Xerxes I or Xerxes the Great (c.519-465 BC) succeeded his father Darius I to the throne of Persia in 486 BC, in spite of the fact that he had an older brother Artabazanes. He continued his father's war campaign against Greece. Their grievance was the Greek's aid to the Ionians revolt from Persia. He amassed a huge army of around 200,000 men and in 480 BC invaded Greece. A famous battle occured at Thermopylae where a few thousand Greeks held off Xerxes' forces for ten days before losing. Xerxes next conquered Attica and Athens.

Later that year, his naval fleet was defeated by the Athenian Themistocles, and his army suffered huge losses to disease. Xerxes returned to Persia, Susa to be precise, while his brother-in-law Mardonius was left in command.

Before this campaign, however, the first thing he had to do as king was to subdue Egypt. There a usurper had been in power for a couple years, so he travelled to Egypt and "chastized" them. (ahem) He then had to deal with revolt in Babylon. Finally, Xerxes allowed Egypt and Babylon some more autonomy than his father had, abandoning the title of king of Babylonia and Egypt for the title king of the Persians and the Medes.

Xerxes was murdered in 465 BC by the captain of the palace guard (glorified butler!) and was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes I.

According to Encarta, Xerxes is identified as the Ahasuerus of the Book of Esther. I also suspect that Xerces is an alternate or corrupted spelling of Xerxes. A bas-relief of Xerxes exists on the southern portico of a courtyard in the treasury of Persepolis.

Xerxes once wept when he gazed over his huge army and considered that not one of them would be alive in a hundred years.

There is an opera by Handel called Xerxes or in Italian Serse, which starts with the famous aria Ombra mai fu in which Xerxes extols a tree in his garden for giving him shade. Then follows something no-one really needs to know about his brother Arsamenes, the beautiful Romilda, the beautiful Atalanta, the beautiful foreign princess Amastris, and... Look, it's a baroque opera, you just sit back and enjoy the singing.

Inscriptions have been found at Persepolis, set up by Xerxes, boasting how many countries he has conquered by the favour of Ahura-mazda, and what a good bowman and horseman he is, and such things.

The Old Persian form of the name is Khshayârshâ.

There was a Xerxes II who reigned for 45 days in 423 BCE.

The Hebrew Book of Esther presents the unsuccessful venture to kill the Jews living in the Persian empire during the reign of a certain Ahasuerus. Although the absence of clear historical allusions or perspectives renders the question uncertain, most scholars of ancient biblical history consider to be Xerxes. The threat was diverted by the courage and ingeniousness of Esther and her cousin Mordecai, along with the help of a series of fortunate circumstances. The significance of these events explains the origin of the festival of Purim, the Book of Esther has been read aloud in the synagogue at that feast since antiquity.

After the assassination of his father Alexander III ("The Great") ascended to the throne and assumed his father's plan of a crusade to punish the Persians for Xerxe's invasion of Greece almost a century and a half later. Alexander crossed the Hellspont with a complement of approximately fifty thousand in 334 B.C. and defeated the Persian army in three major battles, the last in 331 B.C..

These victories solidly united the army created by his father into an irresistible force by his uncanny strategic insight, versatility and courage beyond reason. Persepolis was sacked and the palace of Xerxes burned. Conquering Bactria and Sogdiana, he extended his way across the eastern frontier to the Hyphasis, and the lower Indus River. From the Indus Delta he continued westward through the Gedrosian desert. Reaching Susa in 324, where he and ninety-one members of his court married wives of Persian nobility. There Alexander the Great succumbed to his death, probably by a fever following a drinking party in Babylon, on June 323.

Source: The Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993.



The name is an attempt to transliterate into Greek (Xerxes) the Persian Khshayarsha. The same word in unpointed Hebrew took the form 'chshwrsh, probably pronounced 'achshawarash, but at a later time it was wrongly vocalized so as to produce 'achashwerosh, from whence "Ahasuerus" in English versions of the Bible comes.

Xerxes was king of Persia in 485-465 BC. The first part of his reign was marked by the famous campaign into Greece, beginning in 483. After the defeat at Salamis in 480 Xerxes himself withdrew from the expedition and it was finally discontinued in the next year. During the remainder of his reign, Xerxes seems to have spent a listless existence, absorbed in intrigues of the harem, and leaving the government to be carried on by his ministers and favorites (often slaves). He was finally murdered by his vizier and left an unenviable reputation for caprice and cruelty. For the various Biblical references see AHASUERUS.

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