59: Holy War

An Old Persian copy of the Daiva Inscription discovered at Persepolis, via Livius.org

Early in Xerxes’ reign, an infamous and dramatic story of religious conflict was inscribed at Persepolis. When Xerxes became king he put down a rebellion, but in the process encountered a community dedicated to a god or gods he considered false and immoral. As consequence he destroyed their sanctuary and worshiped Ahura Mazda in their place.
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58: Persia’s First Family

Xerxes depicted in Guillaume Rouillé’s Promptuarium Iconum Insigniorum, 1553

As the reign of another king draw’s toward a close, it’s time to look at the royal family. Xerxes’ household was like a microcosm of early Achaemenid history. His mother, Atossa, drew a direct connection back to Cyrus, his uncles, cousins, and siblings were woven into the political scene of his reign. Herodotus’ catalog of Persian commander’s is also a catalog of the Great King’s family, and many of them held positions of power as Satraps across the empire. The royal family is also an opportunity to look forward, and introduce the next generation of kings, satraps, generals, and rebels.
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57: Xerxes at Home

The modern ruins of Xerxes’ Gate of All Nations via Wikimedia.

It’s time to return to the imperial heartland and tour the “city” that Xerxes’ built. The foundations may have been laid by Darius, but Xerxes was the one who turned Persepolis from a construction project into a shining palace complex in the Iranian plateau.
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56: Domestic Affairs

“The Mishandling of the Wife of Masistes, daughter-in-law of the Persian King Darius” – Print by Jan Luyken, 1699

As the war with the Greeks drags on into obscurity, it is time to investigate what was happening inside the empire under Xerxes. In the far west, most territories slipped from Persian control completely. The Mediterranean coastal region was reconfigured and given a new leadership class to carry on the war against Athens. In the royal court, Xerxes dealt with infamous court drama and intrigue, while in Babylon the daily minutia of government wore on and dealt with economic crises.
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55: Still Loud on the Western Front

The Achaemenid fortress at Eion as seen today from Amphipolis, via Wikimedia

After the Persian defeat at Mycale, the stories of the Greco-Persian war get less dramatic, but the war itself did not come to an end. Late 479 BCE saw the beginning of Greek offensives in Persian territory, which continued long after the Spartans pulled out of the war in 478. The third year of war between Xerxes and Athens saw the foundation of the Delian League, which could continue to lead Greek attacks on Persian cities for years to come.
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54: Two By “Sea”

Mycale battlefield diagram via Livius.org

Supposedly on the same day as the Battle of Plataea, another battle was unfolding at the foot of Mount Mycale (modern Mount Dilek). The Greek fleet agreed to aid Samian rebels against Persia and sailed all the way to mainland Anatolia to fight the Persian fleet. Still recovering from Salamis, the Persians opted to turn the confrontation into a land battle, but the new general, Tigranes, and his men were overwhelmed and even more of the fleet was destroyed by Greek hands.
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53: One By Land

The Death of Masistios as imagined by M.A. Barth in 1832

After a year of relative success, the Persian occupation of northern Greece received its second massive defeat. For the first time, the Hellenic League managed to field the full might of a Greek army against the occupation force commanded by Mardonius. They clashed repeatedly in the plains surrounding the small town of Plataea until their maneuvers drew both sides into a decisive and bloody confrontation.
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Interview: Sean Manning

Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects by Sean Manning (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2021).

I sat down with Dr. Sean Manning, author of the new book: Armed Force in the Teispid-Achaemenid Empire: Past Approaches, Future Prospects to discuss the military might of the Persian Empire (and why it’s so hard to find anything written about it). That includes both the academic nuances of which sources deserve primacy, and ever exciting topics of arms, armor, and tactics.

Dr. Manning’s research represents an invaluable resource for anyone trying to engage with the military history of Achaemenid Persia – especially when we try to disentangle it from the Greek Wars.
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52: The Adventure Continues

Cylinder seal depicting a Persian King (probably Darius I or Xerxes) killing a Greek warrior via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of 480 BCE, there was a lull in the conflict between the Greeks and Persians, but not a stop. The Peloponnesians went home. The Athenians raided the Aegean. Xerxes took most of his troops back to Lydia while Mardonius stayed in Greece, and Artabazos lead a Persian army back from Lydia to Thrace. All of them had their own adventures along the way.
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51: Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

September 480 BCE marked the high point for the Persian army in Greece. Athens was the smoldering fire at the heart of the Persian army’s camp. The Greek army had retreated all the way to Corinth and their fleet was in limbo with the Athenian refugees on Salamis. After some deliberation, Xerxes sent his navy to clear out the Greek ships only for the land and sea themselves to turn against the Great King.
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