xerxes l Fourth King of the Persian Archaemenid Empire

Background and rise to prominence

Xerxes 1 (also known as Xerses the Great) was the fourth king of kings that ruled over the Persian Archaemenid Empire between 486-465 BCE.

Xerxes was born in 519 BC in Iran to Darius 1 and Atossa (daughter of Cyrus the Great) who were both Archaemenid both descendants of Archaemenes. In 486 BC a revolt had developed in egypt due to heavy taxes and the deportations of craftsmen.

At this point Darius was also preparing for a war against Greece and as by Persian law the king must appoint a successor before leaving on dangerous expeditions so Darius appointed Xerxes as his successor. Darius died in october 486 BC at the age of 64 due to his failing health so he was unable to lead the campaign thus beginning the rule of Xerxes.

Although not his eldest, xerxes was Darius' first born in his marriage with Atossa. 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.


Upon assuming the throne, the Commander and Chief of his army, Mardonius, pressured to reignite the campaign ,Darius died too early to complete, against Greece. But before Xerxes could resume the campaign he had other matters to attend to such as the insurrection of Babylon and the revolts against Persian rule in Egypt, and Xerxes expended considerable time throughout the year 485 BCE in quelling these and restoring order.

Once relative peace was established in his empire, he was free to turn his attention back to Greece and the punishment of the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their interference in the Ionian Revolt, the burning of Sardis, and their victory over the Persians at Marathon.

Two pontoon bridges later known as Xerxes' Pontoon Bridges were built across the Hellespont. Soldiers of many nationalities served in the armies of Xerxes from all over his multi-ethnic massive Eurasian-sized empire and beyond, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews, Macedonians, European Thracians, Paeonians, Achaean Greeks, Ionians, Aegean islanders, Aeolians, Greeks from Pontus, Colchians, and many more.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes's first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus cables of the bridges. In retaliation, Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times, and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes's second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful. The Carthaginian invasion of Sicily deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum - ancient sources assume Xerxes was responsible. Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially Thessaly, Thebes and Argos. Xerxes was victorious during the initial battles.

Xerxes set out in the spring of 480 BC from Sardis with a fleet and army which Herodotus estimated was roughly one million strong along with 10,000 elite warriors named the Persian Immortals. More recent estimates place the Persian force at around 60,000 combatants.

Xerxes also conquered Thermopylae and soon after, Athens was captured. Most of the Athenians had abandoned the city and fled to the island of Salamis before Xerxes arrived. A small group attempted to defend the Athenian Acropolis, but they were defeated. Xerxes burnt the city; leaving an archaeologically attested destruction layer, known as the Perserschutt. The Persians thus gained control of all of mainland Greece to the north of the Isthmus of Corinth.

After the military blunders in Greece, Xerxes returned to Persia and oversaw the completion of the many construction projects left unfinished by his father at Susa and Persepolis. He oversaw the building of the Gate of All Nations and the Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis, which are the largest and most imposing structures of the palace. He oversaw the completion of the Apadana, the Palace of Darius and the Treasury, all started by Darius, as well as having his own palace built which was twice the size of his father's. His taste in architecture was similar to that of Darius, though on an even more gigantic scale. He also maintained the Royal Road built by his father and completed the Susa Gate and built a palace at Susa.

In 465 BC, Xerxes was murdered by Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard and the most powerful official in the Persian court


there have been many interpretations of xerxes in modern film/ media

Xerxes is the central character of the Aeschylus play "The Persians." Xerxes is the protagonist of the opera Serse. It was first performed in the King's Theatre London on 15 April 1738.

Later generations' fascination with ancient Sparta, and particularly the Battle of Thermopylae, has led to Xerxes' portrayal in works of popular culture, although more often than not in a negative light, often portraying him as ranging from unsympathetic to megalomaniacal. This can be blamed largely on the fact that most sources from the period are of Greek origin. The authors of these sources generally demonize Xerxes in modern works. For instance, he was played by David Farrar in the fictional film The 300 Spartans (1962), where he is portrayed as a cruel, power-crazed despot and an inept commander. He also features prominently in the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller, as well as the film adaptation 300 (2007) and its sequel 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), as portrayed by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, in which he is represented as a giant man with androgynous qualities, who claims to be a god-king. This portrayal has attracted controversy.

Other works dealing with the Persian Empire or the Biblical story of Esther have also referenced Xerxes, such as the video game Assassin's Creed II and the film One Night with the King (2006), in which Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was portrayed by British actor Luke Goss. He is the leader of the Persian Empire in the video game Civilization II and III.

Xerxes is portrayed by Richard Egan in the 1960 film Esther and the King and by Joel Smallbone in the 2013 film.

Created By
Georgia Martin


Created with images by Örlygur Hnefill - "Apadana palace" • A.Davey - "Darius Behind Xerxes' Throne" • A.Davey - "Detail: Tomb of Xerxes I" • outcast104 - "Xerxes on Halloween" • A.Davey - "Tribute Bearers on the Apadana Staircase 17 (Best Viewed Size "Large")"

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.