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Xerxes

Xerxes succession to the throne after his father, Darius, was not straightforward as many factors surrounding hi succession of the Persian kingship from Darius influenced xerxes succession. During the time Darius was king he had other children outside his marriage to Atossa. As Artabazanes was Darius’ eldest son, he had appeared to be named as Darius’ successor in 507BC. Quarrels over the succession of the new king erupted between followers of Xerxes and Artabazanes.

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Artabazanes claimed that he was the eldest son of all children of Darius and that it was among all mankind that custom for the eldest son to take over the rule as the new king was not selected on the principle of primogeniture but according to modern historian J. M Cook Xerxes had a stronger claim than his brother because he was the son of Atossa, the daughter of Cyrus the great. Hence, Herodotus tells us that the solution was provided by Demaratus, an exiled Spartan king, who pointed that xerxes was the first-born son after Darius became king.

Xerxes is shown in the reliefs at Persepolis as the heir standing behind his enthroned father suggesting he was next to the throne. Herodotus tells us that xerxes was being prepared to be king from a young age as he was taught, “to ride, to use the bow, and seek the truth” three fundamental teachings for a Persian king. Prior to becoming king, Darius placed Xerxes in the position of satrap of Babylon for 12 years from him to gain experience in a position of power and authority. Also in 498 a palace was built for the kings’ son in Babylon.

The invasion of Greece, planned by his father, was put on hold because he faced a rebellion in Egypt in 486bc. Xerxes led the campaign against Egypt and ‘decisively crushed them’ (Herodotus) and reduced the Egyptians to abject slavery and placed the country once again firmly under Persian control. Unlike, his father, who made an attempt to preserve Egyptian culture and customs, Xerxes showed no tolerance. He not only treated the Egyptian severely but also failed to take an Egyptian name as pharaoh as his predecessors had done.

According to Dandamaev the dating of the inscriptions show that quarrying had recommenced in the Wadi Hammamat in 484 BC. This would indicate that the revolts by Egypt had been stopped within 2 years. This response to the revolt can be seen as Xerxes’ first military success as king. This should have impressed his fellow Persians and the other ‘subject people’ of the empire. Several years later the city of Babylon also revolted and once again Xerxes had to deal with the problems within his empire before considering an invasion of Greece.

Dandamaev suggested that ‘the motives for the revolt, just like Egypt included the burden of taxation, the deportation of people for construction work and the huge expenses incurred in the upkeep of Persian garrisons and satrapal court. Babylon had previously revolted before, but Xerxes was lenient with the punishment as he had a personal connection with the land because he was satrap for 12 years. In the second revolt Xerxes sent Megabyzos, to handle the situation. The revolt was put down but Xerxes was as furious with the Babylonians as he had been with the Egyptians and ordered the destructions of the temples.

The huge golden statue of the Babylonian god Bel Marduk was melted down, the high priest killed and large areas of Babylonian land was confiscated and was given to the Persians, according to modern historian Lawless. It is significant that xerxes did not describe himself in the native language as ‘King of Babylon’ as his predecessors had done. Instead he adopted the title ‘King of Persia and Mada’, which suggests he rejected the political ploy of identifying himself as a native king. Instead he saw himself as an invader and conqueror. Xerxes displayed all he expected traits of a king by taking seriously the role of Persia in the world.

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