Arsames (satrap of Egypt)


Arsames (also called Sarsamas and Arxanes, from Old Persian Aršāma[2]) was an Achaemenid satrap of ancient Egypt during the 5th century BC, at the time of the 27th Dynasty of Egypt.

Satrap of Egypt
Elephantine Temple reconstruction request.gif
Lower half of one of the Elephantine papyri, containing a plea for the reconstruction of the Jewish temple at Elephantine, and dated to "..the Year 17 of King Darius (II), under Arsames..." (407 BCE).[1]
Successorpossibly none (end of the satrapy of Egypt)
Dynasty27th Dynasty
PharaohArtaxerxes I to Darius II


"Arsames" is the Hellenized form of the Old Persian name Aršāma[a] ("having a hero's strength"), which was a common name within the Persian Achaemenid family as well as amongst the Persian elite of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC).[4][5] The name is a compound, composed of aršan ("male, hero") and ama ("strength").[4][b] The name is attested in Aramaic as ʾršm.[4] The feminine form of the name, *Aršāmā (Greek Arsamē), is attested in the daughter of Darius the Great (522–486 BC).[4]


According to Ctesias, Sarsamas was appointed satrap by general Megabyzus.[6] Previously, an ancient Egyptian prince called Inaros openly revolted against Artaxerxes I and the Achaemenid rule and had slain in battle the satrap, Achaemenes. In 454 BC, shortly after his appointment, Arsames helped suppress the revolt by defeating Athenian reinforcements sent in the Nile Delta.[7][8]
After the revolt, Arsames undertook a conciliatory policy towards the native Egyptians in order to avoid igniting new revolts; likely for this reason, he allowed Inaros' son Thannyras to maintain his lordship on part of the Delta, as Herodotus reports .[7][8]

While his aforementioned early career is reported only by Greek sources, Arsames' later life is known from several letters written in Aramaic, mainly compiled by the Jewish priesthood of Elephantine and belonging to the Elephantine papyri, and which are datable from 428 BC onwards. It is known that in 423 BC he supported Darius II in his successful coup d'état, and later he was called back to Susa in Persia between 410 and 407/6 as reported by other documents, among these some exchange letters with his estate manager Nakhtihor[2][9] and with a man named Artavant who probably acted as satrap of Egypt ad interim.[10]

Cylinder seal depicting a Persian king thrusting his lance at an Egyptian pharaoh, while holding four other Egyptian captives on a rope.[11][12][13]

In 410 BCE a revolt erupted at Elephantine, where an established Jewish community lived along with the native Egyptians, and where the two communities had their local temple, that of Yahu and Khnum respectively. Jews were well tolerated by Arsames and by the Persian occupants in general; however, it seems that the Jewish practice of sacrificing goats to their god was perceived as an insult by the clergy of the neighbouring temple of the Egyptian ram-headed deity Khnum.[14] Taking advantage of one of Arsames' absences, the clergy of Khnum corrupted a local military commander, Vidaranag, and unimpededly instigated and succeeded into the destruction of the temple of Yahu. Upon his return, Arsames punished the perpetrators, but he felt himself compelled to avoid any controversy by prohibiting the ritual slaughter of goats.[15][14] The multiple pleas of the Jews for the reconstruction of their temple, however, seem to have remained unheard for some times.[15]

Arsames is no longer mentioned after 406 BC, and it is likely that he died shortly before the Egyptian reconquest of Egypt achieved by the native pharaoh Amyrtaios in 404 BC.[2]

Seal of ArsamaEdit

Arsama is also known from an engraved cylinder seal, in which he is seen killing Saka enemies, with a depiction of the crowns of Lower and Upper Egypt, worn by falcons.[16][17]


  1. ^ Also spelled Ṛšāma-.[3]
  2. ^ The compound words are spelled šršan- and ama- respectively if the spelling Ṛšāma- is used.[3]


  1. ^ Sachau, Eduard (1907). "Drei aramäische Papyrusurkunden aus Elephantine". Abhandlungen der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften aus dem Jahre 1907. Berlin: Verlag der Königlichen Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1901-07. 1907.
  2. ^ a b c Ray, John D. (2006). "Egypt, 525–404 B.C.". In Boardman, John; Hammond, N.D.L.; Lewis, D.M.; Ostwald, M. (eds.). The Cambridge Ancient History (2nd ed.), vol. IV – Persia, Greece and the Western Mediterranean c. 525 to 479 B.C. Cambridge University Press. p. 266. ISBN 0-521-22804-2.
  3. ^ a b Schmitt, Rüdiger (2005). "PERSONAL NAMES, IRANIAN iii. ACHAEMENID PERIOD". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Online Edition. Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation.
  4. ^ a b c d Bresciani, E. (1986). "ARŠĀMA". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica, Volume II/5: Armenia and Iran IV–Art in Iran I. London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 546. ISBN 978-0-71009-105-5.
  5. ^ Canepa, Matthew P. (2018). "Rival Visions and New Royal Identities in Post-Achaemenid Anatolia and the Caucasus". The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE–642 CE. University of California Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0520379206.
  6. ^ Photius' Excerpt of Ctesias' Persica, see 38
  7. ^ a b Ray, op. cit., p. 276
  8. ^ a b Grimal, Nicolas (1992). A History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Blackwell Books. p. 371. ISBN 9780631174721.
  9. ^ Curtis, John (November 2003). "The Achaemenid Period in Northern Iraq" (PDF). L'Archéologie de l'Empire Achéménide. Paris: 3.
  10. ^ ARŠĀMA – Encyclopedia Iranica
  11. ^ "a Persian hero slaughtering an Egyptian pharaoh while leading four other Egyptian captives" Hartley, Charles W.; Yazicioğlu, G. Bike; Smith, Adam T. (2012). The Archaeology of Power and Politics in Eurasia: Regimes and Revolutions. Cambridge University Press. p. ix, photograph 4.6. ISBN 9781139789387.
  12. ^ "Victor, apparently wearing the tall Persian headdress rather than a crown, leads four bareheaded Egyptian captives by a rope tied to his belt. Victor spears a figure wearing Egyptian type crown." in Root, Margaret Cool (1979). The king and kingship in Achaemenid art: essays on the creation of an iconography of empire. Diffusion, E.J. Brill. p. 182. ISBN 9789004039025.
  13. ^ "Another seal, also from Egypt, shows a Persian king, his left hand grasping an Egyptian with an Egyptian hairdo (pschent), whom he thrusts through with his lance while holding four prisoners with a rope around their necks." Briant, Pierre (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Eisenbrauns. p. 215. ISBN 9781575061207.
  14. ^ a b Rice, Michael (1999). Who's Who in Ancient Egypt. Routledge. pp. 42–43.
  15. ^ a b Gardiner, Alan (1961). Egypt of the Pharaohs: an introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 371.
  16. ^ Newell, Edward Theodore; Osten, Hans Henning von der (1934). Ancient oriental seals in the collection of Mr. Edward T. Newell. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press. p. Plate XXXI, seal Nb 453.
  17. ^ Briant, Pierre (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Eisenbrauns. p. 216. ISBN 9781575061207.

Further readingEdit

  • Tuplin, Christopher J.; Ma, John, eds. (2020). Aršāma and his World: The Bodleian Letters in Context: Volume I: The Bodleian Letters. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199687640.
  • Tuplin, Christopher J.; Ma, John, eds. (2020). Aršāma and his World: The Bodleian Letters in Context: Volume II: Bullae and Seals. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198860709.
  • Tuplin, Christopher J.; Ma, John, eds. (2020). Aršāma and his World: The Bodleian Letters in Context: Volume III: Aršāma's World. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198860716.

External linksEdit

  • Thus speaks Arshama – Letters of a fifth–century BC Persian prince
Preceded by Satrap of Egypt
c.454 – c.406 BC
Succeeded by
possibly none (end of the satrapy)