Monday, March 20, 2017

Review of Stoneman, Xerxes: A Persian Life

Richard Stoneman, Xerxes: A Persian Life. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2015. Pp. xi, 275. ISBN 9780300180077. $38.00.

Reviewed by Michael Iliakis (


Xerxes I (518 – 465, r. 486 – 465 BCE) was the fourth king of the Achaemenid Persian Empire (ca. 550 – 330 BCE), grandson of its founder, Cyrus the Great (600 – 530, r. 559 – 530 BCE), and son of its most prominent ruler, Darius the Great (550 – 486, r. 522 – 486 BCE). He is best remembered by ancient and modern scholars for his failed attempt to conquer mainland Greece in 480 – 479. In the present volume Richard Stoneman has two aims: to discern the origins of this image of Xerxes and “to recreate something of what it was to be the ruler of the largest empire the world had yet seen”.

Chapter one is devoted to the turbulent events surrounding Darius’ and Xerxes’ accession to the throne and includes information about the education and the investiture of Xerxes, which is relevant for Xerxes’ successors as well.

Chapter two examines the Persian Empire’s territory, economy, cultural and political influence within its borders as well as its court and high officials (with a focus on those of non-Persian descent). This chapter also contains an informative section on Greek and Jewish authors and texts contemporary or near-contemporary to Xerxes that are or can be used as source material for his life and exploits. However, this interposing section disrupts the chapter’s cohesion somewhat and would have served the book better if it had been included in the introduction instead.

In Biblical Studies, Xerxes is best known as the King Ahasuerus of the legendary story in the Book of Esther. I noted Stoneman's book recently here.