XERXES

Died 465 B.C.

King of Persia

As the king of ancient Persia, Xerxes crushed revolts in Egypt and Babylon and strengthened control over those areas. However, an attempt to expand Persian control into Greece failed when the Greeks destroyed Xerxes’ fleet at the Battle of Salamis off the coast of Attica.

Xerxes was the son of Darius I, who began the Persian Wars against the Greeks in 490 B.C. Xerxes became king in 486 B.C. upon the death of his father. During the early years of his reign, Xerxes quelled rebellions by the

Egyptians and by the Babylonians and continued construction of the royal city of Persepolis, which had been started by his father.

Xerxes renewed the war against the Greeks in 480 B.C. in the hope of avenging his father’s defeat at the Battle of Marathon ten years earlier. With a huge army of about 300,000 men, he crossed the Hellespont, the narrow strait* that separates Europe and Asia, and entered Thrace. Marching south, the Persians met a small Greek force of Spartans defending the pass of Thermopylae. The Spartans fought bravely, but the Persians annihilated them and marched on to Athens. The Athenians fled, and the Persians occupied and looted the city.

The tide of victory soon turned against Xerxes, however. The Athenians destroyed the Persian fleet in a great sea battle that took place between the island of Salamis and the Greek mainland. Crushed by this defeat, Xerxes retreated to Asia Minor. The following year, the Greeks routed the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea in central Greece. This decisive defeat ended Xerxes’ plan to conquer Greece. He was assassinated in 465 B.C. by a member of his royal bodyguard and was succeeded by his son, Artaxerxes. (See also Greece, Histoiy of; Herodotus; Persian Empire.)

* strait narrow channel that connects two bodies of water

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