late 14c., 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; medieval writers took them for the channels of the "vital spirits," and 16c. senses of artery in English include "trachea, windpipe." The word is used in reference to artery-like systems of major rivers from 1805; of railways from 1850.