Inheriting the great Persian kingdom from his father Darius in 485 BC, Xerxes commenced with his plans for world domination.
He amassed an army reaching in the hundreds of thousands made up of contingents from the vast Persian Empire which stretched from India and central Asia to Libya and the shores of the Aegean. At its core was the elite royal corps of Immortals, so called because their number was permanently maintained at 1000, with wounded and killed soldiers immediately replaced by others.
Xerxes suppressed revolts and regained control of economic regions that were vital to his empire, such as Egypt and Babylon, within his first year on the throne. This left Xerxes free to move against the Greeks.
A somewhat humorous, although extremely insightful, look into the "god-complex" this tyrant had developed is revealed in the events that followed his attempt to build a bridge across the Hellespont to allow his army to easily travel from Asia into Europe. After the bridges had been destroyed by a storm, Xerxes ordered the engineers to be beheaded and then had the water whipped in punishmet. Chains were thrown in the the Hellespont as Xerxes addressed it insultingly:
"You salt and bitter stream, your master lays this punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. But Xerxes the king will cross you with or wihtout your permission. No man sacrifices to you and you deserve the neglect by your acid and muddy waters." (Clive Foss, "The Tyrants")There is some confusion because of the translation of names, but he also appears to be the same King Xerxes, though later in his life, mentioned in the book of Esther. Xerxes demanded that all men bow down to his highest ranking official, implying his own authority over God and demanding submission to only himself. "But Mordecai (a Jew) would not kneel down or pay him honor." (Esther 3:2) because he would only bow down in submission to the true God. In the face of this supreme defiance, Xerxes demanded not only the death of Mordecai, but the annihilation of all Jews.
Check back soon (sometime after finals are over this Wednesday) for the next post in the series titled "The Heroes: Spartans".