxes only. Nero was to be fulfillment of the second part of Xerxes’ reign as Artaxerxes, and therefore a new “Benjamin/Jacob”. Nero consciously cultivated his image as “Hercules” (the Greek equivalent of Benjamin). Toward the end of his reign, Nero began work on a glorious palace complex in an attempt to advance his typecasting from that of a Benjamin-Jacob (that is, a crafty usurper) to a more refined Jacob-Solomon (wise builder).

Shockingly, Nero appeared on stage in the roles of the father-killer Oedipus and the mother-killer Orestes, perhaps as a form of catharsis but also as justification for his path to power. And for good measure, plays in which he performed sometimes included the literal death of one of the actors, seemingly in atonement or as a substitute for Nero himself. However, unlike Artaxerxes, Nero would not be allowed by his rivals to choose the time and manner of his death. Nevertheless, in accordance with tradition his death would be followed by a theatrical rendition “The Year of Four Emperors”.

An elder statesman named Galba took the throne first as a “king maker” (in the mold of Bagorazus/Bagoas/Artoxares). He appointed a young prince Piso Frugi as successor to throne, but he was immediately eliminated (in repetition of Xerxes II). The savage attack on Galba at this time was likely faked, as he seems to have continued in the role of “king-maker” (and breaker) and to manage the year’s events from behind the stage (using pseudonyms such as Valerius Paulinus and the like). See the endnote below for further discussion on Galba. Regardless of whether Galba was literally killed or not, the assassin Marcus Salvius Otho seized the throne (in the role of Secyndus and/or Manustanu). However, another army was already on the way from the Roman frontier representing the reluctant Aulus Vitellius (“fateful flute player and fatted calf”) as the latest incarnation of Darius II.

Unlike Darius II, one senses that the protestations of Vitellius were genuine. He really didn’t want the job. He began to “eat, drink, and be merry”, because in a short time he was appointed to die. The progression of emperors was not yet finished and Vitellius knew it. The primary role model of Vitellus was not to be Darius II, but Darius III. Vespatian was about to take the kingdom as a neo-Alexander!

To wit, no sooner was Vitellius ensconced in Rome than various and diverse legions and their commanders began declaring for another candidate, specifically Vespatian. Vespatian pretended to back Vitellius and reject the idea of a power play, but eventually caved to the determined will of his followers. Vitellius and Otho, once in charge, had tried to stop the music while they were still standing in front of the royal highchair. Otho could have claimed to be the Ochos. Vitellius would have identified with the chubby champion Gudea. Yet, when it became inevitable that they could not, each resigned to letting the show go on without further ado.

It is now clear that Vespatian was no commoner or even an equestrian that worked his way up through the ranks of the military. He was a royal person and the “Year of the Four Emperors” was specifically designed to put him in on the throne by virtue of an elaborate fulfillment of earlier royal history and precedent. Vespatian and his brother Flavius Sabinus were the two elder brothers of Caligula named Drusus and Nero, who had come back from the dead, so to speak. They had been sorely persecuted by Tiberius (along with their father Germanicus), and were presumed to have died under his heavy hand. They had only been removed from potential (immediate) succession by Tiberius and forced to relinquish their royal identities in Rome as a precaution.


Note: The time lapse between death of Artaxerxes III and ascension of Darius III might have also been less than one full year. Artaxerxes IV is attributed a reign of over two years, however much of his rule may have been as Crown Prince under Artaxerxes III.

Note: As shown in previous posts, Galba was a manifestation of Paul/Simon Magus. He was therefore a Simeon figure and as such implicated in the murder of the young prince (L. Piso Frugi Licinianus) that he himself nominated. Otho, whose name connotes “rich, wealth”, was said to have taken his own life in his tent after being defeated in battle by the Vitellians. The earlier Manustanu/Menostanes was also “allowed” to commit suicide instead of endure a more brutal execution. (See A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, p357) The death of Vitellius echoes the pathetic end of Darius III, who had tried to retire from the advancing Alexander.

Galba and Paul (the neo-Lu-galba-nda, “little big man”)

Note: Antonius Primus is a code name that designates the bearer as head of the Eastern Branch of the royal family, which was earlier headed by Marcus Antony and taken over by Herod the Great. The leading prince of the Herodian branch was at that time Herod Agrippa II. Upon losing his franchise in Israel (due to suppression of the Jewish Revolt), this prince was desperate to create a place for himself within the Flavian new world order. Despite his best efforts, he was not particularly rewarded by Vespatian. His equally overzealous side-kick in the advance on Rome was Arrius Varus, who was later made “Commissioner of the Grain Supply”, even as Joseph of the Bible, and therefore a likely alias of Josephus.

Note: Once Mucianus arrived in Rome, he relieved Antonius Primus and Arrius Varus of duty. As the minister Mazaeus had earlier secured Babylon for the arrival of Alexander the Great, so Mucianus did the neo-Babylon of Rome for Vespatian and Titus.

Note: Cornelia, the sister of Publius Cornelius Scipio, was immortalized in a famous poem for her mourning of Paullus Aemilius Lepidus. A generation later, another Cornelia would become even more famous for lamenting the (symbolic) death of another Paul, preserved for us in the story of Martha’s weeping for Lazarus (Paul/Simon Magus).
See, Anthony Barrett, Livia: Frist Lady of Imperial Rome, p20 and Appendix 6.

Note: Claudius would have been looked upon at first as the Persian Sogdiana/Secyndus (“Simeon”) or Menostanes (“Levi”), even though he probably did not have a hand in killing Claudius. He was perhaps refashioned later as a Darius II, that is, a Benjamin-Jacob figure who walked with a limp. Nero and Agrippina would have likened him to Philip II of Macedon, and themselves to Olympia and Alexander. Intriguingly, there were also two Herodian princes named Philip, who are said to have died circa 36 BC. Did one of them live on to become Caesar Claudius? A subject for another day.