Episode 2: Xerxes: The Persian Empire’s Aegean Expansion

Dr John O. Hyland joins Paul and Beatrice to discuss fifth-century BC Persian ruler Xerxes I, whose royal progress took him to the Western boundaries of his empire.

Xerxes I tried to extend his rule beyond the Aegean, which his father had failed to accomplish. For a land power this was a challenge, despite the formidable army that Xerxes commanded. He used two strategic tools – engineering, to construct a pontoon bridge across the Hellespont, and the hire of a navy, to tackle the Athenian fleet. While the latter did not work so well for him at Salamis, Xerxes’ army returned by land.Safely back beyond the Straits, Xerxes portrayed himself as conqueror and enforcer of order on the Greeks.

Dr John O. Hyland is the perfect specialist to talk to us about Xerxes, and also about the theory of a Greek or ‘Western’ Way of War, identified and scorned by Xerxes’ cousin Mardonius, and contrasted with a supposedly more subtle ‘Eastern’ way of war. Dr Hyland holds a PhD on the Ancient Mediterranean World from the University of Chicago and teaches at Christopher Newport University. His next book will explore Persia’s Greek Campaigns.

Further reading

Herodotus: The Histories, Books VII-IX

Hyland, John: Persian Interventions: The Achaemenid Empire, Athens, & Sparta, 450-386 BCE (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)

Hyland, John: “Teispid and Achaemenid Persia (c. 550-330 BCE)”, in Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Beatrice Heuser (eds): The Cambridge History of Strategy (Cambridge: CUP, forthcoming 2023), vol. 1

Konijnendijk, Roel: “Mardonius’ senseless Greeks”, The Classical Quarterly Vol. 66 No. 1 (May 2016)

Holland, Tom: “From Persia with Love: Propaganda and imperial overreach in the Greco-Persian Wars”, in Victor Davis in Hanson (ed): Makers of ancient strategy: from the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), pp.11-30.

Gaddis, John Lewis: On Grand Strategy (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2018), chapter 1

Stoneman, Richard: Xerxes: A Persian Life (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2015).


Beatrice Heuser

Senior Associate Fellow

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Paul O’Neill

Senior Research Fellow

Military Sciences

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