Xerxes I commonly known as Xerxes the Great, was the fourth King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire, ruling from 486 to 465 BC. He was the son and successor of Darius the Great (r. 522–486 BC) and his mother was Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus the Great (r. 550–530 BC), the founder of the Achaemenid empire. Like his father, he ruled the empire at its territorial apex. He ruled from 486 BC until his assassination in 465 BC at the hands of Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard.
Xerxes I is notable in Western history for his invasion of Greece in 480 BC. His forces temporarily overran mainland Greece north of the Isthmus of Corinth until losses at Salamis and Plataea a year later reversed these gains and ended the second invasion decisively. However, Xerxes successfully crushed revolts in Egypt and Babylon. Xerxes also oversaw the completion of various construction projects at Susa and Persepolis.
Xérxēs is the Greek and Latin (Xerxes, Xerses) transliteration of the Old Iranian, which can be seen by the first part xšaya, meaning "ruling", and the second ṛšā, meaning "hero, man". The name of Xerxes was known in Akkadian as] Xerxes would become a popular name among the rulers of the Achaemenid Empire
Much of Xerxes' bad reputation is due to propaganda by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC), who had him vilified. The modern historian Richard Stoneman regards the portrayal of Xerxes as more nuanced and tragic in the work of the contemporary Greek historian Herodotus. However, many modern historians agree that Herodotus recorded spurious information. Pierre Briant has accused him of presenting a stereotyped and biased portrayal of the Persians. Many Achaemenid-era clay tablets and other reports written in Elamite, Akkadian, Egyptian, and Aramaic are frequently contradictory to the reports of classical authors, i.e. Ctesias, Plutarch, and Justin.
Parentage and birth
Xerxes' father was Darius the Great (r. 522–486 BC), the incumbent monarch of the Achaemenid Empire, albeit himself not a member of the family of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the empire. Xerxes' mother was Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus. Darius and Atossa had married in 522 BC, with Xerxes being born around 518 BC
Upbringing and education
The "Caylus vase", a quadrilingual alabaster jar with cuneiform and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the name of "Xerxes, the Great King". Cabinet des Médailles, Paris
This account of education among the Persian elite is supported by Xenophon's description of the 5th-century BC Achaemenid prince Cyrus the Younger, with whom he was well-acquainted. Stoneman suggests that this was the type of upbringing and education that Xerxes experienced. It is unknown if Xerxes ever learned to read or write, with the Persians favoring oral history over written literature. Stoneman suggests that Xerxes' upbringing and education was possibly not much different from that of the later Iranian kings, such as Abbas the Great, king of the Safavid Empire in the 17th-century AD. Starting from 498 BC, Xerxes resided in the royal palace of Babylon
Accession to the throne
While Darius was preparing for another war against Greece, a revolt spurred in Egypt in 486 BC due to heavy taxes and the deportation of craftsmen to build the royal palaces at Susa and Persepolis. Under Persian law, the king was required to choose a successor before setting out on dangerous expeditions. When Darius decided to leave (487–486 BC), he (Darius) prepared his tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam (five kilometers from his royal palace at Persepolis) and appointed Xerxes, his eldest son by Atossa, as his successor. However, Darius could not lead the campaign due to his failing health and died in October 486 BC at the age of 64
Artobazan claimed the crown as the eldest of all the children; while Xerxes, on the other hand, argued that he was sprung from Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus, and that it was Cyrus who had won the Persians their freedom. Xerxes was also helped by a Spartan king in exile who was present in Persia at the time, Eurypontid king Demaratus, who also argued that the eldest son does not universally mean they have claim to the crown, as Spartan law states that the first son born while the father is king is the heir to the kingship. Some modern scholars also view the unusual decision of Darius to give the throne to Xerxes to be a result of his consideration of the unique positions that Cyrus the Great and his daughter Atossa enjoyed. Artobazan was born to "Darius the subject", while Xerxes was the eldest son born in the purple after Darius's rise to the throne, and Artobazan's mother was a commoner while Xerxes's mother was the daughter of the founder of the empire.
Xerxes was crowned and succeeded his father in October–December 486 BC when he was about 36 years old. The transition of power to Xerxes was smooth due again in part to the great authority of Atossa and his accession of royal power was not challenged by any person at court or in the Achaemenian family, or any subject nation
Consolidation of power
Engraving of Babylon by H. Fletcher, 1690
At Xerxes' accession, trouble was brewing in some of his domains. A revolt occurred in Egypt, which seems to have been dangerous enough for Xerxes to personally lead the army to restore order (which also gave him the opportunity to begin his reign with a military campaign). Xerxes suppressed the revolt in January 484 BC, and appointed his full-brother Achaemenes as satrap of the country, replacing the previous satrap Pherendates, who was reportedly killed during the revolt. The suppression of the Egyptian revolt expended the army, which had been mobilized by Darius over the previous three years. Xerxes thus had to raise another army for his expedition into Greece, which took four years. There was also unrest in Babylon, which revolted at least twice against Xerxes. The first revolt broke out in June or July of 484 BC and was led by a rebel of the name Bel-shimanni. Bel-shimmani's revolt was short-lived; Babylonian documents written during his reign only account for a period of two weeks
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