XERXES i. The Name


XERXES, name of two Achaemenid rulers and of some later princes.


Xerxes is the common Greek (Xérxēs) and Latin form (Xerxes, Xerses) of the Achaemenid throne-name which in Old Persian is spelled x-š-y-a-r-š-a (with the initial a- of the second element being spread into medial position) and must be interpreted as four-syllable Xšaya-ṛšā (thus first P. Tedesco in Herzfeld, pp. 97 f. and Hoffmann, p. 85, fn. 15). 

This form and the secondary contracted form *Xšayaršā are reflected more or less accurately in Bab. Ḫi-ši-ʾ-ar-šá/ši, Ḫi-ši-(i-)ar-ši/šú, Aḫ-ši-ia-ar-šú, Ak-ši-ia-ar-šú, Ak-ši-ia-mar-šú (with many other variants; cf. Dandamayev, pp. 82 f., no. 145; Tavernier, pp. 23 f., 66 ff.; Zadok, pp. 207-24, no. 283), Aram. ḥšyʾrš, ḥšyrš, ʾḥšyrš (cf. Porten and Lund, p. 356a), Bibl.-Aram. ʾḥšwrwš (with the wrong vocalization “Aḥašwērōš”), and Eg. ḫšjrš, ḫšjegyptian aleph (cf. Vittmann, p. 164). From all those renderings are different both El. Ik-še-ir-(iš-)šá (cf. Hinz and Koch, p. 750), that is, /Kšerša/ or the like, and Gk. Xérxēs (originating in *Xérsēs by distance-assimilation x––x from x––s), which apparently render a shorter two-syllable form *Xšairšā or even monophthongized *Xšēršā; this medially shortened form must have existed already in Old Iranian (probably in spoken Old Persian) and was not created only in Greek (with a quite regular intermediate *Xeírsēs or *Xeírxēs) and Elamite respectively. The longstanding view that Gk. Xérxēs goes back to the attested Old Persian form through *Xrxēs, *Xāˊrxās, and OIran. *Xšāršā must be given up for phonological reasons (see esp. Schmitt, 1996, pp. 88 f.), and a common explanation for both the Elamite and the Greek form (which are remarkably similar to each other) must in any case be preferred.

Old Persian Xšaya-ṛšā is a compound with the verbal stem xšaya- “ruling” as the first element and the n-stem noun *ṛšan- “hero, man” as the second element; the original n-stem paradigm, however, is preserved only in the nominative form, whereas the other cases are remodeled analogically in one way or another (see Kent, p. 65a); with the primary meaning “ruling over heroes” it is close to Ved. kṣayád-vīra- “id.” with a similar formation.

Minor bearers of this ancient royal name in later times include the following two:

1. A king of Sophene (Western Armenia). He fled when Antiochus III besieged the royal capital Arsamosata (Iran. *Aršāmašāt) in 212 B.C.E. because tribute payments had been stopped by his father (probably Arsames, the founder of Arsamosata). But at the same time, he asked for negotiations and indeed was graciously received by Antiochus, who demanded only relatively small tribute from him (Polybios 8.23.1–5); he took Antiochus’s sister Antiochis to wife, who later eliminated him (see H. H. Schmitt, esp. pp. 28, 93); he is known also from his coinage (see Alram, p. 68).

2. A son of Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontos (see PONTUS). Still a child, he was captured with some of his brothers and sisters (among them, one Darius and one Cyrus) during the revolt against Mithridates that preceded the king’s suicide. The children were handed over to Gnaeus Pompey, who displayed them in the triumph awarded him in Rome in 61 B.C.E. for his victories in the East, including those over the king of Pontos and his allies (Appianus, Mithr. 108, 117).



M. Alram, Nomina propria Iranica in nummis: Materialgrundlagen zu den iranischen Personennamen auf antiken Münzen, Wien, 1986.

M. A. Dandamayev, Iranians in Achaemenid Babylonia, Costa Mesa and New York, 1992.

E. Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World I, Princeton, 1947.

W. Hinz and H. Koch, Elamisches Wörterbuch, Berlin, 1987.

K. Hoffmann, “Altpers. afuvāyā,” in H. Krahe, ed., Corolla Linguistica. Festschrift Ferdinand Sommer, Wiesbaden, 1955, pp. 80–85.

R. G. Kent, Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd ed., New Haven, 1953.

M. Mayrhofer, Die altiranischen Namen, Wien, 1979, pp. 30 f., no. 66.

B. Porten and J. A. Lund, Aramaic Documents from Egypt: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance, Winona Lake, Ind., 2002.

H. H. Schmitt, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte Antiochos’ des Grossen und seiner Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1964.

R. Schmitt, Die Iranier-Namen bei Aischylos (Iranica Graeca Vetustiora. I), Wien, 1978, pp. 29 f.

R. Schmitt, “Onomastica Iranica Platonica,” in Ch. Mueller-Goldingen and K. Sier, eds., Lēnaika: Festschrift für Carl Werner Müller, Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1996, pp. 81–102.

R. Schmitt, Die iranischen und Iranier-Namen in den Schriften Xenophons (Iranica Graeca Vetustiora. II), Wien, 2002, pp. 65 f.

R. Schmitt, Iranische Anthroponyme in den erhaltenen Resten von Ktesias’ Werk (Iranica Graeca Vetustiora. III), Wien, 2006, pp. 111–13.

J. Tavernier, Iranica in the Achaemenid Period (ca. 550-330 B.C.): Lexicon of Old Iranian Proper Names And Loanwords, Attested In Non-Iranian Texts, Leuven, 2007.

G. Vittmann, “Iranisches Sprachgut in ägyptischer Überlieferung,” in Th. Schneider, ed., Das Ägyptische und die Sprachen Vorderasiens, Nordafrikas und der Ägäis. Akten des Basler Kolloquiums zum ägyptisch-nichtsemitischen Sprachkontakt, Münster, 2004, pp. 129–182.

R. Zadok, Iranische Personennamen in der neu- und spätbabylonischen Nebenüberlieferung, Wien, 2009.

(Rüdiger Schmitt)

Last Updated: September 30, 2011

Cite this entry:

Rüdiger Schmitt, “XERXES i. The Name,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/xerxes-1-name(accessed on 20 September 2016).