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HOME   -   PEOPLE IN HISTORY A-Z   -   XERXES I

 
   


Xerxes I  519-465 BC  --Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago.

 

Xerxes I  519-465 BC

Image Above

Crown Prince Xerxes I, followed by court officials, standing behind his father, King Darius I.

Approaching are high dignitaries, the first having raised his hand to his mouth in a gesture of respectful greeting.

The delegate to the far right carries an incense vessel.

 

The two poles between the king and the first dignitary were not utilized for a rope line but are called censers.

A censer is also vessel in which incense is burnt, which only makes sense because we can't be sure if the dignitaries were awarded the opportunity of a quick shower after their long journey.

The above image is of the stone relief from the Treasury, which was part of the marvelous palace complex in Persepolis, Iran. The relief is now in the Archaeological Museum, Tehran. Image copyright Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago.

 

And in this photo you can estimate the proportions of the above stone relief relative to the size of a person.


STONE RELIEF FROM THE COURTYARD OF THE TREASURY, PERSEPOLIS
Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago

 


Here is a map of Persepolis Terrace, the entire palace complex. Darius I the Great started construction on this palace project around 518 BC. It was laid in ruins by  Alexander the Great around 331 BC.

518 - 331 BC Persepolis Palace Layout
Persepolis Palace Layout
Click image to enlarge

 


The Family of Xerxes I

King Xerxes I the Great was a member of the Achaemenian Dynasty.

Xerxes' father was  Darius I the Great. Xerxes' grandfather (his mother's father) was  Cyrus II the Great. Great ran in the family.

 

And let's get the family straight:

Cyrus the Great's daughter was Atossa. Atossa became the wife of Darius I. Atossa and Darius I's son was Xerxes I.

Apparently, Xerxes co-ruled with his father Darius from the year 496 BC. Xerxes became sole ruler of the  Persian Empire in 486 BC, the year his father Darius died.

Xerxes re-conquered Egypt in the second year of his reign, which was the year 484 BC. Egypt had revolted from the Persians in 487 BC.

 

The Children of Xerxes I

Xerxes I had at least three children: his son Darius, his son Hystaspes, and his son Artaxerxes I Longimanus, who followed him to the throne.

 

The Character of Xerxes I

In our local library, I found the interesting and ancient book History of Xerxes the Great by Jacob Abbott, which is aimed at the young historian. In it, Xerxes is described as a tender-hearted, self-confident, and generous but suggestible king.

You can read the work  online.

 More about Jacob Abbott here.

 

Other Names for Xerxes I

Xerxes is believed to have been the king Ahasuerus who is mentioned in the bible book Esther. Xerxes' old Persian name was Khshayarsha.

 

How Xerxes I Became Heir to the Throne

Xerxes had an elder brother, Artabazanes (or Artabanus). Why then didn't Artabazanes become king instead? Two reasons:

First reason: They had different mothers. Xerxes was the son of Darius I and Atossa. Artabazanes was the son of Darius and another woman, not Atossa. Let's remember, Atossa was the princess, Darius I was only a noble. Xerxes, therefore, was of royal blood. Artabazanes wasn't.

Second reason: Artabazanes was born before Darius I became king. Xerxes was the first son born after Darius became king.

Thus, Xerxes became king.

 

Xerxes I and the Invasion of Greece

Xerxes went to conquer the Greeks with an army of approx. 360,000 men and 800 ships.  Herodotus says it was 5,000,000 troops out of 50 nations, but you can't always take the good man literally. Fact is, it was a huge army.

The march from what is today Turkey to Greece was a major operation. A bridge was built over what is today's Dardanelles Strait and an important victory was won at the  Battle of Thermopylae in mid-August 480 BC. It was the destruction of the three hundred Spartans.

Go here for  the movie 300.


Also in August 480 BC, the naval Battle of Artemisium was fought for three days and won by the Persians. Indecisive actions between the Persian and Greek fleets near Artemisium, located on the north coast of Euboea, came to an end when the Greek vessels withdrew southward after having received the news of the Greek defeat at Thermopylae.

Here is Thermopylae, Artemisium, and Euboea on a map:


Map of the Battle of Thermopylae, 480 BC
Map of the Battle of Thermopylae 480 BC
Click map to enlarge




Later that year, on September 21, 480 BC, Xerxes sacked Athens.

However, the huge size of Xerxes' army had its weak point: logistics. The Greeks had major difficulties supplying their troops and, after a defeat in the naval  Battle off the island of Salamis near Athens on September 29, 480 BC, Xerxes was eager to get back home ASAP.

Xerxes left Mardonius in charge of fighting the Greeks and returned to Asia.


Back home in Persia, Xerxes launched a huge construction program.

Meanwhile in 479 BC, Mardonius and his Persian troops lost the  Battle of Plataea, in which Mardonius was killed. Another Greek victory was secured at the Battle of Mycale. The Greeks were on the roll.


Damage assessment: The Persians lost all their conquests in Europe, and many on the coast of Asia.

Here is more about the  Greco-Persian Wars.

 

Continuing court intrigues finally found Xerxes himself a victim. Xerxes was murdered by the chief of his guard, Artabanus.

Xerxes's son Artaxerxes I succeeded him to the throne.

 

Why Did Xerxes I Want to Invade Greece?

Xerxes wasn't the first to think of an invasion of the Greeks. His father, Darius I, was defeated in the  Battle of Marathon in September 490 BC. Darius prepared right away for a vengeance expedition against Greece but died before he could carry it out.

Exactly ten years later, in September 480 BC, Xerxes pillaged Athens. Happy anniversary!

 

Interesting Contemporaries

There was Artemisia I, Queen of Halicarnassus and the island of Cos, who had the command over at least five warships in Xerxes fleet to invade Greece. She was apparently a smart one because Xerxes kept asking for her advice. The ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus is now Bodrum in Turkey, by the way.

Demaratus was king of Sparta. He had to flee to Persia and warned Xerxes that the Spartan soldiers were tough fighters. That proved to be true at the  Battle of Thermopylae. Even though the Persians were triumphant in this battle, they made big eyes when 300 Spartan soldiers, led by Spartan king Leonidas, got the better of many Persian warriors and fought to the last man. Xerxes ordered to bury part of the fallen Persian soldiers because he was so embarrassed by the great number the Spartans managed to slay.

 Themistocles was a Greek politician and a navy man. In the  Battle of Salamis, Themistocles sent a messenger to Xerxes, saying he was ready to change sides. This was a fake message and it worked. Xerxes was thus lured into ordering an all-out attack which laid the foundation for the defeat of the Persian fleet.

The Greek diver Scyllias was captured by Xerxes to retrieve Persian treasures that had been lost when a storm destroyed several Persian ships. Scyllias later managed to escape.

 

Xerxes I Trivia

Read here how  film crews are rocking Xerxes' house (palace) down in Persepolis. Info provided by Mehr News Agency in Teheran, Iran. And here is the  article provided by Cultural Heritage News.

 

 

 



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