See P. Green, Xerxes at Salamis (1970).
Xerxes I, detail of a bas-relief of the north courtyard in the treasury at Persepolis, late elipsis
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Xerxes was son of Darius the Great and Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the Great. After his accession in October 485 BC, he suppressed the revolts in Egypt and Babylon that had broken out the year before and appointed his brother Achaemenes as governor or satrap over Egypt (Old Persian: khshathrapavan). In 484 BC, he took away from Babylon the golden statue of Bel (Marduk, Merodach), the hands of which the rightful king of Babylon had to take a hold of on the first day of each year, and killed the priest who tried to get in his way. Therefore Xerxes does not bear the title of King in the Babylonian documents dated from his reign, but King of Persia and Media or simply King of countries (i.e. of the world). This proceeding led to two rebellions, probably in 484 BC and 479 BC.
Darius left to his son the task of punishing the Athenians, Naxians, and Eretrians for their interference in the Ionian Revolt and their victory over the Persians at Marathon. From 483 BC Xerxes prepared his expedition: A channel was dug through the isthmus of the peninsula of Mount Athos, provisions were stored in the stations on the road through Thrace, two bridges were thrown across the Hellespont. Soldiers of many nationalities served in the armies of Xerxes, including the Assyrians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Indians, Egyptians, Jews and Arabs. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Xerxes' first attempt to bridge the Hellespont ended in failure when a storm destroyed the flax and papyrus bridge; Xerxes ordered the Hellespont (the strait itself) whipped three hundred times and had fetters thrown into the water. Xerxes' second attempt to bridge the Hellespont was successful. Xerxes concluded an alliance with Carthage, and thus deprived Greece of the support of the powerful monarchs of Syracuse and Agrigentum. Many smaller Greek states, moreover, took the side of the Persians, especially Thessaly, Thebes and Argos. Xerxes set out in the spring of 480 BC from Sardis with a fleet and army which Herodotus claimed was more than two million strong with at least 10,000 elite warriors named Persian Immortals. Xerxes was victorious during the initial battles. At the Battle of Thermopylae, a small force of warriors, 300 spartans, and 1000 other Greeks, 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. After Thermopylae, Athens was captured and the Athenians and Spartans were driven back to their last line of defence at the Isthmus of Corinth and in the Saronic Gulf. 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. 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 29, 480 BC) was won by the Athenians. Although the loss was a setback, it was not a disaster and Xerxes set up a winter camp in Thessaly. Due to unrest in Babylon, Xerxes was forced to send his army home to prevent a revolt, leaving behind an army in Greece under Mardonius, who was defeated the following year at Plataea. The defeat of the Persians at Mycale roused the Greek cities of Asia.
By unknown wives