From arta, "great," or "honored"; Artaioi, Arii, Sansk. Arya, being the old name of the Persians, and kshershe, "a king" = Xerxes = Ahasuerus. (See AHASUERUS.)
Artaxerxes I. (Ezra 4:7) is the Magian usurper, who impersonated Smerdis, Cyrus' younger son. To him the adversaries of the Jews wrote, in order to frustrate the building of the temple. Certainly the Ahasuerus of Ezra 4:6 was Cambyses, and the Darius of Ezra 4:24 was Darius Hystaspes; so that the intermediate king must be Smerdis the pretender, who by usurpation reigned for eight months 522 B.C. Cambyses did not act on the accusation of the Jews' enemies; Ahasuerus Smerdis did forbidding the continuation of a work commenced under Cyrus, and continued under his son and successor.
His creed as a Magian, opposed to that of Zoroaster, as declared in Herodotus 3:61, Ctesias Exc. Pers. 10, Justin 1:9, and Darius' great inscription at Behistun, account for his reversing the policy of his two predecessors on a point of religion. The sympathy of Cyrus and Cambyses with the Jews in restoring their temple was to him just the reason for prohibiting it. In his decree (Ezra 4:17-22) no symptom of the faith in the supreme God appears, which characterizes the decree of Cyrus. The Magian creed was pantheism, the worship of the elements, earth, air, water and fire.
Artaxerxes II was Artaxerxes Longimanus, son of Xerxes, who reigned 464-425 B.C. He allowed Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:1) to spend 12 years at Jerusalem to settle the affairs of the returned Jews. He had 13 years previously permitted Ezra (Ezra 7:1) to go on a similar errand.
The reign of Ahasuerus III = Xerxes, described in Esther, comes chronologically between Ezra 6 (515 B.C.) and Ezra 7, which is in the 7th year of Artaxerxes Longimanus, 457 B.C. The gap occupies 58 years in all, of which Xerxes' reign takes 21 years. Thirteen years after Ezra's going to Jerusalem, 457 B.C., it was found that a civil as well as an ecclesiastical head was required there.
So in 444 B.C. Artaxerxes Longimanus, who was noted among the Persian kings for wisdom and right feeling, sanctioned Nehemiah's going as civil governor. Like Cyrus and Darius he identified Jehovah with his own supreme god, Ormuzd (Ezra 7:12; Ezra 7:21-23), supported the Jewish worship by offerings and grants from the state and provincial treasuries, and threatened death, banishment, imprisonment, or confiscation against opponents. The oriental despot, who at personal inconvenience would suffer his servant's departure for so long, to cheer him up, must have been more than ordinarily good natured. Secular history so represents him, "the first of Persian monarchs for mildness and magnanimity." The Persians, says Diodorus Siculus (11:71:2), admired his "equity and moderation in government."