Who was the real Ahasuerus?

Ahasuerus is the Hebrew name for the Persian Emperor usually identified as Xerxes I.  There has been some recent debate over who Ahasuerus really was and some historians believe him to be an emperor of a later time.  But either way, the king depicted in Esther is fictional, and does not portray the attributes of man who could rule the Persian Empire.

The book of Esther portrays Ahasuerus as a manipulable coward.  He does not act much like a king, let alone a king known to rule the largest empire ever (per population percentage of the day).  He allows the officials in his court to make all the decisions, including the dismissal of his beautiful Queen, Vashti.  Then he chooses another queen, at the instruction of his advisors, by holding a beauty pageant.  He allows a man with a grudge to write a declaration that will annihilate an entire sect of taxpayers.  Throughout the entire book of Esther, Ahasuerus has someone else pulling his strings.  The only time he acts out of character is when Esther approaches him unsummoned and he extends his scepter to accept her.  When Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews for selfish reasons was discovered, Ahasuerus did nothing personally to stop it.  He does not try to save his new queen, but at least he gives her the chance to try to save herself.  This whole story does not seem possible considering it was Ahasuerus forefather, Cyrus the Great that freed the Jews from Babylonian exile in the first place.

If we are to believe all previous accusations, that Ahasuerus is Xerxes I, the he ruled the Persian Empire from 486-465 BCE.  Ahasuerus succeeded his father Darius I in the year 486 BCE.  He was not the oldest of Darius’ sons, but he was the son of the wife he took after becoming king, queen Atossa.  Atossa was the daughter of Cyrus the Great.  Being the son of two royals, Ahasuerus was the prime choose for king.  The empire was well laid before Ahasuerus took the throne.  His main objective was to restore and keep order in the outer regions of the Empire.  This included Egypt and areas close to Greece.

In 480 BCE, after preparing for three years, Ahasuerus launched a campaign against Greece to avenge his father and the defeat of the Persian forces at Marathon in 490 BCE.  The Persian army consisted of more than two million solders, and included Jews, Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians. 

At first the campaign was successful.  In the famous Battle of Thermopylae, Ahasuerus went up against Leonidas and his Spartan warriors.  A battle won by Ahasuerus, but not without the help of a Spartan traitor.  The battle was so memorable, that even today we are fascinated by the strength and courage of such a small unit of Spartan soldiers holding off two million warriors.  The movies “300” and “The 300 Spartans” along with a novel 300 written by Frank Miller were based off this ancient battle.  

After the Spartan betrayed his comrades, Ahasuerus was able to make his way into Athens.  But the war was not over.  There were problems in other parts of the empire, and Ahasuerus had to leave Greece.  A large number of soldiers were left behind, but the campaign came to an end a year later.  The Persians were defeated at Plataea, and their fleet was burned at Mycale prohibiting delivery of badly needed supplies.  Ahasuerus was never able conquer Greece.

After Ahasuerus defeat in Greece he did not attempt any more conquests.  Ahasuerus spent the rest of his life finishing construction projects started by his father and grandfather.   The palace and gate of Susa that are mentioned in the book of Esther were two of the projects completed by Ahasuerus.  He built a palace for himself twice the size of his grandfather’s, and he is responsible for the Hall of a Hundred Columns at Persepolis.

Ahasuerus was 36 years old when he was crowned king of Persia.  He ruled for 21 years and was murdered at 57 years old by the royal bodyguard, Hazarapat, with the help of a eunuch, Aspamitres.  Darius, the oldest son of Ahasuerus was also killed, but it is undetermined who was responsible.

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2 Responses to Who was the real Ahasuerus?

  1. Timothy says:

    This article doesn’t even answer the question of who this real Ahasuerus was. It states that the traditional view is that it was Xerxes I and that there has been some recent debate that he may have been a more recent emperor of the Persians. I suspect that the traditional view is based on the works of Josephus but is there any other evidence to support the claim that it was the king we refer to as Xerxes I? Archbishop Ussher thought it was Darius I (the father of Xerxes I) who was the Ahasuerus of Esther. After reading his work I would like to compare evidence for Ahasuerus being Xerxes I (or evidence for him being another Persian emperor) with the evidence he gave for Ahasuerus being Darius I.

  2. DA says:

    The Bible is infallible and without error.

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