Xerxes I -  The Great

605-562BC (43)

Xerxes the Great was a Persian Emperor (Shahanshah) of the Achaemenid dynasty. Xrxēs (Ξέρξης) is the Greek form of the Old Persian throne name Xšayāršā, meaning "Ruler of heroes"[2] (in Modern Persian: خشایارشا, Khšāyāršā). The English pronunciation is /'zɝk siːz/.

Political career

Xerxes was son of Darius I and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. After his accession in October 485 BC he suppressed the revolts in Egypt and Babylon that had broken out in 486 BC and appointed his brother Achaemenes as governor or satrap over Egypt (Old Persian: khshathrapavan), bringing Egypt under very strict rule. His predecessors, especially Darius, had not been successful in their attempts to conciliate the ancient civilizations. This probably was the reason why Xerxes in 484 BC took away from Babylon the golden statue of Bel (Marduk, Merodach), the hands of which the legitimate king of Babylon had to seize on the first day of each year, and killed the priest who tried to hinder him. Therefore Xerxes does not bear the title of King in the Babylonian documents dated from his reign, but King of Persia and Media or simply King of countries (i.e. of the world). This proceeding led to two rebellions, probably in 484 BC and 479 BC.

Invasion of the Greek mainland

Darius left to his son the task of punishing the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their interference in the Ionian revolt and their defeat of the Persians at Marathon. From 483 BC Xerxes prepared his expedition with great care: A channel was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos, provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace, two bridges were thrown across the Hellespont. According to Herodotus, Xerxes' first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus bridge; Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes' second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful.[3] Xerxes concluded an alliance with Carthage, and thus deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum. Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially Thessaly, Thebes, and Argos. Xerxes, with a large fleet and army (Herodotus the Greek historian claimed that there were over 2,000,000 soldiers), set out in the spring of 480 BC from Sardis. Xerxes was victorious during the initial battles. At the Battle of Thermopylae, a small force of warriors, led by King Leonidas, resisted the much larger Persian forces, but were ultimately defeated. After Thermopylae, Athens was conquered, and the Athenians and Spartans were driven back to their last line of defense at the Isthmus of Corinth and in the Saronic Gulf. At Artemisium, the battle was indecisive as large storms had destroyed ships from the Greek side. The battle was also stopped prematurely as the Greeks learned news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. But Xerxes was induced by the message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus) to attack the Greek fleet under unfavourable conditions, rather than sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the Greek armies. The Battle of Salamis (September 29, 480 BC) was won by the Athenians. Although the loss was a setback it was not a disaster and Xerxes set up a winter camp in Thessaly. Due to unrest in Babylon Xerxes was forced to send his army home to prevent a revolt leaving behind an army in Greece under Mardonius who was defeated the following year at Plataea in 479 BC.[4] The defeat of the Persians at Mycale roused the Greek cities of Asia.

Missing later years

Of the later years of Xerxes, little is known. He sent out Sataspes to attempt the circumnavigation of Africa. He left inscriptions at Persepolis, where he added a new palace to that of Darius, at Van, now in present day Turkey, and on Mount Elvend near Ecbatana. In these texts he merely copies the words of his father. In 465 he was murdered by his vizier, Artabanus, who raised Artaxerxes I to the throne.

In the Bible

Xerxes is also believed by some scholars to be Ahasuerus, the King in the biblical Book of Esther,[5][6] though some Jewish scholars are skeptical about this.[7]
The Judeo-Roman historian Josephus took the historical existence of Vashti and Esther as fact,[8] though the works of Herodotus suggest that Xerxes had a Queen consort named Amestris, daughter to Otanes. This name discrepancy is not necessarily a conflict in accounts, since the word Esther can also be understood to mean "hidden" in Hebrew. Her name is interpreted thus in Midrash (Jewish biblical commentaries), where it is said that Esther hid her nationality and lineage as Mordecai had advised.


  • By queen Amestris
  • Amytis, wife of Megabyzus
  • Artaxerxes I
  • Darius, the first born, murdered by Artaxerxes and Artabanus.
  • Hystaspes, murdered by Artaxerxes.
  • Rodogyne
    By unknown wives
  • Artarius, satrap of Babylon.
  • Ratashah[9]


  1. http://www.livius.org/a/iran/persepolis/apadana-northstairs-relief/apadana-northstairs-relief.html
  2. Strauss, Barry S. , The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter That Saved Greece - and Western Civilization, p. 36. Simon & Schuster, New York, 2004.
  3. Bailkey, Nels, ed. Readings in Ancient History, p. 175. D.C. Heath and Co., USA, 1992.
  4. Battle of Salamis and aftermath
  5. BibleTexts.com Glossary of Terms - Ahasuerus / Xerxes
  6. BBC Religion & Ethic - Judaism The story of Purim
  7. The Religious Policy of Xerxes and the "Book of Esther", Littman, Robert J., The Jewish Quarterly Review, 65.3, Jan 1975, p.145-148. [1]
  8. [2]
  9. M. Brosius, Women in ancient Persia.

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