In 300 (2006), why does Xerxes consider himself a god? Is there a back story for him somewhere?

  • 5
    Real story of Xerxes I
    – Ankit Sharma
    Oct 28, 2013 at 14:47
  • 13
    It is not uncommon for kings to consider themselves (or be considered) gods. Oct 29, 2013 at 8:06
  • I always assumed he portrayed himself as a god rather than believing it himself...
    – Liath
    Apr 28, 2014 at 10:17

6 Answers 6


Looking at the real Xerxes there doesn't seem to be a background suggesting that he ever claimed himself to be an actual god, apart from the mandatory high self-esteem every great king and conqueror needs. Rather than that it is probably just that a naturally high self-esteem exaggerated in a way congruent with the rest of the movie's plot and style.

As you probably know, the movie is not an entirely accurate rendition of the real historical events, but rather an artistically distorted and exaggerated version (upto the point of including fantasy elements), and told from the viewpoint of the Spartans. And in light of this exaggeration and subjective viewpoint it makes perfect sense to depict Xerxes as a god-like creature or someone who regards himself as a god. This is pretty in line with the whole depiction of the Persians as an invincible and ruthless army of millions (while tens of thousand would have been more accurate) and helps to emphasize both the contrast between them and the mere 300 Spartans with their more down-to-earth king Leonidas and the hopelessness of the Spartans' situation.

(Yet I also have to admit that this is an answer more based on common sense than elaborate research of the real events and the comic/movie's development process.)

  • 7
    +1 ... reasonable and feasible answer. My research could not confirm this either, but was thinking along the same lines. I don't think Xerxes actually thought of himself as a god, but more-so expected his people to treat him as such. In order to maintain this, he had to outwardly portray himself as such. Could be self-delusion was at play here as well, though. Oct 28, 2013 at 17:41
  • +1 for the emphasis that this is from the viewpoint of the Spartans. That has a MAJOR play in it.
    – PiousVenom
    Apr 8, 2014 at 14:57
  • Historically, there was probably also some propaganda at play, both on the size of the Persian army (rumored, if memory serves from the book Gates of Fire to be 1 Million fighting men) and the size of the Greek army (post facto to boost the morale saying, "hey look how few of us managed to hold off so many of them?"
    – Paul
    Feb 24, 2017 at 2:20
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    @Paul Did people at the time think the "300" held the pass? I didn't get that impression - it seemed to me to be mostly a modern invention. Herodotus' account certainly doesn't seem to imply that. If anything, the focus seemed to be on there being 300 Spartans (along with about a thousand other troops), and that these few remaining troops were covering the retreat of the bulk of the army, rather than being the whole of the defense force. Of course, this was still in accounts after the war, but given that the myths come from even later on, it seems pretty relevant.
    – Luaan
    Dec 13, 2017 at 14:52
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    Plus, it's in human nature. Pride. Think about it: you're having great luck conquering the known world and establishing your empire. You're seemingly unstoppable/untouchable. Why wouldn't you think of yourself at least with some sore of demi-god-like stature? Jan 9, 2019 at 18:51

The historical Xerxes probably did not consider himself a god, but he was a legend in his own time.

He removed a golden statue from the temple of Zeus, desecrating the temple, something his father Darius did not dare to do.

From Herodotus, The Histories (Book 1, Chapter 183, Section 3)

and in the days of Cyrus there was still in this sacred enclosure a statue of solid gold twenty feet high. I myself have not seen it, but I relate what is told by the Chaldeans. Darius son of Hystaspes proposed to take this statue but dared not; Xerxes his son took it, and killed the priest who warned him not to move the statue.

When a bridge, built by Xerxes' engineers, was destroyed by a storm on the Hellespont, Xerxes ordered his men to punish the waters.

Again from Herodotus (Book 7, Chapter 35, Section 1)

When Xerxes heard of this, he was very angry and commanded that the Hellespont be whipped with three hundred lashes, and a pair of fetters be thrown into the sea. I have even heard that he sent branders with them to brand the Hellespont.

As a man, he was regarded as exceptionally handsome. As a king, he had gathered an enormous army (Herodotus claims in excess of 1 million, modern scholars estimate 60-150,000) and marched it across western Asia and into Europe. Regardless of the actual number, he was a living legend.

Unfortunately, movies have a tendency to make everyone bigger than life. So when it's time to portray a person that actually was bigger than life, the only choice is hyperbole and exaggeration. Take Xerxes' actual accomplishments and audacity, and combine that with the idea that some ancient rulers tried to cloak themselves in deity, and it isn't too much of a stretch to portray him as was done in 300.

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    +1 But as to the last paragraph: "Unfortunately, movies have a tendency to make everyone bigger than life. So when it's time to portray a person that actually was bigger than life, the only choice is hyperbole and exaggeration." - This was especially true for 300, but was an artistic decision fitting to the style of the movie/comic, which I wouldn't regard as "unfortunate" in this case (or many other cases/movies in general).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 30, 2013 at 8:20
  • While your answer doesn't directly address my question, I infer from it that he could have fancied himself a god because of his deeds and victories. Oct 30, 2013 at 16:06
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    @DustinDavis, I don't think that Xerxes thought of himself as a god. I think he was arrogant and drunk on power (and he had an over-abundance of power) Oct 30, 2013 at 16:46
  • @ChristianRau, I agree, in the case of 300 it was fortunate. I love the movie. Oct 30, 2013 at 16:48

In the new film 300: Rise of an Empire, Xerxes' father's dying words were

only a god can defeat the Greeks.

Spurred on by Eva Green's character, Artemisia, he gets wrapped in chains and gauze inscribed with Sumerian text and wanders into the desert until he finds a cave with a pool of gold liquid, upon exiting the pool, he now has flaming red eyes, is hairless and is now a foot taller. Literally a god king.

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    I haven't seen the movie yet, but it sounds like there might be some pieces of the back story in there. Apr 11, 2014 at 21:23

Actually, He had never considered himself a god. They were Zoroastrian (a religion that still exists in Iran and is considered to be monotheistic and acceptable by the Iranian Islamic government) and they were extremely religious and it was a big taboo for them to consider themselves god or anything with extraterrestrial power. In the inscriptions that have been found in the remainder of their constructions in Alvand, Persepolis and Susa which is addressed by archaeologists as XPa, XPb, XPc, XPd, XPe, XPf ("Harem inscription"), XPg, XPh ("Daiva inscription"), XPi, XPj, XPk, XPl, XPm....

There is a repetitive initiation for most of his speeches in the worship of Ahuramazda (Zoroastrian God) and also pray for their protection. That sounds to me that those are the words of a ruler who is so confident but no sign of claim of being a god. In a text inscribed on the walls of the Gate of all nations in Persepolis (also known as Takht-e-Jamshid), at the main gate, there is an inscription known as XPa, that Xerxes (Persian name: Khashayar-shah) introduced himself:

A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created heaven, who created man, who created happiness for man, who made Xerxes king, one king of many kings, commander of many commanders. I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of all countries and many men, the king in this great earth far and wide, the son of Darius, an Achaemenid. King Xerxes says: by the favor of Ahuramazda this Gate of All Nations I built. Much else that is beautiful was built in this Persepolis (Pârsâ), which I built and my father built. Whatever has been built and seems beautiful - all that we built by the favor of Ahuramazda. King Xerxes says: may Ahuramazda preserve me, my kingdom, what has been built by me, and what has been built by my father. That, indeed, may Ahuramazda preserve. http://www.livius.org/aa-ac/achaemenians/XPa.html

No need to explain how religious and God-fearing they are. Also about how he was portrayed in the movie, there was a common appearance for men that we see in all the ancient art from that age, long and curly beard that truly has nothing to do with the chosen ORIFLAME make-up for King Xerxes.the common appearance for Achaemenid rulers

Besides, how the movie tried to show the ancient Persians opinion about women and make it impressive by emphasis on respectful behaviour of Greek king with his queen (damn Cersei :)), was a bit disturbing for me because we know that the females of the royal family in ancient Persia were powerful as we know their names and their stories and deeds. Xerxes was not the eldest son of Darius and he would not have be a king if the queen his mother Atossa had not had the authority within Achaemenian imperial house and court.

  • Would love to see this improved with some of those cited references and an inclusion of those pictures
    – Tablemaker
    Feb 23, 2017 at 21:57
  • Welcome to Movies & TV! We're looking for answers that provide some explanation and context. Explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – Paulie_D
    Feb 23, 2017 at 21:57
  • (livius.org/articles/person/xerxes-i/?) @TylerShads Feb 23, 2017 at 23:49
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    @FarnazShahriari Your answer needs to stand on its own. Linking to something is not sufficient; you need to include the relevant parts of that link - with correct attribution - in your answer. If you think an image is relevant, include that image in your answer. Feb 24, 2017 at 11:15
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    @AnthonyGrist Thank you for suggestions, I am new here and I am not familiar with the format. I did my best. Everything I have is in Persian but I tried to explain as clear as possible. Feb 24, 2017 at 19:15

That back story is explained in 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) where Xerxes, at the behest of Artemisia bathes in some liquid of the Gods, emerging as the "God-King".


The Greeks called all of the Persian kings "God Kings" because they were bowed to, and the Greeks had the mindset that only gods were to be bowed to, so they called them that in a sarcastic way.

  • 3
    This is an interesting bit of info, but it doesn't answer the original question. Xerxes called himself a god. Apr 6, 2014 at 18:34

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