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Xerxes

Updated on November 1, 2009

Xerxes (circa 519-465 BC), King of Persia from 486 BC to 465 BC, son of Darius Hystaspes and Atossa, grandson of Cyrus II the Great. He continued the efforts of Darius I to conquer Greece in the Persian Wars.

Prior to his accession he was viceroy at Babylon for 12 years. After ascending the throne he suppressed revolts in Egypt and Babylon. He then set out against Greece at the head of a vast army, which he led across the Hellespont on a bridge of boats (480). Xerxes prepared for his invasion by bridging the Hellespont with boats and by digging a canal through the isthmus of Mt Athos. In 480 he swiftly advanced through Macedonia and Thrace, overcoming Leonidas and his small band of Spartans at Thermopylae.

He then marched through Phocis and Boeotia and at length reached Athens, while his fleet arrived in the Bay of Phalerum. He destroyed Athens however, a Greek fleet led by Themistocles destroyed the Persian navy at Salamis. Xerxes then withdrew, and the forces he left behind were finally defeated at Plataea and Mycale.

He left Mardonius with a large army to complete the subjugation of Greece and, with the rest of his force, returned home, entering Sardisat the end of the year.

In 479 Mardonius was defeated at Plataea and the Persian navy at Mycale in Ionia. After this the Greeks embarked on a successful policy of 'liberating' the Greek city-states of the Asia Minor coast, and by 466 BC Xerxes had lost control of this area. From then onwards Xerxes was mainly occupied by palace politics; he was eventually murdered by the captain of his bodyguard, Artabanus.

Xerxes having the sea whipped for causing him an inconvenience.
Xerxes having the sea whipped for causing him an inconvenience.

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