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  3. The Story of Queen Esther – Fact or Fiction Part 12: Chapter 5
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  3. The Story of Queen Esther – Fact or Fiction Part 12: Chapter 5

The Story of Queen Esther – Fact or Fiction Part 12: Chapter 5

1 Esther, adventuring on the king’s favour, obtains the grace of the golden sceptre, and invites the king and Haman to a banquet. 6 She, being encouraged by the king in her suit, invites them to another banquet the next day. 9 Haman, proud of his advancement, mopes at the contempt of Mordecai. 14 By the counsel of Zeresh he builds for him a pair of gallows.

Esther 5:1  Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king’s palace, across from the king’s house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house. 

That is, the third day of the fast (ch. 4:16). Esther and her maidens, who may also have been Jews, had eaten nothing since some time on the first day, nothing throughout the second day, and nothing on the morning of the third day (see ch. 4:16).

While fasting, Esther had perhaps worn sackcloth and ashes, but these she now exchanged for the splendour of her royal attire. Leaving the women’s apartments of the palace area, Esther passed through the garden probably surrounding the royal hall, and entered the court, immediately in front of the open throne hall (see on ch. 1:5).

Taking up a position directly in front of the throne, but at a distance from it, with the object of attracting the king’s attention, Esther awaited his pleasure. She knew that at the hour of her coming he would be seated upon his throne and could not fail to see her.

Facing the entrance of the house. That is, opposite the entrance to the hall. The throne, which faced the main entrance, was on an elevated platform. Seated on his throne, the king would therefore command a view of the entrance and court beyond, through the middle avenue of columns (see on ch. 1:5).

Esther 5:2  So it was, when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, that she found favour in his sight, and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. Then Esther went near and touched the top of the scepter. 

Extension of the scepter indicated royal favour and acceptance. Touching the scepter signified acknowledgment of the favor thus displayed. By entering the inner court Esther had already violated the law (ch. 4:11; cf. ch. 6:4). Ahasuerus must have recognized that only a pressing emergency would have led Esther to approach the throne unsummoned.

Esther 5:3  And the king said to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you—up to half the kingdom!” 

The granting of requests before they had been expressed was a common gesture of good will practiced by Oriental monarchs. According to Herodotus, there was one day in the year on which the king was bound to grant any request made by a guest at his table. Esther’s coming made it evident that she had an urgent request to present.

Half of the kingdom. A further evidence of royal favor (see Mark 6:23).

Esther 5:4  So Esther answered, “If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him.” 

Such an invitation must have been somewhat unusual. Ordinarily the king and queen dined separately. But for the queen to invite another male guest in addition to the king was most unusual and seemed to the recipient of the invitation a high favor.

Ahasuerus probably remembered Vashti’s refusal to attend his banquet. The unusual nature of Esther’s invitation, together with the fact that it was presented in person, must have startled and intrigued the king. His royal curiosity was granted several hours in which to run riot and intensify itself.

Esther 5:5  Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, that he may do as Esther has said.” So the king and Haman went to the banquet that Esther had prepared. 

Esther 5:6  At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!” 

Ahasuerus understood, of course, that it was not for the mere pleasure of entertaining him and his prime minister at a banquet that Esther had risked her life by approaching his throne unsummoned.

Esther 5:7  Then Esther answered and said, “My petition and request is this: 

Esther 5:8  If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.” 

Esther gained much by delaying another day to state her request. Most of all, perhaps, Ahasuerus would doubtless be impressed that her appeal was not only a life-and-death matter to her personally—implied by her sudden appearance before him earlier that day—but that it was a deliberate, considerate appeal and not a momentary impulse.

Furthermore, delay would heighten the king’s curiosity (see on v. 4), and thus prepare him the more thoroughly for what would, under any circumstances, come as a great shock. And for Esther, the delay would mean time in which to pray and weigh carefully how she should present her appeal, time to seek composure before she should voice it. Though Esther knew it not yet, Providence ordained the delay, the better to prepare the mind of the king (ch. 6:1–11).

Haman Plans to Hang Mordecai

Esther 5:9  So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai. 

Condemned to death by Haman’s decree, Mordecai boldly defied the perpetrator of the crime. His presence in the king’s gate is evidence that he no longer wore sackcloth (ch. 4:2) as he had two days before. Without doubt he knew of Esther’s favourable acceptance by the king, and believed that her plan would be crowned with success.

Ester 5:10  Nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh.

Though passionately angry at Mordecai personally, Haman considered it beneath his dignity to notice him.

Esther 5:11  Then Haman told them of his great riches, the multitude of his children, everything in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and servants of the king. 

According to ch. 9:7–10, Haman had ten sons. To be the father of many sons was accounted highly honourable by the Persians as by other Orientals.

Esther 5:12  Moreover Haman said, “Besides, Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to the banquet that she prepared; and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king. 

Esther 5:13  Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” 

Haman had not learned the wisdom of setting pleasure against pain, joy against sorrow, satisfaction against annoyance. Nor had he taught himself to look upon the vexations and trials of life as blessings in disguise.

Despite his seeming self-control, and although he was the prime minister of the mighty Persian Empire, his nature was little better than that of a savage. Worldly greatness is little proof of either greatness or goodness of soul.

Esther 5:14  Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high, and in the morning suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet.” And the thing pleased Haman so he had the gallows made. 

Gallows. Literally, “tree.” Ordinarily, the Persians did not hang men, but executed them by impalement (see on ch. 2:23).

Fifty cubits high. 22.3 m. This recurs in ch. 7:9, where it is added that the gallows was erected at Haman’s house. Persian houses had an interior “patio,” or court, as is the custom with Spanish houses. The height of the gallows was probably for the purpose of making the execution of Mordecai visible throughout the city.

Haman’s friends assumed that the immediate execution of one Jew would be permitted at the request of the chief minister.

The height of the gallows was probably for the purpose of making the execution of Mordecai visible throughout the city.

Haman’s friends assumed that the immediate execution of one Jew would be permitted at the request of the chief minister.



1 Ahasuerus, reading in the chronicles of the good service done by Mordecai, takes care for his reward. 4 Haman, coming to sue that Mordecai might be hanged, unawares gives counsel that he might do him honour. 12 Complaining of his misfortune, his friends tell him of his final destiny.


1 Mordecai is advanced. 3 Esther maketh suit to reverse Haman’s letters. 7 Ahasuerus granteth to the Jews to defend themselves. 15 Mordecai’s honour, and the Jews’ joy.

1. The house of Haman. When a criminal was executed all his property was forfeited to the king, who disposed of it according to his pleasure. It pleased Ahasuerus to bestow upon Esther all the possessions of Haman, who seems to have been a man of vast wealth (see on ch. 3:9).

The Jews’ enemy. As Haman is characterized hereafter (see ch. 9:10, 24).

Came before the king. Mordecai was appointed to the position that had been Haman’s. He was made grand vizier, or prime minister—a high official who ministered to the king personally and was in constant attendance upon him.

Esther had told. Apparently she had not done so before the emergency arose. There was no need of further concealment now that Mordecai had been recognized as a “king’s benefactor” (see chs. 2:21–23; 6:3–11), and since Esther had been compelled to confess herself a Jewess in order to save her people.

2. Took off his ring. The ring had, of course, been taken from Haman and returned to Ahasuerus. This ring was a symbol of royal authority, and bore upon it the royal seal (see on ch. 3:10).

Set Mordecai. The possessions of Haman had been forfeited to the crown and assigned to the custody of Esther (see on v. 1). She was not at liberty to give away what she had received in trust from the king and held by virtue of her position as queen. Thus Esther did not make Mordecai a gift of the house but set him over it. For all practical purposes this was equivalent to a gift. He was thus provided with a residence suitable to his new dignity as prime minister.

3. Fell down at his feet. A gesture of complete submission, not worship, common in Oriental lands (see on ch. 3:2–5).

Besought him with tears. Esther’s approach was still that of emotion; she appealed to the king on the basis of his regard for her personally.

Put away the mischief. Or, “make void the evil plot.”

Though Mordecai was in possession of the royal signet, he would not dare to use it to give authority to a new decree that would countermand one already issued by the king personally.

4. Held out the golden sceptre. The king probably extended his scepter on this occasion not only as a token of favor toward Esther and of willingness to give her an audience but also as an indication of willingness to do as Esther desired and thereby undo the evil effected by the decree of Haman.

5. If it please the king. In her petition Esther unites an appeal to the king’s sense of right and justice with an even more effective appeal to his regard for her personally. He would not refuse her request.

Reverse. Or, “revoke.”

6. How can I endure? Esther still bases her appeal on personal considerations, thus evincing regard for the bond that linked her interests with those of her people.

7. The king Ahasuerus said. Ahasuerus proposes a solution, after first reminding Esther and Mordecai of evidence of his favorable attitude toward the Jews.

8. Write ye also. That is, in addition to and to supersede the one written by Haman (see ch. 3:12).

For the Jews. More exactly, “concerning the Jews.” The new decree was to be addressed to the Jews rather than to the Persians, as was that of Haman.

As it liketh you. Or, “as you like it.”

9. The king’s scribes. In deference to the Persian legal custom by which a royal edict was unalterable, Mordecai successfully devised a means of counteracting the effects of Haman’s decree without actually revoking it. The resulting decree was published in every language, copies being made by the royal stenographers (see ch. 3:12).

The third month. It is not certain whether this was in the 12th or the 13th year of Ahasuerus (p. 460; see on ch. 3:7, cf. v. 12). In the former case, the date would be June 25, 474 b.c.; in the latter, July 12, 473 b.c. In either case, it was 2 months and 10 days after the proclamation of Haman’s decree, and 8 months and 19 or 20 days before it was to become effective.

This, the longest verse in the Bible, contains 43 Hebrew words, or 192 letters.

10. Wrote in the king Ahasuerus’ name. Compare ch. 3:12–15.

Mules, camels, and young dromedaries. The Hebrew thus translated is obscure and its intent uncertain. The writers of the Talmud confess ignorance as to the meaning, and the LXX makes no attempt at translation. In each instance of its use in the OT the word here translated “mules” denotes royal “steeds,” probably horses of a superior breed. In Micah 1:13, the Hebrew referring to chariot horses is translated “swift beast,” and in 1 Kings 4:28, “dromedaries.” The word translated “camels” appears only here (in Esther 8:10) and in v. 14, and is not the usual word for “camels.” It is, rather, a Persian loan word, the plural form of an adjective meaning “royal,” and stands here in apposition to “mules.” Together, these words probably mean “royal steeds.” The word translated “dromedaries” is also of uncertain meaning. According to some it may mean “royal stud” or perhaps “thoroughbred.” The RSV rendering of the latter part of v. 10 approximates the sense of the original words according to the suggestions here made: “mounted couriers riding on swift horses that were used in the king’s service, bred from the royal stud.”

11. Together. Cooperative effort on the part of the Jews would make of them a formidable force. The Jews have sometimes been spoken of as aggressors on the 13th of Adar, but of this there is no evidence. The edict clearly allowed them to stand only on the defensive.

To destroy. Compare the words of Haman’s decree (ch. 3:13). Mordecai’s decree granted equal rights to the Jews by according them every opportunity to protect themselves.

The spoil. That is, the property. The former edict had given the same permission to the Jews’ enemies (ch. 3:13).

13. The copy. Verse 13 is practically identical with ch. 3:14, which speaks concerning Haman’s decree.

14. Mules and camels. See on v. 10. This verse repeats ch. 3:15, with a slight addition. The posts bearing Mordecai’s decree were to be “pressed on” with greater urgency than those bearing Haman’s decree, perhaps in the fear that, in some instances, enemies of the Jews might take advantage of the provisions of Haman’s decree in advance of the time designated for their execution.

15. Royal apparel. The Persian monarch is said to have worn a purple robe and an inner vest of purple spots. Usually the robes of honor that he gave away were of other colors but of a single tint throughout. The one given to Mordecai seems to have been like that of the king.

A garment. Probably “a mantle” (RSV). There is some question as to what is meant by the term here translated “garment.” Some of the best authorities think that reference is made to a long, flowing outer garment.

Shushan rejoiced. That is, in contrast to the perplexity occasioned by the first edict (see ch. 3:15). This may infer that the Persians, in general, sympathized with the Jews. Perhaps, too, other national minorities also disliked the first edict, which set a precedent that might mean their own ruin at a future time.

17. Became Jews. That is, they applied for and were granted the full status of Jewish proselytes. Compare the attitude of some of the Egyptians toward the Hebrews at the time that they left Egypt (see Ex. 12:38).


10–17 PK 602


1 The Jews (the rulers, for fear of Mordecai, helping them) slay their enemies, with the ten sons of Haman. 12 Ahasuerus, at the request of Esther, granteth another day of slaughter, and Haman’s sons to be hanged. 20 The two days of Purim are made festival.

1. Power. Or, “mastery,” as in Dan. 6:24.

2. Gathered. In harmony with the first provision of the edict.

In their cities. That is, wherever there were Jews.

Sought their hurt. The defensive character of the action of the Jews is emphasized. It was only against those who were known to be their enemies that they lifted so much as a finger.

3. Rulers. Or, “princes.” The “lieutenants” were the satraps (see on ch. 3:12), each in charge of several provinces. The “deputies” were provincial “governors.”

Officers of the king. Literally, as in the margin, “those which did the business that belonged to the king.”

Helped the Jews. That is, “supported” or “upheld” the Jews, by means of moral support and perhaps armed force as well.

Fell upon them. Better, “had fallen on them.” Mordecai’s position had become known.

6. In Shushan the palace. This may refer either to the upper city, where the palace was situated, or to the vicinity of the palace, if not within its precincts. The palace hill covers more than 100 acres, of which the palace occupied nearly 20 acres (8.1 hectares). On this hill are the remains of residences as well as of the palace itself. The area was probably densely populated.

10. The ten sons of Haman. It is interesting to note that the names of Haman’s ten sons are Persian.

The spoil. The Jews sought to make it clear that they were not motivated by a desire for acquiring the spoil of their enemies.

11. The number of those. In ancient wars it was customary for the number of the slain to be carefully recorded. It would seem that on this occasion only a rough calculation was made; still, the king took care to be informed on the matter.

12. What have they done? Not a question, but an exclamation, as if the king had said: “What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces!” How many must have been slain elsewhere if 500 were slain in Shushan alone.

13. Let it be granted. Why Esther asks for another day of slaughter is not clear. Nevertheless, she is not likely to have made this request without first consulting Mordecai, who certainly had means of knowing how matters stood. As chief minister over the whole nation, Mordecai probably knew that many foes of his people were still alive, and feared they might secure revenge. There is nothing to suggest that he was actuated by a blind spirit of revenge.

15. For the Jews. Rather, “So the Jews.”

16. Stood for their lives. As provided in the edict (see ch. 8:11).

Had rest. That is, victory over their enemies. The Jews could now rest from their defensive efforts, without fear of reprisal.

Seventy and five thousand. The LXX has 15,000. The Hebrew may perhaps be translated “1,075.” The smaller number is the more probable. See pp. 122, 123.

19. The Jews of the villages. This verse might better read, in part, “the Jews of the country, who dwelt in the country towns.”

20. Mordecai wrote. It would seem that Mordecai first wrote to the provincial Jews, suggesting to them the future observance of two days of Purim instead of one, a custom they had first followed. He explained the reason for the suggestion of two days, without at first issuing a specific order. Finding his proposal well received (vs. 23–27), he sent a second letter with “all authority” (literally, “all strength”), enjoining the observance of the two days (v. 29).

22. From sorrow to joy. This was the keynote of the days of Purim, the dominating idea, to which all else was secondary and subordinate—sorrow turned into joy. This spirit still marks the celebration of Purim.

26. Purim. The Jews took the Persian word pur, “lot,” and gave it a Hebrew plural. They may have chosen to use the plural form of the word because Haman cast lots repeatedly (ch. 3:7), or because the Jews celebrate the festival on two successive days.

They had seen. Mordecai’s arguments have been confirmed by their own personal experience, by the recollection of what “had come unto them.”

28. These days of Purim. The universal adoption of the Purim festival by the Jewish nation is a curious fact. Joiakim, the high priest at that time, must have given his approval to the feast from the first and incorporated it into the ecclesiastical calendar of the nation, or it would scarcely have become universal. It must have been by ecclesiastical, not by civil, command that the festival became obligatory. The Jews of the time resolved that the observance should be perpetual. Even today the feast is celebrated by Jews everywhere.

29. With all authority. Literally, “with all strength.”

This second letter. The first letter was the one mentioned in vs. 20–26. A second letter is now issued, “confirming” the observance. It went forth not as an edict, or in the king’s name, but as a letter in the names of Esther and Mordecai.

30. He sent the letters. Literally, “he sent letters,” or possibly, “letters were sent.” These were informal letters containing greetings “of peace and truth” (v. 30) and of fastings and lamentations (see v. 31).

32. The decree of Esther. Preferably, “a commandment of Esther.” Some further document, something in addition to the joint letter of Esther and Mordecai, seems intended.

The book. Possibly the canonical book of Esther.


1, 2, 16 PK 602


1 Ahasuerus’s greatness. 3 Mordecai’s advancement.

1. A tribute upon the land. Darius Hystaspes had been the first Persian monarch to levy universal taxes; but Xerxes (Ahasuerus) distinguished himself as a great raiser of tribute (see Dan. 11:2). The tribute would have to be adjusted from time to time, and Xerxes would be in dire need to raise taxes after his return from the disastrous campaign against Greece.

The isles. Or, “the coastlands,” in this case the maritime provinces bordering on the Mediterranean and the Aegean. These were occupied for a considerable time by Persian garrisons, even after the debacle in Greece, and would be included in any assessments Xerxes made. He may have continued to levy an assessment on the Aegean Islands, even though unable actually to collect it.

2. Kings of Media and Persia. It is striking that the author of the book of Esther recognizes the intimate connection between the two Iranian empires. One book, he observes, contains the records of both. Here Media is placed before Persia, on chronological grounds, because Median history antedated Persian history and was therefore accorded greater emphasis in the early part of “the book of the chronicles.”

3. Next unto king Ahasuerus. As grand vizier, or prime minister.

Accepted. Or, “popular with” (RSV).

The wealth. That is, “the welfare” of the Jews.

His seed. Here, probably, all Jews.


3 PK 602

practice that occur in the book. The picture of God as creator and sustainer fits well with the creation narrative preserved in another book written by Moses (see Ed 159).

Some scholars object to Mosaic authorship on the grounds of dissimilarity of style betwee

Nichol, F. D. (1978; 2002). The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 3 (454). Review and Heral

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Xerxes I

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Xerxes I


•             King of Kings

•             Great King

•             King of Persia

•             King of Babylon

•             Pharaoh of Egypt

•             King of Countries

Rock relief of an Achaemenid king, most likely Xerxes I, located in the National Museum of Iran[1]

King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire

Reign     October 486 – August 465 BC

Predecessor       Darius the Great

Successor            Artaxerxes I

Born      c. 518 BC

Died       August 465 BC (aged approximately 53)

Burial     Naqsh-e Rostam

Spouse Amestris

Issue     •             Darius

•             Hystaspes

•             Artaxerxes I

•             Arsames

•             Amytis



Father   Darius the Great

Mother Atossa

Religion Indo-Iranian religion

(possibly Zoroastrianism)

Xerxes (Xašayaruša/Ḫašayaruša)[2]

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Xerxes I (Old Persian: 𐎧𐏁𐎹𐎠𐎼𐏁𐎠 Xšayār̥šā; Greek: Ξέρξης; c. 518 – August 465 BC), 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[3][4] 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.[5] Xerxes also oversaw the completion of various construction projects at Susa and Persepolis.

Xerxes is identified with the king Ahasuerus in the biblical Book of Esther,[6] which some scholars, including Eduard Schwartz, William Rainey Harper, and Michael V. Fox, consider to be historical romance.[7][8] There is nothing close to a consensus, however, as to what historical event provided the basis for the story.[9][10][11][12]


•             1Etymology

•             2Historiography

•             3Early life

o             3.1Parentage and birth

o             3.2Upbringing and education

o             3.3Accession to the throne

•             4Consolidation of power

•             5Campaigns

o             5.1Invasion of the Greek mainland

o             5.2Battle of Thermopylae and destruction of Athens

o             5.3Battles of Salamis and Plataea

•             6Construction projects

•             7Death and Succession

•             8Government

o             8.1Religion

•             9Wives and children

•             10Cultural depictions

•             11See also

•             12References

•             13Bibliography

o             13.1Ancient sources

o             13.2Modern sources

•             14External links


Xérxēs (Ξέρξης) is the Greek and Latin (Xerxes, Xerses) transliteration of the Old Iranian Xšaya-ṛšā (“ruling over heroes”), which can be seen by the first part xšaya, meaning “ruling”, and the second ṛšā, meaning “hero, man”.[13] The name of Xerxes was known in Akkadian as Ḫi-ši-ʾ-ar-šá and in Aramaic as ḥšyʾrš.[14] Xerxes would become a popular name among the rulers of the Achaemenid Empire.[13]


Much of Xerxes’ bad reputation is due to propaganda by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC), who had him vilified.[15] The modern historian Richard Stoneman regards the portrayal of Xerxes as more nuanced and tragic in the work of the contemporary Greek historian Herodotus.[15] However, many modern historians agree that Herodotus recorded spurious information.[16][17] Pierre Briant has accused him of presenting a stereotyped and biased portrayal of the Persians.[18] 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.[19]

Early life[edit]

Parentage and birth[edit]

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.[20][21] Xerxes’ mother was Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus.[22] Darius and Atossa had married in 522 BC,[23] with Xerxes being born around 518 BC.[24]

Upbringing and education[edit]

The “Caylus vase”, a quadrilingual alabaster jar with cuneiform and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the name of “Xerxes, the Great King”. Cabinet des Médailles, Paris[25]

According to the Greek dialogue First Alcibiades, which describes typical upbringing and education of Persian princes; they were raised by eunuchs. When reaching the age of 7, they learned how to ride and hunt; at age 14, they were taught by four teachers of aristocratic stock, who taught them how to be “wise, just, prudent and brave”.[26] Persian princes were also taught on the basics of the Zoroastrian religion, to be truthful, have self-restraint, and to be courageous.[26] The dialogue further added that “Fear, for a Persian, is the equivalent of slavery.”[26] At the age of 16 or 17, they began their “national service” for 10 years, which included practicing archery and javelin, competing for prizes, and hunting.[27] Afterwards they served in the military for around 25 years, and were then elevated to the status of elders and advisers of the king. Families[27] in this time, including Xerxes’, would intermarry.

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.[27] Stoneman suggests that this was the type of upbringing and education that Xerxes experienced.[28] It is unknown if Xerxes ever learned to read or write, with the Persians favoring oral history over written literature.[28] 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.[28] Starting from 498 BC, Xerxes resided in the royal palace of Babylon.[29]

Accession to the throne[edit]

Relief of Xerxes at Doorway of his Palace, Persepolis, Iran

While Darius was preparing for another war against Greece, a revolt was 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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Xerxes was crowned and succeeded his father in October–December 486 BC[34] when he was about 32 years old.[35] The transition of power to Xerxes was smooth due again in part to the great authority of Atossa[36] and his accession of royal power was not challenged by any person at court or in the Achaemenian family, or any subject nation.[37]

Consolidation of power[edit]

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).[38] 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.[39][29] The suppression of the Egyptian revolt expended the army, which had been mobilized by Darius over the previous three years.[38] Xerxes thus had to raise another army for his expedition into Greece, which took four years.[38] 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.[40]

Two years later, Babylon produced another rebel leader, Shamash-eriba. Beginning in the summer of 482 BC, Shamash-eriba seized Babylon itself and other nearby cities, such as Borsippa and Dilbat, and was only defeated in March 481 BC after a lengthy siege of Babylon.[40] The precise cause of the unrest in Babylon is uncertain.[38] It may have been due to tax increase.[41] Prior to these revolts, Babylon had occupied a special position within the Achaemenid Empire, the Achaemenid kings had been titled as “King of Babylon” and “King of the Lands”, perceiving Babylonia as a somewhat separate entity within their empire, united with their own kingdom in a personal union. Xerxes dropped “King of Babylon” from his titulature and divided the previously large Babylonian satrapy (accounting for most of the Neo-Babylonian Empire’s territory) into smaller sub-units.[42]

Using texts written by classical authors, it is often assumed that Xerxes enacted a brutal vengeance on Babylon following the two revolts. According to ancient writers, Xerxes destroyed Babylon’s fortifications and damaged the temples in the city.[40] The Esagila was allegedly exposed to great damage and Xerxes allegedly carried the statue of Marduk away from the city,[43] possibly bringing it to Iran and melting it down (classical authors held that the statue was entirely made of gold, which would have made melting it down possible).[40] Modern historian Amélie Kuhrt considers it unlikely that Xerxes destroyed the temples, but believes that the story of him doing so may derive from an anti-Persian sentiment among the Babylonians.[44] It is doubtful if the statue was removed from Babylon at all[40] and some have even suggested that Xerxes did remove a statue from the city, but that this was the golden statue of a man rather than the statue of the god Marduk.[45][46] Though mentions of it are lacking considerably compared to earlier periods, contemporary documents suggest that the Babylonian New Year’s Festival continued in some form during the Achaemenid period.[47] Because the change in rulership from the Babylonians themselves to the Persians and due to the replacement of the city’s elite families by Xerxes following its revolt, it is possible that the festival’s traditional rituals and events had changed considerably.[48]


Invasion of the Greek mainland[edit]

Main article: Second Persian invasion of Greece

The soldiers of Xerxes I, of all ethnicities,[49] on the tomb of Xerxes I, at Naqsh-e Rostam[50][51]

Darius died while in the process of preparing a second army to invade the Greek mainland, leaving to his son the task of punishing the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their interference in the Ionian Revolt, the burning of Sardis, and their victory over the Persians at Marathon. From 483 BC, Xerxes prepared his expedition: The Xerxes Canal was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos, provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace, and two pontoon bridges later known as Xerxes’ Pontoon Bridges were built across the Hellespont. Soldiers of many nationalities served in the armies of Xerxes from all over his multi-ethnic massive Eurasian-sized empire and beyond, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews,[52] Macedonians, European Thracians, Paeonians, Achaean Greeks, Ionians, Aegean islanders, Aeolians, Greeks from Pontus, Colchians, Indians and many more.

According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes’s first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus cables of the bridges. In retaliation, Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times, and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes’s second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful.[53] The Carthaginian invasion of Sicily deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum; ancient sources assume Xerxes was responsible, modern scholarship is skeptical.[54] Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially Thessaly, Thebes and Argos. Xerxes was victorious during the initial battles.

Xerxes set out in the spring of 480 BC from Sardis with a fleet and army which Herodotus estimated was roughly one million strong along with 10,000 elite warriors named the Immortals. More recent estimates place the Persian force at around 60,000 combatants.[55]

Battle of Thermopylae and destruction of Athens[edit]

Achaemenid king killing a Greek hoplite. Impression from a cylinder seal, sculpted c. 500 BC – 475 BC, at the time of Xerxes I Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the Battle of Thermopylae, a small force of Greek warriors led by King Leonidas of Sparta resisted the much larger Persian forces, but were ultimately defeated. According to Herodotus, the Persians broke the Spartan phalanx after a Greek man called Ephialtes betrayed his country by telling the Persians of another pass around the mountains. At Artemisium, large storms had destroyed ships from the Greek side and so the battle stopped prematurely as the Greeks received news of the defeat at Thermopylae and retreated.

Foundations of the Old Temple of Athena, destroyed by the armies of Xerxes I during the Destruction of Athens in 480 BC

After Thermopylae, Athens was captured. Most of the Athenians had abandoned the city and fled to the island of Salamis before Xerxes arrived. A small group attempted to defend the Athenian Acropolis, but they were defeated. Xerxes ordered the Destruction of Athens and burnt the city, leaving an archaeologically attested destruction layer, known as the Perserschutt.[56] The Persians thus gained control of all of mainland Greece to the north of the Isthmus of Corinth.[4]

Battles of Salamis and Plataea[edit]

Xerxes was induced, by the message of Themistocles (against the advice of Artemisia of Halicarnassus), to attack the Greek fleet under unfavourable conditions, rather than sending a part of his ships to the Peloponnesus and awaiting the dissolution of the Greek armies. The Battle of Salamis (September, 480 BC) was won by the Greek fleet, after which Xerxes set up a winter camp in Thessaly.

According to Herodotus, fearing that the Greeks might attack the bridges across the Hellespont and trap his army in Europe, Xerxes decided to retreat back to Asia, taking the greater part of the army with him.[57] Another cause of the retreat might have been that the continued unrest in Babylon, a key province of the empire, required the king’s personal attention.[58] He left behind a contingent in Greece to finish the campaign under Mardonius, who according to Herodotus had suggested the retreat in the first place. This force was defeated the following year at Plataea by the combined forces of the Greek city states, ending the Persian offensive on Greece for good.

Construction projects[edit]

The rock-cut tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam north of Persepolis, copying that of Darius, is usually assumed to be that of Xerxes

After the military blunders in Greece, Xerxes returned to Persia and oversaw the completion of the many construction projects left unfinished by his father at Susa and Persepolis. He oversaw the building of the Gate of All Nations and the Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis, which are the largest and most imposing structures of the palace. He oversaw the completion of the Apadana, the Tachara (Palace of Darius) and the Treasury, all started by Darius, as well as having his own palace built which was twice the size of his father’s. His taste in architecture was similar to that of Darius, though on an even more gigantic scale.[59] He had colorful enameled brick laid on the exterior face of the Apadana.[60] He also maintained the Royal Road built by his father and completed the Susa Gate and built a palace in Susa.[61]

Death and Succession[edit]

This cuneiform text mentions the murder of Xerxes I by his son. From Babylon, Iraq. British Museum

In August 465 BC, Artabanus, the commander of the royal bodyguard and the most powerful official in the Persian court, assassinated Xerxes with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. Although Artabanus bore the same name as the famed uncle of Xerxes, a Hyrcanian, his rise to prominence was due to his popularity in religious quarters of the court and harem intrigues. He put his seven sons in key positions and had a plan to dethrone the Achaemenids.[62]

Greek historians give contradicting accounts of events. According to Ctesias (in Persica 20), Artabanus then accused the Crown Prince Darius, Xerxes’s eldest son, of the murder and persuaded another of Xerxes’s sons, Artaxerxes, to avenge the patricide by killing Darius. But according to Aristotle (in Politics 5.1311b), Artabanus killed Darius first and then killed Xerxes. After Artaxerxes discovered the murder, he killed Artabanus and his sons.[63] Participating in these intrigues was the general Megabyzus, whose decision to switch sides probably saved the Achaemenids from losing their control of the Persian throne.[64]



While there is no general consensus in scholarship whether Xerxes and his predecessors had been influenced by Zoroastrianism,[65] it is well established that Xerxes was a firm believer in Ahura Mazda, whom he saw as the supreme deity.[65] However, Ahura Mazda was also worshipped by adherents of the (Indo-)Iranian religious tradition.[65][66] On his treatment of other religions, Xerxes followed the same policy as his predecessors; he appealed to local religious scholars, made sacrifices to local deities, and destroyed temples in cities and countries that caused disorder.[67]

Updated on 2nd Dec 2022

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