How Xerxes The Great Helped Shape The Persian Empire I Oxford Open Learning


    How Xerxes The Great Helped Shape The Persian Empire

    Xerxes the Great (Depicted in the relief above) was the fourth king of the Achaemenid dynasty, ruling at the peak of the Persian empire between 486 BCE to 465 BCE. He was an extremely ambitious ruler, famous for his military campaigns, but also a failed attempt to conquer Greece, that ultimately led to his downfall and began the empire’s decline.

    Although Xerxes is often depicted as a tyrant, he had a significant influence on Persian culture in overseeing the construction of palaces, gardens and temples and by establishing administrative reforms and contributing to the Persian language, literature and arts.

    The Greco-Persian Wars

    Xerxes inherited a vast empire that stretched from modern-day Egypt to India. Early in his reign, he faced many challenges, including rebellions in Egypt and Babylon (in what is now Iraq) which he was able to suppress. Continuing in the footsteps of his father, King Darius I, Xerxes promoted economic development and maintained a strong military presence in preparation for his assault on Greece. He spent three years assembling a considerable army, a military undertaking that at the time was the most ambitious the world had ever seen.

    In the Spring of 490 BC, after taking council from his advisors, Xerxes’ army set forth across the Hellespont (now known in Turkey as the Dardanelles Strait) before marching through Thrace and Macedonia and advancing southward through Greece. The Greeks, led by Leonidas I, held off the Persians for three days at Thermopylae but were eventually defeated, but at an enormous cost to the Persians.

    Their victory was short lived however, and during the Battle of Salamis, the Athenian (Greek) navy won a decisive victory over the Persians, forcing them to retreat to Platea. Emboldened, the Greeks pressed their offensive, winning a final victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. This event marked both the end of Persian attempts to expand into Europe and the rise of Greek dominance in the Mediterranean.

    Fallout From The War

    Defeated and fearing for his own safety, Xerxes returned to Persia. Despite heavy losses, he continued to rule for many years until his death. During this time, he focused on constructing many buildings and monuments, including the Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace and Hall of a Hundred Columns. These buildings were adorned with intricate carvings and reliefs, depicting scenes from Persian mythology and history.

    Even at the time of Xerxes’ inauguration, the Persian empire was already facing economic strain from maintaining its vast territories and administrative bureaucracy. With the added substantial losses from the war effort and construction expenses, Xerxes then vastly depleted the empire’s resources. Loyalty for Xerxes began to waver, particularly in the elite class, who saw him as an ineffective ruler, and he was eventually assassinated in 465 BC by Artabanus, an advisor who may have had his own desires to seize the throne.

    The Influence Of Xerxes Beyond Persia

    Xerxes’ reign had a significant global impact, particularly in the development of civilizations in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. He also played a significant role in the development of trade and commerce, and his buildings and monuments remain important cultural and historical landmarks in modern day Iran.

    Throughout history, there have been many examples where leaders’ decisions have played an important part in the success or decline of a nation. With our flexible History IGCSE or A-level accredited distance learning courses, you can find out more about the rise and impact of dictatorship in Germany and the consequences of decisions made during World War I. Get in touch with us today to find out more.

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