By Eric Niderost Persian King Xerxes I “The Great” was a man who liked to solicit different opinions before he made a decision on any important matter. He was in the midst of a campaign to conquer mainland Greece in the fall of 480 bc, but his fleet had been savagely mauled in September at Salamis. It was a stunning defeat, made even more distasteful because Xerxes had personally witnessed it while sitting on a golden throne. The Persian monarch was a handsome man with curly hair and a long black beard, and he was elegantly dressed in a long-sleeved kafkan-style robe. The senior commanders, many of them warriors of distinction, filed in and respectfully waited for the conference to begin. The king wore a tall, jewel-studded headdress, a symbol of his status, but Xerxes did not need the trappings of royalty to assert his authority. Mardonius was one of the first to speak. He was Xerxes’ cousin, but military talent, not nepotism, made him a general in the king’s host. If we are to believe the Greek historian Herodotus, Mardonius was one of the chief promoters of this campaign, urging Xerxes to deal with the troublesome Greeks once and for all. The Greek settlements in Ionia along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean were already controlled by Xerxes, but they were a rebellious lot. They were encouraged by the Greek city-states on the mainland, particularly Athens. Mardonius argued Athens must be punished, and the conquest of Greece would remove a thorn from Xerx


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