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History Makers: Xerxes

e son of Darius I had big boots to fill upon his father’s death – ones that, according to the Greeks at least, slipped from Xerxes’ feet for the duration of his reign. Alice Barnes-Brown tells his story
OLD FOOL? Although best remembered for ordering the sea to be whipped, there was more to this Perian king than his enemies would have us believe

The Persian ‘King of Kings’, Xerxes I, looked out across the Saronic Gulf. Seated on his throne atop the imposing Mount Aigaleo, a wonderful vantage point just outside Athens, he watched his mighty naval fleet do battle with the Greeks at the Battle of Salamis. What he saw, however, would disappoint him and send him (and many of his men) packing for good. His arrogance would prove to be his downfall, not only in Greece, but within the whole Persian Empire.


Xerxes, perhaps, had reason to be arrogant. He was born circa 519 BC to King Darius I of the powerful Achaemenid dynasty, who had ruled the Persian Empire at its greatest extent – stretching from Pakistan to northern Greece. Furthermore, his mother was Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great – the empire’s founder. Xerxes’ early life was, therefore, one of luxury and vanity, having been worshipped by his staff and accustomed to getting his own way.

Darius died in 486 BC, just before his second invasion of Greece. Over a decade earlier, the Persian-occupied areas of this neighbouring civilisation had grown tired of their tyrannical puppet government, and instigated what became known as the Ionian Revolt. A first attempt to quash the Greeks had failed, but Darius was willing to try again. Persian tradition dictated that, in case anything happened to him on campaign, he would have to choose a successor first. Darius chose Xerxes, in spite of the fact he was not the eldest son. Naturally, this enraged Xerxes’ older half-brother, Artobazanes, marking the start of a tricky power struggle.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

"With the release of Victoria and Abdul, starring Judi Dench, we uncover the story behind Queen Victoria's love affair with India. From the dawn of the British Empire to Indian Independence, follow the Crown's tumultuous rule of the subcontinent. Also inside, get a blow-by-blow of the first mass tank battle of World War I, and find out how these machines have developed over the last 100 years. You can also meet the real Prince of Persia, Xerxes, and find out what happened after his infamous fight against 300 Spartans."