1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Xerxes

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XERXES (the Greek form of the Pers. Khshayārshā; Old testament Ahasverus, Akhashveroshi.e. Ahasuerus (q.v.)—with wrong vocalization and substitution of y for v, instead of Akhshavarsh; in Aramaic inscriptions and papyri from Egypt the name is written Khshai'arsh), the name of two Persian kings of the Achaemenid dynasty.

1. Xerxes I., son of Darius I. and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great, and therefore appointed successor to his father in preference to his eldest half-brothers, who were born before Darius had become king (Herod, vii. 2 f.). After his accession in October 485 B.C. he suppressed the revolt in Egypt which had broken out in 486, appointed his brother Achaemenes as satrap and “brought Egypt under a much heavier yoke than it had been before” (Herod, vii. 7). His predecessors, especially Darius, had not been successful in their attempts to conciliate the ancient civilizations. This probably was the reason why Xerxes in 484 abolished the “kingdom of Babel” and took away the golden statue of Bel (Marduk, Merodach), the hands of which the legitimate king of Babel had to seize on the first day of each year, and killed the priest who tried to hinder him.[1] Therefore Xerxes does not bear the title of “King of Babel” in the Babylonian documents dated from his reign, but “King of Persia and Media,” or simply “King of countries” (i.e. of the world). This proceeding led to two rebellions, probably in 484 and 479; in the Babylonian documents occur the names of two ephemeral kings, Shamash-irbā and Tarziya, who belong to this time. One of these rebellions was suppressed by Megabyzus, son of Zopyrus, the satrap whom the Babylonians had slain.[2]

Darius had left to his son the task of punishing the Greeks for their interference in the Ionian rebellion and the victory of Marathon. From 483 Xerxes prepared his expedition with great care: a channel was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos; provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace; two bridges were thrown across the Hellespont. Xerxes concluded an alliance with Carthage, and thus deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum. Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians (“Medized”), especially Thessaly, Thebes and Argos. A large fleet and a numerous army were gathered. In the spring of 480 Xerxes set out from Sardis. At first Xerxes was victorious everywhere. The Greek fleet was beaten at Artemisium, Thermopylae stormed, Athens conquered, the Greeks driven back to their last line of defence at the Isthmus of Corinth and in the Bay of Salamis. But Xerxes was induced by the astute message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus} to attack the Greek fleet under unfavourable conditions, instead of sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the Greek armament.[3] The battle of Salamis (28th of September 480) decided the war (see Salamis). Having lost his communication by sea with Asia, Xerxes was forced to retire to Sardis; the army which he left in Greece under Mardonius was in 479 beaten at Plataea (q.v.). The defeat of the Persians at Mycale roused the Greek cities of Asia.

Of the later years of Xerxes little is known. He sent out Sataspes to attempt the circumnavigation of Africa (Herod, iv. 143), but the victory of the Greeks threw the empire into a state of languid torpor, from which it could not rise again. The king himself became involved in intrigues of the harem (cf. Herod, ix. 108 ff.—compare the late Jewish novel of Esther, in which a remembrance of the true character of the king is retained) and was much dependent upon courtiers and eunuchs. He left inscriptions at Persepolis, where he added a new palace to that of Darius, at Van in Armenia, and on Mount Elvend near Ecbatana; in these texts he merely copies the words of his father. In 465 he was murdered by his vizier Artabanus (q.v.), who raised Artaxerxes I. to the throne.

2. Xerxes II., son and successor of Artaxerxes I., was assassinated in 424 after a reign of forty-five days by his brother Secydianus or Sogdianus, who in his turn was murdered by Darius II. (q.v.).

See Ctesias, Pers. 44; Diod. xii., 64, 71, and the chronographers; neither of the two ephemeral kings is mentioned in the canon of Ptolemy nor in the dates of Babylonian contracts of this time.

The name Xerxes was also borne by a king of Armenia, killed about 212 B.C. by Antiochus the Great (Polyb. viii. 25; Johannes Antiochenus, p. 53; his name occurs on copper coins); and by a son of Mithradates the Great of Pontus (Appian, Mithr. 108, 117).  (Ed. M.) 

  1. Herod, i. 183, by Ctesias changed into a plundering of the tomb of Belitanas or Belus: cf. Aelian, Var. Hist. 13, 3; Aristobulus ap. Arrian vii. 17, 2, and Strabo xvi. p. 738.
  2. Ctesias, Pers. 22; his legendary history is transferred by Herodotus, iii. 150 ff., to the former rebellion against Darius.
  3. See G. B. Grundy, Great Persian War (1901), and in criticism W. W. Tarn, “The Fleet of Xerxes,” in Journal of Hellenic Studies (1908), 202-34; also Macan's notes on Herod, iv.–vi. (1895), and authorities for Plataea, Salamis.