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|“||Yours is a fascinating tribe, even now you're defiant, in the face of annihilation, in the presence of a god.||„|
Xerxes is the primary antagonist of the 300 films but he serves as the secondary antagonist in 300: Rise of an Empire, alongside Artemisia based on the graphic novel 300. He is based on the real king Xerxes I of Persia who sent his army to fight against 300 Spartans in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. Xerxes eventually won this battle by having superior numbers in his army and due to the Greek traitor Ephialtes, who aided him by showing him and the Persians the existence of a small pass in the Hot Gates that allowed Xerxes to attack them from behind. Xerxes is depicted as being extremely egocentric, and proclaims himself a "God-king." He demands that all those beneath him bow down to him.
He was portrayed by Rodrigo Santoro.
Xerxes was the son of King Darius, who during an attempt to invade and conquer Greece, was killed by Themistocles of Athens by a well placed arrow. Xerxes saw the arrow coming and tried save his father, but he was too late. Themistocles's arrow struck Darius down, and near death, decided to let the Persians and the Greeks form a truce. However, as he tried tell his son about his choice, his last words where not heard as Artemisia pulled the arrow from his chest, and he died. Artemisia then manipulated Xerxes, to become a god king. Xerxes wandered out into the desert, while Artemisia assassinated all of Xerxes' advisors. He eventfully found a Hermit's cave, and through the use of dark magic, was stripped of his humanity and was reborn as the god king. He then made his choice to lead a conquest on the world.
Xerxes then launched a diplomatic attempt to subdue Greece, though Athens turned him down, and Sparta responded by killing his envoys. He then lead an army of 300,000 men towards Thermopylae, where a force of 300 Spartans under Leonidas was waiting for him. After hundreds, if not thousands of his men are killed, he approaches Leonidas in person and attempts to convince him to surrender offering power and wealth in exchange for allegiance. Leonidas declines the offer and mocks him for having such a weak army. In response to this challenge, he sends his elite guard, the Immortals, that night to finish the job, and unwittingly has his elite walk into a Spartan trap. Despite being temporarily stunned, the Immortals soon have the Spartans on the ropes, but an attack by the Arcadians evens the odds and the Immortals are repelled, very much to his fury. The following day, he even uses war elephants, but due to the skill of the Spartans and the terrain, it comes to nothing. Xerxes then realizes that although he will beat the Spartans through attrition, logistically he cant wait that long. A miracle occurs when the deformed Ephitaltes arrives and reveals to Xerxes a path around the Spartans. Xerxes then makes an offer to Ephitaltes that in exchange for loyalty and his guide around the path, he will offer him wealth, women, and especially a uniform. Xerxes agrees to the bargain, and Ephitaltes fulfills his part of the deal by bringing the Persians around, and Xerxes fulfills his. The Arcadians have fled by the sunrise, but the Spartans stay. Xerxes decides to force a surrender, but the Spartans kill his general. Having lost so many men and elephants to the Spartans in close combat, Xerxes decides to finish the job from afar. However though, Leonidas throws his spear at the god king and cuts Xerxes's cheek, much to his shock. Despite this injury, Xerxes managed to win, for in a few minutes, every single Spartan was dead.
Following the victory, he angrily ordered Leonidas's head to be cut off to symbolize his triumph and then burns Athens. He speaks with Artemisia who had failed to crush the Greek fleet. He advised her not to enter the Salamis straights, but Artemisia ignored it, and her navy was destroyed by the combined Spartan and Athenian fleets. With his naval support destroyed, Xerxes then abandons Artemisia to her fate and fled Greece.
This depiction of Xerxes is portrayed as a power-crazed, overconfident and megalomaniacal psychopath, incredibly determined to conquer the known Persian world. He is extremely arrogant, and overconfident, to believing he is literally a divine being, an overconfidence that has cost him on a number of occasions. He is extremely manipulative, easily convincing Ephitaltes to defect by appealing to his desires he could not gain with the Greeks. He nevertheless does show emotion when his father dies, and in his emotional state, is easily manipulated by Artemisia. He also was too arrogant to believe he could be injured and when Leonidas's spear cut his cheek, he reacted with horror and shock upon seeing his own blood. He is also very vengeful, angrily cutting off Leonidas's head in a sign of dominance.
He also had a tendency to learn lessons, as evident when he advised Artemisia not to enter the straits of Salamis having learned from his experience at Thermopylae. When Artemisia was killed and the fleet was destroyed, Xerxes fled, indicating that he has some tactical knowledge.
- Although Xerxes has been portrayed in a negative light before, his depiction here has been severely criticized as homosexual, effeminate, racist, and has multiple historical inaccuracies. His appereance before his transformation is significantly more accureate and realistic.
- In addition to his appearance's criticism, his personality depiction, along with the depiction of Persians in the movie in general, has been heavily criticized for several political undertones such as East and West, fascism against democracy, ranging from the studio and professors, to a particularly furious reaction in Iran, which resulted in the film being banned as American propaganda.
- Xerxes and Artemisia are both tragic villains: in Xerxes's case, it is due to losing his father and Artemisia's manipulation, while in the latter's case, it is due to being abused and betrayed.
- Xerxes was claimed as the main antagonist in Rise of an Empire, but this was the plot to reveal the true main villain later on.