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Friday, 6 July 2012

King Xerxes I of Persia - His Dreadful Murder and Intrigue


King Xerxes, I was a famous Persian King who is known in the western world for his invasion of Greece. His huge army had a battle with 300 soldiers commanded by King Leonidas of Sparta. Because of this, King Xerxes has a demonised image among Europeans. This is because we view Greece as the mother of European civilisation and democracy. This is, of course, unfair on the Persian king and perhaps, the entire civilisation of Persia’s Achaemenid Dynasty.

This ancient Persian Dynasty is stooped in a rich history of which, the Greek invasion was a mere sideshow. That’s not taking away anything from the brave 300 of Sparta who all Europeans love and cherish.

King Xerxes, I of Persia lived from 519 BC until his death in 465 BC at the age of 54. His death and passing from this world is an affair of dreadful intrigue and murder. He was betrayed by a man called Artabanus and this man would try to rule in Xerxes' stead. Artabanus attempted to set himself up as regent after the death of the Persian King. He would almost destroy the declining Achaemenid Dynasty in the following months after Xerxes.

Before King Xerxes I was murdered, he is said to have had his brother and his entire family killed on the wishes of his wife and queen. One of his queens was named Esther, but the story of this queen was probably earlier in his reign. This Killing of his brother would obviously cause great tension in the royal household and make many jittery. His Queen Esther is celebrated as a heroine by Hebrews because she is remembered with affection for saving them from massacre and getting a high profile minister executed who was planning to have Jews killed in King Xerxes' name. This is a famous story, but such events and dealings within the Achaemenid household would cause tensions among other members. People who were, perhaps, less fond of this beautiful Jewish queen. The obscure lady who had risen to great power from the king's harem. When King Xerxes I was assassinated, there is no record of what became of Queen Esther. She may have died before hand or gone back to Israel or been slain too. The latter is unlikely, but if Xerxes is this powerful king with a harem of many women, perhaps Queen Esther had played her part in history and moved aside, drifting out of prominence yet leaving a wake of dissatisfaction for the king - whether she died, lived or left to fade from history. 

King Xerxes’ murderer, Commander of Royal Bodyguard – Artabanus, had come to the prominent position of the Royal Persian court. The Commander of the Bodyguard had gained strong religious support from Zoroastrian priests. He also acquired friends among the eunuchs – a powerful body of slaves that knew of harem intrigue and chatter. Artabanus also had seven sons who were put into prominent positions of the Royal Persian court. Artabanus was extremely calculating and very audacious in some form of planning and wanted to gain control of the Persian Empire and rule it directly. He had eyes and ears all about the court and access to much information. His ambition was outraged for good reasons. Despite not being related to the Achaemenid Dynasty; he might have had some distant blood line along the fringe that he thought to fashion into some legalised way of ruling. This would be once he had eliminated prominent Achaemenid persons of power. Perhaps he had heard of other relations resentful of their less prominent positions within the Royal Achaemenid family. Perhaps many were nervous of this queen who had seen murder done to the king's brother and family. There must have been a lot of tension and many might have thought Xerxes was losing his grip on his dynasty. 

King Xerxes, had an elder son who would succeed him called Prince Darius. Xerxes had many sons and daughters but Prince Darius was to be the successor. Another son, lower in line, was called Artaxerxes and it is possible that Commander of Royal Bodyguard Artabanus formulated a plan to eliminate King Xerxes and his eldest son Darius and somehow find a way to work through the younger Prince Artaxerxes.

Commander Artabanus got the close help of a powerful eunuch named Aspamitres and had King Xerxes I killed. It was then blamed upon Prince Darius as a parricide and he was quickly put to death. The vacuum of the Persian throne left Commander Artabanus as a regent dictator for a few months. History is not sure if Artabanus then tried to groom Prince Artaxerxes to his way. This would allow Artabanus to rule through the young royal or perhaps he might have tried to manipulate the young prince in some other way before taking total control over the Achaemenid Dynasty.

On the other hand, it is possible that the younger Persian Prince played along with the Commander of Bodyguard Artabanus, allowing him to eliminate all above. This would place an outside contender in direct line. It is not written so, but it could be. History is vague on this point. Whatever drove Commander Artabanus upon his ambitious crusade for power; it all went wrong when Prince Artaxerxes killed him. Some say, by personally stabbing the Commander of the Royal Bodyguard with his own sword. All of Commander Artabanus’ sons were quickly dispatched and put to death too. Then the eunuchs and priests, loyal to Artabanus, were killed. All who had supported the man were eliminated. None who tried to move and do things beyond their station in the Persian society could live.

After the death of the famous King Xerxes I of Persia and the brief interlude of a few months;  King Artaxerxes I reign from 465 BC to 424 BC began.
King Artaxerxes is seen as avenging the murder of his father King Xerxes I and elder brother Prince Darius. However, it is possible that the blame might have been put upon Commander Artabanus. It is difficult to imagine what Artabanus long term gain might be if he was not of Royal line. The society he lived in understood only things of nobility and bloodline. Was Prince Artaxerxes more involved in the plot? Or was he an unwitting pawn in over ambitious Commander Artabanus' plan?

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