The battle of Thermopylae
Xerxes I

Xerxes the Great (Persian: khashayar, Old Persian: Xsayarsa) was a Persian Emperor (Shahanshah) (reigned 485465 BC) of the Achaemenid dynasty. "Xerxes" () is the Greek transliteration of the Persian throne name Khshayarsha, meaning "Ruler of heroes". In the Book of Ezra and Book of Esther, the Persian king Axasweros (Ahasuerus) probably corresponds to Xerxes I.

Political career

Khashayar, son of Darius the Great and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great, was appointed King of Persia by his father because his elder half-brothers, who were born before Darius had become king, died. 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 the victory of Marathon. From 483 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. 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 5,000,000 soldiers), set out in the spring of 480 from Sardis. At first Xerxes was victorious everywhere. The Greeks were defeated at Thermopylae (Battle of Thermopylae), although at a great cost to the Persians, and a moral victory to the Greeks. Athens conquered, 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 destroyed ships from both sides. The battle was also stopped prematurely as the Greeks caught news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated. But Xerxes was induced by the astute message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus) to attack the Greek fleet under unfavourable conditions, instead of sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the Greek armament. The Battle of Salamis (September 29, 480) was won by the Athenians. Having lost his communication by sea with Asia, Xerxes was forced to retire to Sardis; the army he left in Greece under Mardonius was beaten in 479 at Plataea. 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, but the victory of the Greeks threw the empire into a state of slow atrophy, from which it could not rise again. The king himself became involved in intrigues of the harem and was much dependent upon courtiers and eunuchs. He left inscriptions at Persepolis, where he added a new palace to that of Darius, at Van in 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

In the biblical Book of Ezra, Xerxes I is mentioned by the Hebrew name of Ahashverosh (Ahasuerus in Greek). During his reign and that of his predecessor (Darius) and successor (Artaxerxes), many Samaritans petitioned the Persian king with accusations against the Jews.

Xerxes is also understood to be Ahasuerus the King in the biblical Book of Esther. In this book, Ahasuerus dismisses his Queen consort, Vashti, because she refused to obey his command of appearing as 'queen of his empire' at a feast he was having for his princes. Then after sending forth a decree to gather the fair young virgins from throughout his empire, he chooses the Jewess Esther as his queen. The king's minister Haman, an Agagite, feeling insulted by Esther's cousin Mordecai because he would not bow down to Haman, convinces Ahasuerus to decree the destruction of all the Jews in the Persian Empire, but Mordecai and Esther manage to reverse their fate with the king who had tried to kill them.

The works of Josephus suggest that Vashti and Esther existed. However, the works of Herodotus suggest that Xerxes had a Queen consort named Amestris, daughter to Otanes.

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