Born in c. 519 BC, of the parents King Darius and his wife Atossa came Xerxes. He was raised in the lavish opulence of an eastern court and became the designated heir to his father”s throne in which he was to rule over the greatest empire of his time for 21 years. The Persian Empire. He was not the oldest of Darius” sons but still became the heir over his oldest brother Artabazanes. There were two main reasons for this, His mother Atossa was the daughter of the great Cyrus making Xerxes his grandson.
According to Herodotus Atossa would have used her influence to get her son on the throne. [Herodotus book 7 section-3]. Xerxes stated superior claim to the throne for the same reasons. Spartan King Demaratus who was exiled from Sparta and in the Persian court at the time, suggested that they use the Spartan custom to elect a king. That is that the son who is born first while the king sits on the throne will be the heir no matter how many sons there were before the king became king [Herodotus book 7 section-3].
This made Xerxes the rightful heir how ever he describes his accession himself on limestone foundation block at Persepolis “… My Father was Darius; Darius” father was Hystaspes by name; Hystaspes” father was Arsames by name… saith Xerxes the King: Other sons of Darius there were, (but)- thus unto Ahura-Mazda was the desire- Darius my father made me the greatest after himself. When my father Darius went away from the throne, by will of Ahura-Mazda I became king on my fathers throne. ” So to help legitimise his claim to the throne, Xerxes uses Ahura-Mazda.
In another inscription he supports himself by saying ” … I am Xerxes, the great king, king of king, king of lands containing many men, king in this great earth far and wide, son of Darius the king, an Achaemid, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan seed. ” Here he emphasises that he an Achaemenid to add weight on his claim to the throne. According to A. T. Olmstead, Xerxes gained administrative experience by living in the royal Babylonian palace and being able to rule Babylon. Though there is not enough evidence to support this.
Some historians say that Darius and Xerxes shared co-regency, but there is not enough evidence to support this either. The evidence we do have on his background and early life before he became king is that his father was a believer in the god Ahura – Mazda and therefore a follower of Zoastrianism. We know that Xerxes carried this on. As far as we know the only real education according to Herodotus that Persian boys were taught was to… ” Ride, to use the bow, and to speak the truth” [Herodotus book 1 pg. 137].
The most important and significant things in Xerxes life that contributed to his assent was being the grandson of the greatest king Persia had seen and his mother being that kings daughter and able to use her influence. Xerxes became the king of the Persian Empire in 485BC. In his 25 years of reign he achieved many things. He was certainly not a lazy ruler and her proved this in the early years of his reign with the swift crushing of the Babylonian and Egyptian revolts. Even as a new king he portrayed traits of a strong and strict monarch. “He sent an army against the Egyptian rebels and decisively crushed them. [Herodotus book 7 section-7].
The most famous expedition Xerxes was conducted as his attempt to invade Greece. This is seen to most people as a failure as the Greeks defeated him. Though it can also be looked upon as an achievement because although he failed to encompass the entire country into his empire he still managed to destroy Athens, which was one of his main priorities in the first place. ” I will not rest until I have taken Athens and burnt it to the ground, in revenge for the injury in which the Athenians without provocation did to me and my Father” [Herodotus book 7 section-8-b].
So his destruction of Athens can be looked upon as an achievement. Xerxes was by no means a poor military conductor as he shows good management and organisational skills in the way he amasses and upholds his army. He had clever and careful planning when it came to invading and according to Cameron and Lawless, Xerxes extended his empire into Thrace and Macedonia as well as adding territory from distant eastern provinces [page 99]. His achievements don”t just focus on warlike activities.
His building programs at Persepolis and some closer to home show that his ambitions did not just consist of taking land. He thought expanding his empire was important but so to was internal development. ” King Darius my father built and ordered to be built much good construction. By the favour of Ahura – mazda I added to that construction and built further (buildings). ” [Cameron and Lawless, pg 181]. Xerxes began building almost straight after he ascended the throne, but the majority of his constructions were done in the last three years of his reign.
Some of the buildings consist of the Apadana, which was an audience hall in the Persian royal palace. It was started by Darius and finished by Xerxes. ‘Harem” was Xerxes palace that he built for himself; The ‘Central Building” was another construction ordered by Xerxes; ‘Throne Hall” or other wise known as ‘The Hall of 100 Columns”, was believed to have been started by Xerxes and finished by Artaxerxes; ‘Palace H” was another incomplete building believed to have been stared by Xerxes and incomplete inscriptions suggest that it may have been finished by Artaxerxes.
These are just a few examples of the achievements this man completed in his life. It is clear that he was a serious ruler who had many ambitions in his life. The love life of Xerxes is a complicated subject to find evidence on. Herodotus mentions him having only one wife named Amestris and the information on her is extremely little. Her father was probably Otanes who was a Persian nobleman and one of the seven conspirators who helped Darius become King. Further research uncovers the story of Esther and Queen Vashti.
There is more information on the story of Esther and Queen Vashti then there is on Amestris. The story of Esther and Vashti is also more probable to be mythology then real history, as a lot of the information doesn”t add up. Herodotus neither mentions Esther or Vashti in his histories and he is our main source to this period in time. The story of Esther is a book in the bible and is where the Jewish celebration of ‘Purim” comes from. According to the story of Esther, King Xerxes was banqueting with all his friend and he was boasting about how he had the finest of everything.
Then he called for his wife, Queen Vashti, and told her to walk around in front of his guests wearing nothing but her crown because he believed she was the most beautiful woman and he wanted to show everyone. Vashti was greatly insulted and refused so she was deposed. A beauty contest was held for Xerxes to select a new wife and he chose a young girl called Esther who he apparently fell instantly in love with. Esther”s real name was Hadassah but she changed it to hide her Jewish identity.
Then with the help of her influence on Xerxes and her cousin Mordecai she was ale to save the Jewish people from slaughter. This story his been questioned by many scholars and historians and is believed to be mythical. Though there isn”t much mentioned on Amestris, from the main story she takes part in we are able to piece together quite a picture of her. Amestris wove a wonderful shawl as a present for her husband Xerxes. He gave it to his brother”s daughter Artaynte with whom he had had an affair with.
When Amestris discovered this betrayal she was furious and immediately blamed Artaynte”s mother and had her brutally mutilated. Xerxes brother then beside himself plotted a rebellion against Xerxes and Xerxes had him killed. From this story we can already gather that Amestris was a jealous and not so nice woman who held quite a bit of power over Xerxes, As she wasn”t punished for what she did. There is another story of Amestris that leads us to believe she wasn”t that good a woman. A custom of Persia was burying people alive!
Amestris in her old age did it to fourteen Persian boys of distinguished families, by way of a present which she hoped the god of the under world would except instead of herself [Herodotus book 7 section-114]. In 465BC Xerxes was found murdered in his bedchambers. According to Cameron and Lawless, specific details on the death of Xerxes are unknown. It suggests that Artabanus, the commander of the palace guards murdered him with the help of Aspamitres, a court eunuch [pg. 100]. Therefore Xerxes ended his reign of the Persian Empire as a victim of palace conspiracy and was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes.