Brill's Companion to Herodotus

By Egbert J. Bakker; Irene J. F. De Jong et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
THE PERSONALITY OF XERXES, KING OF KINGS*
Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg

To Louis Vanden Berghe, with warm gratitude

A first glance at the current manuals on Persian history would suggest that we are well acquainted with the personality of Xerxes, king of the Achaemenid empire from his accession in 486 till his murder in 465. Born the son of Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great, during the kingship of his father Darius he was raised mostly in the harem (Plato Leges 694D). His father nominated him as his successor (XPf 30–32, Hdt. 7.1–2) either for dynastic reasons or because of the influence of his mother at court. Soon after his accession to the throne he had to cope with rebellions in Egypt and Babylonia. The Babylonian revolt in particular was the prelude to a new policy towards subject populations: Xerxes did not attempt to continue the well-known Achaemenid policy of respecting national and religious feelings reflected in titles such as 'king of Babylon, king of lands,' but henceforth called himself merely 'king of lands,' thus showing overt disregard for Babylonian national pride most clearly demonstrated by the removal of the cult-statue of Marduk from its sanctuary (Hdt. 1.183). A few years later he ventured on an expedition against Greece at the head of an enormous army that was brought together after three years of preparations.

Notwithstanding the huge expedition-force and a few initial successes, Xerxes' fleet was defeated at Salamis and the king departed hastily from Greek soil, leaving behind his general Mardonius and a number of picked troops. Mardonius did not fare better than his master and in 479 the remainder of the Persian army was destroyed at Plataea. Back in his own territory Xerxes apparently gave up

____________________
*
This chapter was originally published in L. de Meyer and E. Haerinck (eds.) Archaeologia Iranica et Orientalis Miscellanea in Honorem Louis Vanden Berghe Peeters, Gent, 1989, 549–560.

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