Xerxes, a king of Persia, who reigned from the close of 486 to 465 B. C. He was the son of Darius Hystaspis and Atossa. His first achievement on coming to the throne was the suppression of the Egyptian revolt which had interrupted his father's preparations for the invasion of Greece. He then resumed those preparations, and spent four years in raising as great a force as his powerful empire could furnish. In the autumn of 481 the army assembled at or near Sardis, and a fleet was collected in the Hellespont or on the coast of Asia Minor. Xerxes caused a bridge of boats to be thrown across, the Hellespont, from Abydos to the western shore. It was destroyed by a storm, and Herodotus relates that he commanded a pair of fetters to be thrown into the stream, and the water to be scourged with 300 lashes. Two new bridges were now thrown across the strait. A canal, wide enough for two triremes abreast, had been cut through the isthmus which separated Mount Athos from the mainland. Early in 480 his army began its march from Sardis, and spent seven days and nights in crossing the Hellespont. At Doriscus, in Thrace, Xerxes held a review of the whole army, and according to Herodotus it amounted to 1,700,000 foot and 80,000 horse, with Libyan war chariots and Arabian camels.
Besides these, upon the fleet of 1,207 ships of war and 3,000 smaller vessels and transports, was a force which swelled the number of combatants to 2,317,000. The statement is doubtless exaggerated, though the army was very probably the greatest ever assembled. These forces traversed Thrace and Macedonia unopposed, and entered Greece through the mountain passes, over the range of Olympus. All northern Greece was abandoned, and the first resistance was at the defile of Thermopylae. In the mean time a terrible storm destroyed 400 ships of war, and a vast number of transports and smaller vessels. The naval battles of Artemisium and Salamis followed, and Xerxes was easily persuaded to leave the conquest of Greece to Mardonius and 300,000 troops, while he himself returned to Asia. After 45 days' march he reached the Hellespont, and he reentered Sardis defeated and humbled. While he remained there in the summer of 479, the disastrous battles of Plataea and Mycale occurred, followed by the utter overthrow of all the Persian power in Greece. (See Greece, vol. viii., pp. 189-'90.) Little is known of the personal history of Xerxes after this time.
In 465 he was murdered by Artabanus, one of the highest officers of the court, and the eunuch Spamitres or Mithridates, and was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes. Herodotus says that for beauty and stature none in the vast host he led against Greece could be compared with Xerxes; but he also represents him as exceedingly cowardly and cruel. He is believed by many critics to be the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther.