Yes, you know that name thanks to modern era cinema and 300 – the Movie in particular (which is now past its popular culture peak, with most copies sitting in urban storage units and attics everywhere). But is that what Xerxes I was? He is actually Ahasuerus, a Persian King recorded in the Book of Esther. He was the king who invaded Greece in 480 BC. He took over the reign from Darius I and ruled most of Greece during his time. His most prominent battles were those at Thermopylae and then at Artemisium. He continued to run through battles winning them until reaching Salamis and Plataea where he finally lost, ending his invasion abruptly. Still, he managed to conquer more of Greece than any Persian ruler ever managed before or ever will in the future.
His Rise to Power
Born to Darius I and Atossa, Xerxes I was a direct descendent of Achaemenes and thus in-line for the throne. When Darius I decided to leave for his dangerous expedition to Egypt, he anointed Xerxes as his successor. Darius lost his life to failing health on the road and Xerxes came to power. However, it was not all easy.
Soon after the death of Darius, Artobazan – the eldest – claimed the throne since it was tradition all over the world. However, Xerxes being pure descendent of Achaemenes and with the aid of exiled Spartan king, Demaratus, he quickly ascended the throne. Another major hand in the quick and bloodless ascension was that of his mother, Atossa. None questioned the accession and he went on to immediately quell the rebellion in Egypt and Babylonia. He even appointed his brothers as satrap or overseers in different parts of his kingdom.
Xerxes I is best known for his Greek campaigns. He carried over where Darius I left. The reason to continue this battle was due to the long held grudge against the Greeks for interfering in the Ionian Revolt. Plus, they had defeated the Persians at Marathon and burnt down Sardis. Xerxes spent much of his time as king preparing to invade Greece. His army dug the Xerxes Canal, created provision stores along the roads and various stations and grew in size with soldiers of all nationalities.
Xerxes I finally left the mortal world in 465 BC when he was murdered by Artabanus who was actually a powerful official within the Persian court and also the commander of the royal bodyguards.
He had lofty ambitions and planned the assassination finally taking the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres. The exact recounts of the event are disputed. Some believe that he accused Darius II for the assassination and had Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, to eliminate Darius. Others believe that he personally took out Darius first before dealing with Xerxes. However, once Artaxerxes discovered the treachery, he immediately sanctioned the killing of Artabanus and all his sons.