late 14c., "an arterial blood vessel," from Anglo-French arterie, Old French artaire (13c.; Modern French artère), and directly from Latin arteria, from Greek arteria "windpipe," also "an artery," as distinct from a vein; related to aeirein "to raise" (see aorta).
They were regarded by the ancients as air ducts because the arteries do not contain blood after death, and 14c.-16c. artery in English also could mean "trachea, windpipe." Medieval writers, based on Galen, generally took them as a separate blood system for the "vital spirits." The word is used in reference to artery-like systems of major rivers from 1805; of railways from 1844.