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Xerxes I (519 BC-465 BC) was the King of Persia from 486 BC to 465 BC, succeeding Darius the Great and preceding Artaxerxes I of Persia. He was notable for his failed invasion of Greece in 480-479 BC during the Greco-Persian Wars, during which he personally commanded an army of 300,000 troops in an all-out campaign of conquest against the Greek states. While Xerxes was victorious at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, his army was defeated at the Battle of Plataea as he returned home to deal with imperial affairs. He was assassinated by his royal guard commander Artabanus of Persia in 465 BC.

Biography

Xerxes in 490 BC

Xerxes was the son of Darius I of Persia and Atossa (the daughter of Cyrus the Great), and he came from the Achaemenids, the founding dynasty of the Persian Empire. According to a Spartan myth, Xerxes was said to have accompanied his father on his invasion of Greece in 490 BC, where he witnessed his father be struck by an arrow fired by the Athenian general Themistocles. This left Xerxes with a hatred of the Greeks, and would motivate him to carry out his father's plans to conquer the Greek world and end Western civilization.

Xerxes "becoming a god"

Darius died in 486 BC while campaigning against a revolt in Egypt, and Xerxes ascended to the monarchy. The Spartan legend continues by saying that Darius' last words to Xerxes warned him that only the Gods could defeat the Greeks; Xerxes' ally Artemisia I of Caria claimed that this was not a warning, but a challenge, and she had Xerxes be sent on a journey through the desert naked. He then reached a cave and bathed in an otherworldly golden liquid, emerging as an 8-foot-tall "God King".

Reign

Xerxes speaking to a crowd in Persepolis

Xerxes immediately crushed revolts in Egypt and Babylon, and his sacrilegiously confiscated and melted down the Babylonians' sacred statue of Bel, causing further rebellions in 484 BC and 482 BC. In 483 BC, Xerxes began preparations for an invasion of Greece to carry out his father's dream of punishing Athens, Naxos, and Eretria for supporting the Ionian Revolt during the 490s BC. Xerxes assembled an army of 300,000 troops, all of whom were multinational: they included Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews, Macedonians, Thracians, Paeonians, Achaean Greeks, Ionians, Aegean islanders, Aeolians, Pontic Greeks, Colchians, Indians, and many more subject nations. Xerxes used logistical planning to prepare for the invasion, and he also built a pontoon bridge over the Hellespont, across which his army marched into Thrace. He also built a huge navy to support his army. At the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, his massive army overwhelmed a smaller army of 7,000 Greek soldiers under King Leonidas I of Sparta, but Leonidas and his 300 Spartans fought with such resolve that all of them were killed at the battle's end, and an enraged Xerxes had Leonidas beheaded and crucified. After the battle, Xerxes captured and sacked Athens, burning the city. The Athenians had evacuated the city ahead of the Persian arrival, relocating to the island of Salamis. Xerxes sent his fleet to attack the Greeks, but the ensuing Battle of Salamis saw his fleet be defeated, forcing Xerxes to set up winter camp in Thessaly. Xerxes decided to retreat back to Asia rather than have his army cut off from the Hellespont, and he returned to Babylon to deal with unrest; his remaining forces in Greece under Mardonius were defeated at the Battle of Plataea, forcing Xerxes to permanently withdraw from Greece. In 465 BC, Xerxes would be assassinated by the royal guard commander Artabanus of Persia, whose plan to dethrone the Achaemenids ultimately failed.

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