the Great (Persian: khashayar, Old Persian: Xsayarsa) was a Persian
Emperor (Shahanshah) (reigned 485–465 BC) of the Achaemenid dynasty. "Xerxes" (ÎÝñîçò)
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.
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
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
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
the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus) to attack the Greek
fleet under unfavourable conditions, instead of sending a part of
ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the
Greek armament. The Battle of Salamis (September 29, 480) was won
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
Xerxes is also understood to be Ahasuerus the
King in the biblical Book of Esther. In this book, Ahasuerus dismisses
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
convinces Ahasuerus to decree the destruction of all the Jews
in the Persian Empire, but Mordecai and Esther manage to reverse
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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