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Xerxes, King of Persia


Image1: Xerxes


Xerxes was the ruler of the Achaemenid Persian Empire from 486 BCE till 465 BCE. He was born in the year 520 BCE, and was the first born from the marriage of Darius and Atossa, daughter of Cyrus.  Although Xerxes was not the first in line to the throne, the attempt by his older half-brother Artabazenes to seize the throne for himself was foiled as the mother of Artabazenes was a commoner. Thus, Xerxes was made ruler of Persia and became the fourth Shah of the Achaemenid Dynasty. Prior to being King, Xerxes was viceroy, a.k.a King’s Governor of Babylon.


The name Xerxes is fairly familiar to all of us now, but back in the day Xerxes the Great was better known by his subjects as Khsayarsa, his Persian name. His official title was Shahamsah, when translated means emperor, or King of Kings. To many bible readers, he would be known by his Hebrew name, Ahasueres of Persia, where the story on Queen Esther and her valor in fighting for her people was told on the book of Esther in the Old Testament. To the Greeks, he is known as Xerxes the Great, and judging by the fact that many things we know about the Persians come from Herodotus who is a Greek, it isn’t a surprise that we know him by his Greek name.


Xerxes was known for his military campaigns, and in his early years as ruler he showed great resolve in crushing uprisings in both Egypt and Babylon in the year 482 BCE. Xerxes ignored the relationship his grandfather Cyrus had built with the Babylonians and proceeded to melt the statue of Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. This was significant as there is a yearly festival for Marduk to ensure prosperity throughout the land. Thus by ignoring tradition, Xerxes subjected all of his subjects under his rule and will.


His campaign against Greeks started as a result of wanting to avenge his father’s defeat at the Battle of Marathan in 490 BCE. Xerxes spent 4 years amassing weapons, supplies and conscripting men to join his army in the march against the Greeks. Victories at the Battle of Artemisium and then Thermopylae, where King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans famously held their own against the Persian army for 3 days, opened to the road to Athens where Xerxes ordered the burning of the city in rage of their defiance, an act which he describes as his only regret throughout the entire campaign.

Battle of Salamis, 480 BCE

Image 2: Battle of Salamis

With the Greeks on the retreat, Xerxes held council on his next move. His cousin Mardonica advised in favor of a sea battle in view of their superior naval strength. However, Artemisian of Caria suggested holding the Greeks in place and ultimately letting their supplies run out, forcing the Greeks to seek peace. It was also said that Themistocles the Athenian naval leader, sent Xerxes a secret letter in which he promised that the Athenians would desert in the promise that Athens would be returned to them. In the end, Xerxes choose glory over military sense and sent his troops into the trap, and his troops were defeated.


From then on, Xerxes returned to Asia Minor and concentrated his energy on making monuments and buildings, while indulging in pleasure and women. Heavy taxation on his people did not bother him as his sought to build greater and grander buildings to rival his father. In the end, Xerxes was assassinated; some sources say by his minister Artabanus, while some sources quote that he was killed by order of his son, Artaxerxes. His great decline after such a promising start, coupled with the fact that he was draining the national coffers, marked his reign as the beginning of the decline in the Achaemenid Empire.





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