Xerxes’ Succession to the Throne – Mini

There is much scholarly debate on Xerxes’ rise to prominence due to the contradictory nature of primary sources; both archaeological and epigraphic, particularly regarding challenges to the throne. The political system was particularly murky in the area of succession; with no clear rules established by the time of Xerxes. Herodotus, as the focal primary source for Xerxes’ rise to prominence; must be indefinitely treated with due caution, given his Greek heritage, tendency to caricature the Persians, and overplay their power in order to increase the ‘underdog’ nature of the Greeks.

There are various factors to be considered in Xerxes’ rise to power; particularly other claimants to the throne; most notably Artobazanes. However, Xerxes held greater claim to the throne due to genetic links, and public approval. Epigraphic evidence found at Persepolis; alludes to the possibility of a co-regency; saying that Darius ‘left the throne’ 11 years prior to his death. This would lead to a clear, simple succession.

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However, in another version of the text in Akkadian language, the text says ‘went to his fate’, Dandemaev states that this implies that Darius died, thus ending his rule and creating a more unclear succession to the throne, allowing for other contenders to come forward and state their claim to the throne. Evidence for this power struggle is found in an inscription at Persepolis; ‘Other sons of Darius there were – thus unto Ahuramazda was the desire – Darius my father made me the greatest after himself. Xerxes had 2 older half-brothers; both born of Phaedyme, daughter of Gobryas. Both brothers had substantial claims to the throne; according to Ctesias Ariamienes after travelling from Bactria, withdrew his claim to the throne in favour of being offered wealth and the promise of being second in power in the kingdom.

In Ctesias’ version of events, Ariamenes crowned the new king; remaing loyal to him and eventually dying, as a hero at Salamas.Artobazanes, however, had a more substantial claim to the throne, being Darius’ eldest son and was thus the greatest threat to Xerxes’ rise to prominence. In Herodotus’ account, after a violent quarrel between the two brothers broke out, the exiled Spartan king Demaratus stepped in, saying that Xerxes was the first born to Darius after he became king; in Spartan tradition, this made him the strongest claimant to the throne. Darius accepts this, according to Herodotus.

J. M. Cook further points out that Xerxes’ mother, Atossa was daughter of Cyrus the Great; the liberator of the Persians; thus making Xerxes’ genetic claim to the throne even greater, and appealing to Persian nationalism, as freedom was highly valued. Furthermore, reliefs found at Persepolis of Xerxes prior to his rise to prominence portray him standing behind Darius in the throne room, suggesting he was the crown prince; male heir to the throne, further enhancing his claims to the throne.

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