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Behistun Inscription Xerxes I

Behistun Inscription

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UNESCO World Heritage Site
Behistun inscription reliefs.jpg
Punishment of captured impostors and conspirators: Gaumāta lies under the boot of Darius the Great. The last person in line, wearing a traditional Scythian hat and costume, is identified as Skunkha. His image was added after the inscription was completed, requiring some of the text to be removed.
LocationMount BehistunKermanshah Province, Iran
CriteriaCultural: ii, iii
Inscription2006 (30th Session)
Area187 ha
Buffer zone361 ha
Coordinates34°23′26″N 47°26′9″ECoordinates34°23′26″N 47°26′9″E
Behistun Inscription is located in West and Central Asia
Behistun Inscription
Location of Behistun Inscription in West and Central Asia
Show map of West and Central AsiaShow map of IranShow all

The Behistun Inscription (also BisotunBistun or BisutunPersianبیستون‎, Old PersianBagastana, meaning "the place of god") is a multilingual inscription and large rock relief on a cliff at Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran, near the city of Kermanshah in western Iran, established by Darius the Great (r. 522–486 BC). It was crucial to the decipherment of cuneiform script as the inscription includes three versions of the same text, written in three different cuneiform script languages: Old PersianElamite, and Babylonian (a variety of Akkadian). The inscription is to cuneiform what the Rosetta Stone is to Egyptian hieroglyphs: the document most crucial in the decipherment of a previously lost script.

Authored by Darius the Great sometime between his coronation as king of the Persian Empire in the summer of 522 BC and his death in autumn of 486 BC, the inscription begins with a brief autobiography of Darius, including his ancestry and lineage. Later in the inscription, Darius provides a lengthy sequence of events following the deaths of Cyrus the Great and Cambyses II in which he fought nineteen battles in a period of one year (ending in December 521 BC) to put down multiple rebellions throughout the Persian Empire. The inscription states in detail that the rebellions, which had resulted from the deaths of Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses II, were orchestrated by several impostors and their co-conspirators in various cities throughout the empire, each of whom falsely proclaimed kinghood during the upheaval following Cyrus's death.

Darius the Great proclaimed himself victorious in all battles during the period of upheaval, attributing his success to the "grace of Ahura Mazda".

The inscription is approximately 15 m (49 ft) high by 25 m (82 ft) wide and 100 m (330 ft) up a limestone cliff from an ancient road connecting the capitals of Babylonia and Media (Babylon and Ecbatana, respectively). The Old Persian text contains 414 lines in five columns; the Elamite text includes 593 lines in eight columns, and the Babylonian text is in 112 lines. The inscription was illustrated by a life-sized bas-relief of Darius I, the Great, holding a bow as a sign of kingship, with his left foot on the chest of a figure lying on his back before him. The supine figure is reputed to be the pretender Gaumata. Darius is attended to the left by two servants, and nine one-meter figures stand to the right, with hands tied and rope around their necks, representing conquered peoples. A Faravahar floats above, giving its blessing to the king. One figure appears to have been added after the others were completed, as was Darius's beard, which is a separate block of stone attached with iron pins and lead.


Darius at Behistun
Full figure of Darius trampling rival Gaumata.
Head of Darius with crenellated crown

After the fall of the Persian Empire's Achaemenid Dynasty and its successors, and the lapse of Old Persian cuneiform writing into disuse, the nature of the inscription was forgotten, and fanciful explanations became the norm. For centuries, instead of being attributed to Darius the Great, it was believed to be from the reign of Khosrau II of Persia—one of the last Sassanid kings, who lived over 1000 years after the time of Darius the Great.

The inscription is mentioned by Ctesias of Cnidus, who noted its existence some time around 400 BC and mentioned a well and a garden beneath the inscription. He incorrectly concluded that the inscription had been dedicated "by Queen Semiramis of Babylon to Zeus". Tacitus also mentions it and includes a description of some of the long-lost ancillary monuments at the base of the cliff, including an altar to "Herakles". What has been recovered of them, including a statue dedicated in 148 BC, is consistent with Tacitus's description. Diodorus also writes of "Bagistanon" and claims it was inscribed by Semiramis.

Route to inscription at upper right.

A legend began around Mount Behistun (Bisotun), as written about by the Persian poet and writer Ferdowsi in his Shahnameh (Book of Kingsc. 1000 AD, about a man named Farhad, who was a lover of King Khosrow's wife, Shirin. The legend states that, exiled for his transgression, Farhad was given the task of cutting away the mountain to find water; if he succeeded, he would be given permission to marry Shirin. After many years and the removal of half the mountain, he did find water, but was informed by Khosrow that Shirin had died. He went mad, threw his axe down the hill, kissed the ground and died. It is told in the book of Khosrow and Shirin that his axe was made out of a pomegranate tree, and, where he threw the axe, a pomegranate tree grew with fruit that would cure the ill. Shirin was not dead, according to the story, and mourned upon hearing the news.

In 1598, the Englishman Robert Sherley saw the inscription during a diplomatic mission to Persia on behalf of Austria, and brought it to the attention of Western European scholars. His party incorrectly came to the conclusion that it was Christian in origin.[1] French General Gardanne thought it showed "Christ and his twelve apostles", and Sir Robert Ker Porter thought it represented the Lost Tribes of Israel and Shalmaneser of Assyria.[2] Italian explorer Pietro della Valle visited the inscription in the course of a pilgrimage in around 1621.[citation needed]

Translation efforts[edit]

Column 1 (DB I 1–15), sketch by Friedrich von Spiegel (1881).
Papyrus with an Aramaic translation of the Behistun inscription's text.

German surveyor Carsten Niebuhr visited in around 1764 for Frederick V of Denmark, publishing a copy of the inscription in the account of his journeys in 1778.[3] Niebuhr's transcriptions were used by Georg Friedrich Grotefend and others in their efforts to decipher the Old Persian cuneiform script. Grotefend had deciphered ten of the 37 symbols of Old Persian by 1802, after realizing that unlike the Semitic cuneiform scripts, Old Persian text is alphabetic and each word is separated by a vertical slanted symbol.[4]

The Old Persian text was copied and deciphered before recovery and copying of the Elamite and Babylonian inscriptions had even been attempted, which proved to be a good deciphering strategy, since Old Persian script was easier to study due to its alphabetic nature and because the language it represents had naturally evolved via Middle Persian to the living modern Persian language dialects, and was also related to the Avestan language, used in the Zoroastrian book the Avesta.

In 1835, Sir Henry Rawlinson, an officer of the British East India Company army assigned to the forces of the Shah of Iran, began studying the inscription in earnest. As the town of Bisotun's name was anglicized as "Behistun" at this time, the monument became known as the "Behistun Inscription". Despite its relative inaccessibility, Rawlinson was able to scale the cliff with the help of a local boy and copy the Old Persian inscription. The Elamite was across a chasm, and the Babylonian four meters above; both were beyond easy reach and were left for later.

With the Persian text, and with about a third of the syllabary made available to him by the work of Georg Friedrich Grotefend, Rawlinson set to work on deciphering the text. The first section of this text contained a list of the same Persian kings found in Herodotus but in their original Persian forms as opposed to Herodotus's Greek transliterations; for example Darius is given as the original Dâryavuš instead of the Hellenized Δαρειος. By matching the names and the characters, Rawlinson deciphered the type of cuneiform used for Old Persian by 1838 and presented his results to the Royal Asiatic Society in London and the Société Asiatique in Paris.

In the interim, Rawlinson spent a brief tour of duty in Afghanistan, returning to the site in 1843. He first crossed a chasm between the Persian and Elamite scripts by bridging the gap with planks, subsequently copying the Elamite inscription. He found an enterprising local boy to climb up a crack in the cliff and suspend ropes across the Babylonian writing, so that papier-mâché casts of the inscriptions could be taken. Rawlinson, along with several other scholars, most notably Edward HincksJulius OppertWilliam Henry Fox Talbot, and Edwin Norris, either working separately or in collaboration, eventually deciphered these inscriptions, leading eventually to the ability to read them completely.

The translation of the Old Persian sections of the Behistun Inscription paved the way to the subsequent ability to decipher the Elamite and Babylonian parts of the text, which greatly promoted the development of modern Assyriology.



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Later research and activity[edit]

Close-up of the inscription showing damage

The site was visited by the American linguist A. V. Williams Jackson in 1903.[5] Later expeditions, in 1904 sponsored by the British Museum and led by Leonard William King and Reginald Campbell Thompson and in 1948 by George G. Cameron of the University of Michigan, obtained photographs, casts and more accurate transcriptions of the texts, including passages that were not copied by Rawlinson.[6][7][8][9] It also became apparent that rainwater had dissolved some areas of the limestone in which the text was inscribed, while leaving new deposits of limestone over other areas, covering the text.

In 1938, the inscription became of interest to the Nazi German think tank Ahnenerbe, although research plans were cancelled due to the onset of World War II.

The monument later suffered some damage from Allied soldiers using it for target practice in World War II, and during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran.[10]

In 1999, Iranian archeologists began the documentation and assessment of damages to the site incurred during the 20th century. Malieh Mehdiabadi, who was project manager for the effort, described a photogrammetric process by which two-dimensional photos were taken of the inscriptions using two cameras and later transmuted into 3-D images.[11]

In recent years, Iranian archaeologists have been undertaking conservation works. The site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.[12]

In 2012, the Bisotun Cultural Heritage Center organized an international effort to re-examine the inscription.[13]


Content of the inscription[edit]

Main article: Full translation of the Behistun Inscription
Lineage of Darius the Great according to the Behistun inscription.


In the first section of the inscription, Darius the Great declares his ancestry and lineage:

King Darius says: My father is Hystaspes [Vištâspa]; the father of Hystaspes was Arsames [Aršâma]; the father of Arsames was Ariaramnes [Ariyâramna]; the father of Ariaramnes was Teispes [Cišpiš]; the father of Teispes was Achaemenes [Haxâmaniš].

King Darius says: That is why we are called Achaemenids; from antiquity we have been noble; from antiquity has our dynasty been royal. King Darius says: Eight of my dynasty were kings before me; I am the ninth. Nine in succession we have been kings. King Darius says: By the grace of Ahuramazda am I king; Ahuramazda has granted me the kingdom.


Achaemenid empire at its greatest extent

Darius also lists the territories under his rule:

King Darius says: These are the countries which are subject unto me, and by the grace of Ahuramazda I became king of them: Persia [Pârsa], Elam [Ûvja], Babylonia [Bâbiruš], Assyria [Athurâ], Arabia [Arabâya], Egypt [Mudrâya], the countries by the Sea [Tyaiy Drayahyâ], Lydia [Sparda], the Greeks [Yauna (Ionia)], Media [Mâda], Armenia [Armina], Cappadocia [Katpatuka], Parthia [Parthava], Drangiana [Zraka], Aria [Haraiva], Chorasmia [Uvârazmîy], Bactria [Bâxtriš], Sogdia [Suguda], Gandhara [Gadâra], Scythia [Saka], Sattagydia [Thataguš], Arachosia [Harauvatiš] and Maka [Maka]; twenty-three lands in all.

Conflicts and revolts[edit]

Later in the inscription, Darius provides an eye-witness account of battles he successfully fought over a one year period to put down rebellions which had resulted from the deaths of Cyrus the Great, and his son Cambyses II:



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Other historical monuments in the Behistun complex[edit]

The site covers an area of 116 hectares. Archeological evidence indicates that this region became a human shelter 40,000 years ago. There are 18 historical monuments other than the inscription of Darius the Great in the Behistun complex that have been registered in the Iranian national list of historical sites. Some of them are:




Similar reliefs and inspiration[edit]

The Anubanini rock relief, dated to 2300 BC, and made by the pre-Iranian Lullubi ruler Anubanini, is very similar in content to the Behistun reliefs (woodprint).

The Anubanini rock relief, also called Sarpol-i Zohab, of the Lullubi king Anubanini, dated to c. 2300 BC, and which is located not far from the Behistun reliefs at Sarpol-e Zahab, is very similar to the reliefs at Behistun. The attitude of the ruler, the trampling of an enemy, the lines of prisoners are all very similar, to such extent that it was said that the sculptors of the Behistun Inscription probably have seen the Anubanini relief beforehand and were inspired by it.[15] The Lullubian reliefs were the model for the Behistun reliefs of Darius the Great.[16]

The inscriptional tradition of the Achaemenids, starting especially with Darius I, is thought to have derived from the traditions of ElamLullubi, the Babylonians and the Assyrians.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ E. Denison Ross, The Broadway Travellers: Sir Anthony Sherley and his Persian Adventure, Routledge, 2004, ISBN 0-415-34486-7
  2. ^ [1] Robert Ker Porter, Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, ancient Babylonia, &c. &c. : during the years 1817, 1818, 1819, and 1820, volume 2, Longman, 1821
  3. ^ Carsten Niebuhr, Reisebeschreibung von Arabien und anderen umliegenden Ländern, 2 volumes, 1774 and 1778
  4. ^ "Old Persian". Ancient Scripts. Archived from the original on 18 April 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  5. ^ A. V. Williams Jackson, "The Great Behistun Rock and Some Results of a Re-Examination of the Old Persian Inscriptions on It", Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 24, pp. 77–95, 1903
  6. ^ [2] W. King and R. C. Thompson, The sculptures and inscription of Darius the Great on the Rock of Behistûn in Persia: a new collation of the Persian, Susian and Babylonian texts, Longmans, 1907
  7. ^ George G. Cameron, The Old Persian Text of the Bisitun Inscription, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 47–54, 1951
  8. ^ George G. Cameron, The Elamite Version of the Bisitun Inscriptions, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 59–68, 1960
  9. ^ W. C. Benedict and Elizabeth von Voigtlander, Darius' Bisitun Inscription, Babylonian Version, Lines 1–29, Journal of Cuneiform Studies, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1–10, 1956
  10. ^;wap2
  11. ^ "Documentation of Behistun Inscription Nearly Complete". Archived from the original on 2011-09-18. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  12. ^ "Iran's Bisotoon Historical Site Registered in World Heritage List". 2006-07-13. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2012-04-14.Intl. experts to reread Bisotun inscriptions, Tehran Times, May 27, 2012[dead link]
  14. Jump up to:a b c d e f Behistun, minor inscriptions DBb inscription- Livius.
  15. ^ Potts, D. T. (1999). The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State. Cambridge University Press. p. 318. ISBN 9780521564960.
  16. ^ Wiesehofer, Josef (2001). Ancient Persia. I.B.Tauris. p. 13. ISBN 9781860646751.
  17. ^ Eastmond, Antony (2015). Viewing Inscriptions in the Late Antique and Medieval World. Cambridge University Press. p. 14. ISBN 9781107092419.


  • Adkins, Lesley, Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon, St. Martin's Press, New York, 2003.
  • Blakesley, J. W. An Attempt at an Outline of the Early Medo-Persian History, founded on the Rock-Inscriptions of Behistun taken in combination with the Accounts of Herodotus and Ctesias. (Trinity College, Cambridge,) in the Proceedings of the Philological Society.
  • Rawlinson, H.C., Archaeologia, 1853, vol. xxxiv, p. 74.
  • Thompson, R. Campbell. "The Rock of Behistun". Wonders of the Past. Edited by Sir J. A. Hammerton. Vol. II. New York: Wise and Co., 1937. (pp. 760–767) "Behistun". Archived from the original on January 13, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  • Cameron, George G. "Darius Carved History on Ageless Rock". National Geographic Magazine. Vol. XCVIII, Num. 6, December 1950. (pp. 825–844)
  • Rubio, Gonzalo. "Writing in another tongue: Alloglottography in the Ancient Near East". In Margins of Writing, Origins of Cultures (ed. Seth Sanders. 2nd printing with postscripts and corrections. Oriental Institute Seminars, 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), pp. 33–70."Oriental Institute | Oriental Institute Seminars (OIS)". 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  • Louis H. Gray, Notes on the Old Persian Inscriptions of Behistun, Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 23, pp. 56–64, 1902
  • A. T. Olmstead, Darius and His Behistun Inscription, The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 392–416, 1938
  • Paul J. Kosmin, A New Hypothesis: The Behistun Inscription as Imperial Calendar, Iran - Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies, August 2018
  • [3] Saber Amiri Parian, A New Edition of the Elamite Version of the Behistun Inscription (I), Cuneiform Digital Library Bulletin 2017:003

External links[edit]



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Xerxes I

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Xerxes I
King of Kings
Great King
King of Persia
Pharaoh of Egypt
King of Nations
Xerxes I relief.jpg
Rock relief of Xerxes at his tomb in Naqsh-e Rustam
King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire
Reign486–465 BC
CoronationOctober 486 BC
PredecessorDarius I
SuccessorArtaxerxes I
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign486–465 BC
CoronationOctober 486 BC
PredecessorDarius I
SuccessorArtaxerxes I
Born519 BC
DiedAugust 465 BC (aged 53 or 54)
SpouseAmestris, (disputed: Vashti and Queen Esther)
Artaxerxes I
FatherDarius I

Xerxes I (/ˈzɜːrksz/Old Persian𐎧𐏁𐎹𐎠𐎼𐏁𐎠 Xšayaṛša (About this soundKhshāyarsha [2] "ruling over heroes",[3] Greek Ξέρξης Xérxēs [ksérksɛːs]; 519–465 BC), called Xerxes the Great, was the fifth king of kings of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia. Like his father and predecessor Darius I, 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 one of the Persian kings identified as Ahasuerus in the biblical Book of Esther.[4][5][6] He is also notable in Western history for his failed invasion of Greece in 480 BC. His forces temporarily overran mainland Greece north of the Isthmus of Corinth[7][8] 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. Roman Ghirshman says that, "After this he ceased to use the title of 'king of Babylon', calling himself simply 'king of the Persians and the Medes'."[9]

Xerxes oversaw the completion of various construction projects at Susa and Persepolis.

Early life[edit]

Rise to power[edit]

Xerxes was born to Darius I and Atossa (daughter of Cyrus the Great). Darius and Atossa were both Achaemenids as they were both descendants of Achaemenes. While Darius was preparing for another war against Greece, a revolt 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), 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.[10]

Probable depiction of Xerxes I as crown-prince, in the Audience scene of DariusPersepolis.
Xerxes (Xašayaruša/Ḫašayaruša)[11]
in hieroglyphs
W10SAi iArwSAA
in hieroglyphs

Artobazan claimed the crown as the eldest of all the children; while Xerxes, on the other hand, urged 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 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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

Xerxes was crowned and succeeded his father in October–December 486 BC[16] when he was about 36 years old.[17] The transition of power to Xerxes was smooth due again in part to the great authority of Atossa[18] and his accession of royal power was not challenged by any person at court or in the Achaemenian family, or any subject nation.[19]

Almost immediately, Xerxes crushed revolts in Egypt and Babylon that had broken out the year before, and appointed his brother Achaemenes as satrap over Egypt. In 484 BC, he outraged the Babylonians by violently confiscating and melting down[20] the golden statue of Bel (Marduk, Merodach), the hands of which the rightful king of Babylon had to clasp each New Year's Day. This sacrilege led the Babylonians to rebel in 484 BC and 482 BC, so that in contemporary Babylonian documents, Xerxes refused his father's title of King of Babylon, being named rather as King of Persia and Media, Great King, King of Kings (Shahanshah) and King of Nations (i.e., of the world). This comes from the Daiva Inscriptions of Xerxes, lines 6–13.[21]



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Invasion of the Greek mainland[edit]

The soldiers of Xerxes I, of all ethnicities,[22] on the tomb of Xerxes I, at Naqsh-e Rostam.[23][24]

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 AtheniansNaxians, 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 AssyriansPhoeniciansBabyloniansEgyptiansJews,[25] Macedonians, European ThraciansPaeonians, Achaean GreeksIoniansAegean islandersAeolians, Greeks from PontusColchiansIndians 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.[26] 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.[27] Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially ThessalyThebes 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.[28]

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.[29] The Persians thus gained control of all of mainland Greece to the north of the Isthmus of Corinth.[8]

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.[30]

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.[31] Another cause of the retreat might have been continued unrest in Babylon, which, being a key province of the Achaemenid Empire, required the king's own attention.[32] 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.[33] He had colorful enameled brick laid on the exterior face of the Apadana.[34] He also maintained the Royal Road built by his father and completed the Susa Gate and built a palace in Susa.[35]


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.[36]

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.[37] 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.[38]



Vision in the kings council according to Herodotus[edit]

Xerxes I at the Hadish Palace of Xerxes, Persepolis (480–470 BCE).

In Histories, Herodotus relates that the Persian King invites council of noblemen from Persia, with which he decided to share the following plans. Earlier attacks from Hellenic forces incited a need for recompense. Therefore two out of a handful noblemen were brave enough to cite their advice on the potential warfare coming up. One of which is Mardonius, who with slightly flattering words seemed to spur the king to his decision, and agreed on the matter. When Mardonius finished, it was said that slandering the neighbouring nation is not only hurting the man absent, but also the man deciding on it, implying the words were of no use to his decision. Artabanus, Xerxes uncle and brother of Darius I whose speech was heard made an impression on the king, wherewith the king furiously ascribed his advisor with cowardice. And fittingly disabled him to battle with the army, and stay home with the women. However, remarkably, later that night, he struggled on Artabanus words, and changed his mind. It was said Xerxes received a vision of a tall and handsome man reminding him the unfaithfulness of changing his mind, and emphasizing the decision made, should be pursued. The next day, his uncle was excused, and the Ionian and Dorian people were left in peace. However, that same night again, a vision was given to Xerxes.

Son of Darius, have you then plainly renounced your army's march among the Persians, and made my words of no account, as though you had not heard them? Know for certain that, if you do not lead out your army immediately, this will be the outcome of it: as you became great and mighty in a short time, so in a moment will you be brought low again.

The king, perplexed and confused, did not find the confidence to follow up its implications. Therefore Artabanus was told by the king he, on one term, decided to attack again. Before he made this verdict, he gave his uncle the order to wear his clothes and sleep in his bed, so that he would have that same vision. Darius brother squinted the eyes of disbelief, but determined not much later, to agree. Chapter seven ends. Chapter eight starts with the faring assertive naval armies from Greece.[39]

Artaborus about god[edit]

The story of the council above mentions the uncle of Xerxes. In his spoken words, he mentions a god that strikes whoever strives to attain anything above greatness. A god that humbles the people, and does not suffer their pride. From the factual information this seems to imply monotheism, which is in accordance with Zoroastrian beliefs of the time.[39]

Zoroastrian origin[edit]

Although Herodotus' report in the Histories has created debate concerning Xerxes' religious beliefs, modern scholars consider him a Zoroastrian.[40]


Xerxes being designated by Darius I. Tripylon, Persepolis. The ethnicities of the Empire are shown supporting the throne. Ahuramazda crowns the scene.

By queen Amestris:

By unknown wives:

Cultural depictions[edit]

Xerxes is the central character of the Aeschylus play "The Persians". Xerxes is the protagonist of the opera Serse by the German-English Baroque composer George Frideric Handel. It was first performed in the King's Theatre London on 15 April 1738. The famous aria "Ombra mai fù" opens the opera.

The murder of Xerxes by Artabanus (Artabano), execution of crown prince Darius (Dario), revolt by Megabyzus (Megabise), and subsequent succession of Artaxerxes I is romanticised by the Italian poet Metastasio in his opera libretto Artaserse, which was first set to music by Leonardo Vinci, and subsequently by other composers such as Johann Adolf Hasse and Johann Christian Bach.[citation needed]

Queen Esther, a Jewish queen of Xerxes. Edwin Long, 19th century.

Later generations' fascination with ancient Sparta, particularly the Battle of Thermopylae, has led to Xerxes' portrayal in works of popular culture. He was played by David Farrar in the fictional film The 300 Spartans (1962), where he is portrayed as a cruel, power-crazed despot and an inept commander. He also features prominently in the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller, as well as the film adaptation 300 (2007) and its sequel 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), as portrayed by Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, in which he is represented as a giant man with androgynous qualities, who claims to be a god-king. This portrayal has attracted controversy, especially in Iran.[43] Ken Davitian plays Xerxes in Meet the Spartans, a parody of the first 300 movie replete with sophomoric humour and deliberate anachronisms.

Other works dealing with the Persian Empire or the Biblical story of Esther have also featured or alluded to Xerxes, such as the video game Assassin's Creed II and the film One Night with the King (2006), in which Ahasuerus (Xerxes) was portrayed by British actor Luke Goss. He is the leader of the Persian Empire in the video game Civilization II and III (along with Scheherazade), although Civilization IV replaces him with Cyrus the Great and Darius I.[citation needed]

Xerxes (Ahasuerus) by Ernest Normand, 1888 (detail).

Gore Vidal, in his historical fiction novel Creation (1981), describes at length the rise of the Achemenids, especially Darius I, and presents the life and death circumstances of Xerxes. Vidal's version of the Persian Wars, which diverges from the orthodoxy of the Greek histories, is told through the invented character of Cyrus Spitama, a half-Greek, half-Persian, and grandson of the prophet Zoroaster. Thanks to his family connection, Cyrus is brought up in the Persian court after the murder of Zoroaster, becoming the boyhood friend of Xerxes, and later a diplomat who is sent to India, and later to Greece, and who is thereby able to gain privileged access to many leading historical figures of the period.[44]

Xerxes (Ahasuerus) is portrayed by Richard Egan in the 1960 film Esther and the King and by Joel Smallbone in the 2013 film, The Book of Esther. In at least one of these films, the events of the Book of Esther are depicted as taking place upon Xerxes' return from Greece.[citation needed]

Xerxes plays an important background role (never making an appearance) in two short works of alternate history taking place generations after his complete victory over Greece. These are: "Counting Potsherds" by Harry Turtledove in his anthology Departures and "The Craft of War" by Lois Tilton in Alternate Generals volume 1 (edited by Turtledove).[citation needed]



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Etymology and transliteration[edit]

Xerxes is the Greek version of the Old Persian name Xšaya-ṛšā, which is today known in New Persian as Khashayar (خشایار).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Xerxes made human sacrifice. See Boyce, Mary (1989). A History of Zoroastrianism: The early period, p. 141.
  2. ^ Allesandro Bausani (1971). "Chapter 1: The Aryans on the Iranian Plateau: The Achaemenian Empire". The Persians. St. Martin's Press. p. 27.
  3. ^ "Xeres I. The Name – Encyclopaedia Iranica". 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  4. ^ "Ahasuerus". Retrieved 2014-07-25.
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia perthensis, or, Universal dictionary of the arts, sciences, literature, etc.: intended to supersede the use of other books of reference. 1816. Retrieved 2014-07-25 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Law, George (2010-06-04). Identification of Darius the MedeISBN 978-0982763100. Retrieved 2014-07-25 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Lazenby, J.F. (1993). The Defence of Greece, 490–479 B.C. Aris & Phillips. ISBN 978-0856685910. Retrieved 2016-09-07.
  8. Jump up to:a b Brian Todd Carey, Joshua Allfree, John Cairns. Warfare in the Ancient World Pen and Sword, 19 Jan. 2006 ISBN 1848846304
  9. ^ Roman Ghirshman, Iran (1954), Penguin Books, p. 191.
  10. ^ Dandamaev 1989, pp. 178–179.
  11. ^ Jürgen von Beckerath (1999), Handbuch der ägyptischen Königsnamen, Mainz am Rhein: von Zabern. ISBN 3-8053-2310-7, pp. 220–221
  12. ^ "The Xeres Quadrilingual Alabastron"The Schoyen Collection. Retrieved 28 March2017.
  13. ^ Herodotus 7.1–5
  14. ^ R. Shabani Chapter I, p. 15
  15. ^ Olmstead: The history of Persian empire
  16. ^ The Cambridge History of Iran vol. 2. p. 509.
  17. ^ Dandamaev 1989, p. 180.
  18. ^ Schmitt, R., "Atossa" in Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  19. ^ The Cambridge Ancient History vol. V p. 72.
  20. ^ R. Ghirshman, Iran, p. 191
  21. ^ Roland G. Kent in "Language" Vol. 13 No. 4
  22. ^ Soldiers with names, after Walser
  23. ^ The Achaemenid Empire in South Asia and Recent Excavations in Akra in Northwest Pakistan Peter Magee, Cameron Petrie, Robert Knox, Farid Khan, Ken Thomas p. 713
  24. ^ Naqš-e-Rostam – Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  25. ^ Farrokh, Kaveh (2007). Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oxford, UK: Osprey. ISBN 1846031087, p. 77
  26. ^ Bailkey, Nels, ed. Readings in Ancient History, p. 175. D.C. Heath and Co., 1992.
  27. ^ G. Mafodda, La monarchia di Gelone tra pragmatismo, ideologia e propaganda, (Messina, 1996) pp. 119–136
  28. ^ Barkworth, 1993. "The Organization of Xerxes' Army." Iranica Antiqua Vol. 27, pp. 149–167
  29. ^ Martin Steskal, Der Zerstörungsbefund 480/79 der Athener Akropolis. Eine Fallstudie zum etablierten Chronologiegerüst, Verlag Dr. Kovač, Hamburg, 2004
  30. ^ Holland, pp. 327–329
  31. ^ Herodotus VIII, 97
  32. ^ "Bêl-šimânni and Šamaš-eriba – Livius". Retrieved 2016-09-07.
  33. ^ Ghirshman, Iran, p. 172
  34. ^ Fergusson, James. A History of Architecture in All Countries, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day: 1. Ancient architecture. 2. Christian architecture. xxxi, 634 p. front., illus. p. 211.
  35. ^ Herodotus VII.11
  36. ^ Iran-e-Bastan/Pirnia book 1 p. 873
  37. ^ Dandamayev
  38. ^ History of Persian Empire, Olmstead pp. 289/90
  39. Jump up to:a b Godley, Alfred Denis (1921–24). "Histories book 7". Herodotus, with an English translationOCLC 1610641.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  40. ^ M. Boyce, Achaemenid Religion in Encyclopædia Iranica. See also Boardman, J.; et al. (1988). The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. IV (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22804-2. p. 101.
  41. ^ Ctesias
  42. ^ M. Brosius, Women in ancient Persia.
  43. ^ Boucher, Geoff "Frank Miller returns to the '300' battlefield with 'Xerxes': 'I make no apologies whatsoever'"The Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2010, accessed 2010-05-14.
  44. ^ Gore Vidal, Creation: A Novel (Random House, 1981)


Ancient sources[edit]

Modern sources[edit]

  • Barkworth, Peter R. (1993). "The Organization of Xerxes' Army". Iranica Antiqua27: 149–167. doi:10.2143/ia.27.0.2002126.
  • Boardman, John (1988). The Cambridge Ancient HistoryV. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22804-2.

External links[edit]

Xerxes I
Born: 519 BC Died: 465 BC
Preceded by
Darius I
King of Kings of Persia
486 BC – 465 BC
Succeeded by
Artaxerxes I
Pharaoh of Egypt
486 BC – 465 BC

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