“Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided…” Esther 2:1

I started reading Esther 2 and pondered the word “later.” As it turns out, later was about 3 years later! I did some reading up on what Xerxes was up to during that time and thought I would share a little about the Greco-Persian Wars.

Father of History

Most of what we know about the Greco-Persian Wars comes from the Greek historian Herodotus from his book The Histories. Herodotus did a series of interviews to learn all he could about the origins of this conflict and of the battles that took place. He earned the title “Father of History” from his efforts, and his method of collecting information set the precedent for how we document history today.


Photo of Greek Phalanx
An EDSITEment-reconstructed Greek phalanx based on sources from The Perseus Project.

Xerxes started preparing to invade Greece in 483 B.C. He amassed troops, ships, and supplies from all over the empire. What started off as a king punishing his Greek subjects for revolting, quickly became an expedition for complete domination. One of Xerxes’ successful battles was in August 480 B.C., called the Battle of Thermopylae (photo of the scene is above). In fact, the film 300 is about this battle (although, I wouldn’t recommend seeing 300 unless you can handle strong violence–it is rated R). Unfortunately for Xerxes, the Greco-Persian wars ended in a stalemate and he returned to Susa in embarrassing defeat.

Photo of Location of the Battle of Thermopylae
The site of the battle today. Mount Kallidromon on the left, and the wide coastal plain formed by accretion of fluvial deposits over the centuries; the road to the right approximates the 480 BC shoreline.

Lashing the water

When we get to Esther 2:1 it becomes clear why Xerxes was angry. I had previously assumed he was still angry over Vashti’s refusal, but it was more likely about his disaster of a military campaign. I came across a story that I think gives some insight into Xerxes’ state of mind during those wars. Herodotus reported that Xerxes had ordered a bridge built over the Hellespont (waterway that separates Asia Minor from Greece). A strong storm destroyed the bridge. Xerxes was so furious that he beheaded the engineers and ordered the water lashed 300 times. Yes, he had the water punished too.

Photo of An artist's illustration depicting Xerxes' alleged "punishment" of the Hellespont
An artist’s illustration depicting Xerxes’ alleged “punishment” of the Hellespont

Trivia quiz:

Want to see what the wars might have been like for Xerxes? Check out this Interactive Map where you follow his journey step by step and are given trivia questions to answer along the way. I had fun with it! This would be great for kids, too.

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