520–465 BC

Xerxes was the driving force of the second Persian invasion into Greece. It was the most ambitious military undertaking in the history of the world at the time, and it ended in utter disaster for Persia. Xerxes enormous armies were decisively beaten by Greek forces a fraction of their size. The event, which occurred only six years into his reign, devastated Xerxes, and although he reigned for fifteen more years, he did not undertake virtually any ambitious projects of reform or conquest during the rest of his life. Xerxes' character is described by Herodotus through a series of anecdotes which portray him as being capable of both generous magnanimity, and diabolical cruelty. He could be both meticulously cautious and thoughtlessly rash. He did not possess a firm enough constitution to prevent the crisis of the Persian war, or to handle the disaster when it occurred.

Xerxes was not the oldest son of Darius, but he was the eldest son of Atossa, a daughter of Cyrus the Great, and he was the first son born after Darius became king. These factors weighed in his favor, and he was declared king on the death of his father Darius. The two primary advisors of Xerxes were his uncle Artabanus, a cautious and conservative minister, and Mardonius, one of Darius's most trusted Generals. After putting down a revolt in Egypt, Xerxes had to decide whether or not to avenge Persia's loss at Marathon. In this case, Mardonius was in favor of taking action against Greece, and Artabanus was opposed. After much consideration, and a dream that directed him to conquer Greece, Xerxes began to make preparations. After two failed expeditions, he wanted to take no chances and made elaborate preparations, which included digging a canal through the Peninsula of Mount Athos, building an enormous bridge across the Hellespont, and laying up stores for the largest army ever the world had yet seen.

It was the spring of 490 B.C. when Xerxes set forth with his great army and fleet to cross the Hellespont. By this time, his uncle Artabanus had returned to Susa, but two other notable advisors traveled with him into Greece. These were Demaratus, an exiled Spartan King, and Artemisia, Queen of Halicarnassus, and a General in Xerxes Army. Both advised caution, in opposition to the advice Xerxes was receiving from Mardonius and his other ambitious Generals. The first altercation with the Greeks occurred at Thermopylae. This resulted in a victory for Persia, but at an enormous cost. Xerxes could not fail to be impressed with fanatical resistance of the Spartans, but at last he had prevailed. Within a few weeks, his army had over-run all of Attica, and his enormous fleet had the Greek fleet holed up on an island off the coast of Athens. With utter confidence, Xerxes prepared for a victorious naval battle off the coast of Salamis. By the end of the day however, Xerxes naval forces were in ruins, the Greeks had won an overwhelming victory, and Xerxes began to fear for his own safety. He was only too happy to take the advice of his generals to return immediately to Persia, and leave Mardonius in command of the land forces. A year later, Mardonius's army was crushed at the battle of Plataea. The defeat of Persia was complete.

Key events during the life of xerxes:

486 BC
Xerxes inherits the throne of Persia, on the death of Darius.
485 BC
Suppressed a revolt in Egypt.
483 BC
Xerxes begins preparations for invasion of Greece.
482 BC
Began construction of channel across the Peninsula of Mount Athos.
481 BC
Continued elaborate preparations.
480 BC
(Spring) Invasion of Greece. Early victories at Thermopylae, Artemisium, Athens.
480 BC
(Autumn) Xerxes returns to Persia after the disaster at Salamis.
479 BC
Persian army under Mardonius is defeated at Plataea.
465 BC
Xerxes is murdered by a palace guard.

Book Links
Xerxes  by  Jacob Abbott
Story of the Persian War  by  Alfred J. Church

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Three Hundred  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Wooden Walls  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
How Preparation Was Made for the Second War  in  The Story of the Persian War  by  Alfred J. Church
Of the Army and the Ships of Xerxes  in  The Story of the Persian War  by  Alfred J. Church
Great Army  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
How King Xerxes Marched against the Greeks  in  Greek Gods, Heroes, and Men  by  Caroline H. and Samuel B. Harding
Dream of Xerxes  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
Xerxes and His Army  in  Historical Tales: Greek  by  Charles Morris
The Greatest Army  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
King Ahasuerus  in  On the Shores of the Great Sea  by  M. B. Synge
Great Persian Invasion  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Xerxes of Persia tries to Conquer Greece  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

Proposed Improvement of Mount Athos
 in Alexander the Great

The Return of Xerxes to Persia
 in Xerxes

Crossing the Hellespont
 in The Story of the Greeks

Xerxes watching the Battle of Salamis, Zick
 in Famous Men of Greece

The Battle of Salamis
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Esther before Ahasuerus
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Xerxes Commands the Punishment of the Sea
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

Xerxes army.
 in On the Shores of the Great Sea

Short Biography
Artabanus Brother of Darius. Close advisor to Darius and Xerxes.
Mardonius Brother-in-law of Xerxes and commander-in-chief of Xerxes's Army.
Hydarnes Son of Hydarnes, satrap of Media. Leader of the Persian Immortals. Fought at Thermopylae.
Artemisia Queen of Halicarnassas and Cos. One of Xerxes most trusted advisors and Generals.
Demaratus Exiled King of Sparta, advisor to Xerxes during his invasion of Greece.
Leonidas Spartan King whose whole army died defending the pass of Thermopylae.
Themistocles Athenian hero of the Battle of Salamis. He masterminded Athenian naval supremacy.
Eurybiades Head of Spartan Fleet during the Persian War.
Pythius Satrap who magnificently hosted Xerxes and was repaid by having his eldest son slain.
Bulis and Sperthias Volunteered to sacrifice their lives to the Persian King to expiate the murder of Ambassadors.