Historical Context

The Persian Empire occupied the Iranian Plateau which covered a large portion of the middle east including 5 main sanctions:

  • Egypt and Libya in Africa.
  • Thrace in Europe in the north Aegean.
  • The lydian empire of Asia Minor.
  • The bbylonian nd Assyrian empires.
  • East of heartland call Bactria.
Map of the Persian Empire at the time of Xerxes. Red lines denote the route of Xerxes' army across the empire.

Landforms in the area include: Central Plateau, plains and mountain ranges. Persian agriculture relied heavily on environmental factors. The vast mountain ranges and a variety of terrain made it difficult for general communication. However Xerxes created a network of efficient roads that linked the capital of Susa with provincial cities.

Class divisions, Military sturctures and religion

The King was an autocrat (Single ruler) below the princes were the Nobles - either direct members of the family or members of the Persian and Median aristocracy. Below the Nobles were the priests, then foreign scribes, the artisan and at the very bottom, the peasants. The king was the supreme leader of the army made of sparabara who carried large shields. Religions included the worshipping of gods such as; Osiris, Isis and Ra and sacred Apis bull. Babylon was also a strong religion of the time.

Xerxes background and rise to prominence

Xerxes was the first born son of Darius and Atossa, grandson of Cyrus the Great. His family included his father, Darius, his mother, Queen Atossa ( Daughter of Cyrus). He had 3 brothers, Hystaspes, Achaemenes and Masistes as well as several half brothers. He also had one known names Artazostre.

Xerxes wife was queen Amestris, daughter of Otanes. They had 3 sons. Prince Darius, Prince Hystaspes and King Artaxerxes. Prince Darius was the origional heir to the throne but was soon killed by his brother Artaxerxes.

Xerxes was not the eldest of Darius’ sons but, as the first-born of his marriage with Atossa, was chosen as successor. Upon Darius’ death, Xerxes’ older half-brother, Artabazenes, claimed the throne but was rebuffed because his mother was a commoner while Xerxes’ mother was the daughter of the great Cyrus

Career Highlights:

  • Xerxes is best known for his massive invasion of Greece from across the Hellespont (480 bce), a campaign marked by the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea. His ultimate defeat spelled the beginning of the decline of the Achaemenian Empire.
A map indicating the location and military positions taken in the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BCE
  • During Xerxes rein, a revolt broke out within the Persian empire. The Revolt of Egypt occurred whilst Darius was still living. It is believed that Darius increased taxes in order to prepare for the invasion of Greece. Xerxes lead the expedition to Egypt an lead an army into Egypt. He successfully suppressed the rebellion that was occurring within Egypt. During this time Xerxes proved his military strength as he had to lead his army through the Sinai desert , defeat the Egyptian Sinai defences and furthermore defeat the rebels.
  • Another revolt occurred during Xerxes rein in Babylon. Modern historians have found evidence that the revolt was suppressed fairly quickly and the civilians within Babylon were severely punished. The revolt occurred in 484BC and one in 482BC.


During Xerxes rein, it was evident that he did not have the abilities of his predecessors and was always overshadowed by his father. Xerxes was not as controlling as his father in handling revolts and punished the Egyptians and Babylonians harshly. He created an economic slide in the Empire because of the drain on resources both in 480BC invasion and in the building of Persepolis. On the positive side, he was willing to seek and discuss advice in critical decision making. He was able to effectively deal with the revolts in Babylon and Egypt and suppressed them fairly quickly. He also created a building plan for Persepolis and completion of susa was successful.

"Xerxes above all kings of the Medes and Persians who came after him used the greatest intellectual power; his achievements were glittering" - Pausanius


Created By
Abbey McNulty


Created with images by Klearchos Kapoutsis - "Stele of Xerxes I"

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