Evaluate the Building Program of Xerxes. (15 Marks)

Evaluate the building program of Xerxes. (15 marks)

During the reign of the first two great kings of Persia – Cyrus the Great and Cambyses –conquered cities like Ecbatana, Pasargardai and Susa were used as capitals of the empire. Xerxes’ father Darius, by contrast, decided to build his own capital, Persepolis, in the Persian heartland. It is not known why he made this decision, as the great king did not live in one place but travelled around the empire continually, using a variety of palaces. Some scholars suggest Persepolis was a religious centre, others that it was the location of the No-Ruz gift-giving ceremony. Whichever, Darius undertook a massive construction program – something which was nowhere near complete at the time of this death.

Following his return from Greece, Xerxes set himself the task of completing the projects started by his father. He also undertook a number of projects of his own. These would be grander than anything seen in the empire thus far – buildings to inspire awe among subject people’s of the empire. To achieve this, Xerxes called on all the resources of his vast domain, recruiting architects, stone masons, sculptors and other specialists.

His first task was to finish the Tachara (the Palace of Darius), which was started by his father in 515 BC. He also completed the Apadana, a vast, 3,600 square metre audience hall that could hold 10,000 people. Its 25 metre high roof was supported by 36 massive columns.

The Gate of All Lands was the formal entrance to the Apadana. The sculpted figures on either side of the gate were lamassu’s – bulls with wings and human heads. They were adapted from statues on Assyrian palaces, and were meant to ward off evil. This structure was commenced and completed by Xerxes, as was the Great Double Staircase, which led up to the Gate of All Lands.

Xerxes also built his own palace (known today as the Palace of Xerxes), modelling it on that of Darius but with a much larger central hall. The palace is twice the size of the Palace of Darius.

A final project started by Xerxes but completed by his son Artaxerxes was the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the largest structure in Persepolis.

Taken together, these building projects rendered Persepolis a truly magnificent city. Diodorus Siculus tells us that Alexander the Great, who later burnt the Palace of Xerxes, regretted having destroyed such a splendid edifice.

Of course, Persepolis was not Xerxes’ only construction achievement. He also oversaw various projects across the empire. These included maintenance of the Royal Road built by his father Darius, completion of the Susa Gate, and construction of a palace at Susa.

In all, Xerxes’ building program must be judged an outstanding success. He completed the projects commenced by his father, and initiated a series of spectacular projects himself. No other Persian king enjoyed such a record.