Persian king who led the failed invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. . Our knowledge of Xerxes comes mainly from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, whose viewpoint is hostile; he portrays the king as sometimes reflective and aesthetic-minded, but also intoxicated by power and capable of great lust, cruelty, anger, and cowardice. "Xerxes" is the Greek form of the name, which in Persian sounded like Khshah-yar-shan and meant "king of kings." In the biblical book of Esther, Xerxes is called King Ahasuerus and is pictured favorably.
As son and heir of the brilliant king Darius I, Xerxes was about 32 years old when he came to the throne in late 486 B.C. Soon he turned his attention westward, to resume his father's conflict with the mainland Greeks. Various Persian inscriptions of Xerxes' reign make it clear that he was a pious worshipper of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian supreme god, and he may have thought he was on a divine mission to conquer Greece.
After four years' preparation, including the spanning of the Hellespont with elaborate twin bridges of boats, Xerxes led a mighty host—perhaps 200,000 troops and 600 warships—to Europe. Descending through Thrace and Macedon, he subdued northern and central Greece, but his navy was first eroded due to storms and a sea battle, and then destroyed when Xerxes overconfidently decided to attack the Greek fleet inside Salamis (1) channel. After the Salamis defeat in late summer 480 B.C. , Xerxes hurried back to Asia with most of his force, leaving behind a Persian army, which the Greeks smashed at Plataea the following summer.
Little is known of Xerxes' life afterward. He apparently devoted himself to construction of royal buildings at Persepolis, the empire's summer capital, and was assassinated in a palace intrigue around 465 B.C. He was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes I.
To the Greeks, Xerxes supplied the prime living example of the sin of Hubris—insane pride that leads to divinely prompted self-destruction. The abiding picture of him in Western tradition (whether true or false) is a vainglorious emperor who, after a Hellespont storm had wrecked his boat-bridges, ordered his men to punish the channel by lashing its waters with whips.