Who is Xerxes of Persia?

In the movie, “300” the Spartans entered one of the their most significant battle against the Persian emperor named Xerxes the Great. Xerxes reigned from 485 to 465 BC and was named the “Ruler of Heroes.” As depicted in the film, the emperor was quite powerful, as well as lacking mercy. The word of his unrelenting conquering and murder across the lands was sent from civilization to the next in both the movie and history. In this article, we will take a look at this character in ancient history.


Xerxes was born to Darius the Great and Atossa, who was the daughter of Cyrus the Great. He became King of Persia by his father because his eldest half-siblings had all passed away. Following his accession in 485BC, he was able to suppress the revolts throughout Egypt and Babylon that arose during 486 BC.


At this time, he appointed his brother, Acharmenes as governor over Egypt, which created a rather strict rule over the people. This move separated Xerxes from his father and previous rulers; they were unable to establish this extent of rule over their inhabitants. Eventually, he would be known as the “King of Countries.” Various rebellions occurred during his reign, but he was still able to maintain his control over the people, which might very well have come from a strong fear of his will and power.


When Darius left ruling the people to his son, Xerxes, the task of dealing with (and punishing) the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their roles in the Ionian revolt and Marathon victory fell on his shoulders. Xerxes went on to prepare for assuming his new position. He started to make plans for arranging a voyage that would settle all issues. He ordered that a channel be dug through the isthmus of the Mount Athos peninsula, and that supplies be stores throughout the Thrace area. Two bridges were constructed to provide a link to Hellespont.


Alliances were made in Carthage, making Greece vulnerable without the help of Syracuse and Agrigentum. As Xerxes exercised more of his power, smaller Greek cities, such as Argos, Thebes, and Thessaly eventually sided with Persia.


With close to 50,000 soldiers (according to historic documents), Xerxes gathered a large fleet and set for Sardis in 480. In the beginning, victory came easy, but when he and his troops met up with the Greeks at the Battle of Thermopylae, the numbers became depleted and morale victories for the other side caused Xerxes to push further in his intentions.


 Despite the advice of others, many large storms destroyed his ships and when he arrived at the Battle of Salamis in September of 480, it was the Athenians this time that claimed victory. After Xerxes felt a loss in communication, he had no choice but to retreat. An army he left in Greece under the command of Mardonius was defeated as well in 479 at Plataea. His army would then falter at Mycale.


Not much is known about the last years regarding Xerxes’ life. He attempted to capture power in Africa, but after the Greeks displayed their weaknesses, the empire was never quite the same. As a king, he became more interested in the pursuits of his harem, and allowed courtiers and eunuchs to play high positions in his life. From the reading of inscriptions at Persepolis, it is known that he added a newer palace to the one belonging to Darius, which was situated in various locations about the land, such as Mount Elvend. In 465, Xerxes was defeated once more, when his vizier, Artabanus, took his life. Following his passing, the vizier pushed for and succeeded for Artaxerxes I to take the throne.