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Persia 09: Xerxes, Hero of Heroes (and more)

- Though the ships of Xerxes were numerous enough to land in every Greek harbor and the army of Xerxes large enough to blanket all level ground, Xerxes would face off with his surrogate Leonidas in a narrow pass at Thermopylae. For three days Leonidas and his men fought like cornered lions and for this they won everlasting glory. However, by design, the distinction of becoming the most celebrated Greek warrior since Hercules/Benjamin would belong to Xerxes himself. (Diodorus of Syracuse stated that Datames was a valiant warrior and had even died in battle.)

- Xerxes also took possession of the body of Leonidas as well, and just as the oracle of Delphi had foreseen. Xerxes had given explicit orders that it not be claimed by Greeks and taken back to Sparta where it could be examined and possibly exposed as an imposter/double.

- Xerxes gained even more than an upgrade in typecasting and undying fame among the Greeks. He had also ordered or induced two of his rival half-brothers to hurl themselves at the Spartans and consequently they were no more. Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, the sons of Darius by Phratagune (sister of Queen Atossa), were killed at Thermopylae.

- The reputation of Hydarnes, leader of the Immortals, was also tarnished at Thermopylae. The Immortals were not able (or allowed) to overcome the Spartans by direct assault. Instead, an informant had to show them how to circle around and take the Spartans from the rear.

- Having accomplished his main objective, the lionizing of his Greek self, Xerxes moved rapidly on to the next goal.

- Xerxes did not risk repeating the mistake of the previous campaign of Datis and Artaphrenes. The tactic of the previous campaign was reversed. As a dutiful son, he first moved to avenge his father Darius by sacking (a largely evacuated) Athens. Only then was a battle to be thrown.

- The Persian admirals had already been humiliated by a heavy loss of ships to weather, poor tactical coordination and seamanship, and the prophesied “wooden wall” of enemy Athenian ships commanded by Themistocles. Yet, further blessings would follow. Themistocles and Xerxes agreed that the next engagement would take place at Salamis.

- As many as 200 hundred Persian ships were believed to have been destroyed at Salamis along with thousands of Persian troops and sailors, including the half-brother of Xerxes, admiral Ariabignes. Xerxes looked on from a safe distance. In the aftermath, three nephews of Xerxes were also tracked down and killed.

- Themistocles hoped to be credited with duping Xerxes and orchestrating the stunning victory. Instead he was (rightly) accused of conspiracy and ostracized by Athens. (After some years in exile, he abandoned the anti-Persia pretense and went over to the court of Xerxes.)

- With this accomplished, much of the remaining Persian expeditionary force withdrew. However, the over-zealous general Mardonius was left behind with one army unit and permitted to continue the mission. Another army under Artabazus son of Pharnaces secured the land supply route down the eastern coast of Greece.

- Meanwhile, in Sparta, the dead lion-king Leonidas was replaced by one named Pausanias, a close male relative of Leonidas by Spartan reckoning. He became regent and guardian of the heir of Leonidas, even as Artobarzanes was made regent and guardian of Xerxes’ children in Persia.

- Pausanias was joined in Sparta by the “seer” (magician/diviner) Tissamenes, a Thoth/Simeon (“son of seeing”) type. The two of them collaborated in a string of Spartan offensives. This is evidently the same dynamic duo of Ariamenes and Artobarzanes that had previously worked so well together in the “rebellion” of Babylon under the names of Bel-simanni and Shamash-eriba. (Ur-Bau was a famous Reuben type from the Middle Kingdom).

- The name Pausanias was perhaps a play on Ur-Bau, and from pau/paus, “to cease” or anapausis, “to refresh”. The exact significance of this choice of name needs more study.

- Pausanias and Tissamenes employed a maneuver later used successfully again by Alexander the Great. They ordered a phalanx charge directly at the enemy commander Mardonius. Instead of retreating, Mardonius attempted to engage the juggernaut and was killed. His troops then broke off the battle (of Plataea) and returned to their encampment. The stockade around the camp was eventually surrounded and breached by the Greeks.

- Upon hearing that Mardonius was dead, Xerxes directed Artabazus to abandon mainland Greece altogether. Mission accomplished!

- Greece was delivered again through a “wooden wall” and Pausanias was recognized (along with Leonidas) as a Greek savior! Pausanias was soon also made leader of the entire anti-Persian alliance! He was joined by a new man from Athens, Xanthippus (father of the famous Pericles), picked to replace Themistocles.

- It was soon proposed to go out looking for what remained of the Persian navy in the Aegean. After being spotted at Samos, the Persian fleet under Mardontes son of Bagaeus (who had replaced Ariabignes) beached their ships at nearby Cape Mycale on the Ionian Coast of Turkey, because a Persian army unit was stationed there under the command of general Tigranes. The Persians were however turned upon by their local Ionian Greek contingents and suffered the same fate as the army of Mardonius. Tigranes, Mardontes, and other high-ranking Persians were killed.

- The Athenians next placed Artacytes the satrap of the Hellespont under a prolonged siege at the city of Sestos. He and the general Oeobazus got out but were captured and killed before they could reach the safety of Artabazus and his army.

- Rather than being angered by all these setbacks, Xerxes sent a letter of commendation by Artabazus to Pausanias and encouraged him (as well as Artabazus) to continue his faithful service in the Greek world!

- It had long been a tradition for a Great King to pit subordinates against one another. Regardless of which subordinate prevailed, there was one less potential rival to be concerned about. (Compare the rivalry between Asa and Ba’asa in the Biblical narrative.) Xerxes seems to have taken this policy to a new level, and his particular typecasting made for a convenient justification. It was said that his role model Biblical King Ahaz “sacrificed his sons in the fire”. 2 Chron. 28:3 The historical Takelot III/Tiglath-pileser III (Nubian Shabaka) is known to have killed prince Bocchoris and then buried him in the Greek style, by burning.

- Swelled with pride from their miraculous victories, the Greeks would soon be set to fighting one another. Greece was simply the latest royal plaything.