An A-Z of the World – E. H. Gombrich on: Xerxes

As an aid to students, teachers and parents, we have constructed an A–Z of the World taken from E. H. Gombrich’s, A Little History of the World. We’ve shared bite size introductions to historical figures, events and periods – using Gombrich’s magical words – along with links to free resources, so that readers of all ages can discover more. X is for Xerxes.



E. H. GombrichThe great Darius, King of Kings of the vast Persian empire, died shortly after his army was defeated by the Greeks at Marathon, leaving his son and successor, Xerxes, to take revenge on Greece once and for all.

One part of this gigantic army attacked Greece by sea, while another part marched overland. In northern Greece, a small army of Spartans, who had made an alliance with the Athenians, tried to block the Persian advance in a narrow pass called Thermopylae. The Persians called on the Spartans to throw down their weapons. ‘Come and get them yourselves!’ was the reply. ‘We’ve enough arrows here to blot out the sun!’ threatened the Persians. ‘So much the better’, cried the Spartans, ‘then we’ll fight in the shade!’ But a treacherous Greek showed the Persians a way over the mountains and the Spartan army was surrounded and trapped. All three hundred Spartans and seven hundred of their allies were killed in the battle, but not one of them tried to run away, for that was their law. Later, a Greek poet wrote these words in their memory:

Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by,
That here obedient to their laws we lie.

Free Resources to Learn More about Xerxes

BBC Bitesize (KS2) 

The ancient Greeks at war 

BBC In Our Time

The Battle of Salamis 

BBC News Magazine 

Alexander the not so Great: History through Persian eyes – Professor Ali Ansari 

Ancient History Encyclopedia

Xerxes I

The Powerful Persian King Whose Death Destroyed an Empire

Khan Academy

Various resources 

The Yale Blog

Richard Stoneman’s series of blogposts on Xerxes: The Builder of Persepolis 

This page provides access to a list of free online resources. It is not intended to endorse any particular resource.

A Little History of the World

All the descriptions in this A-Z are taken from E. H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World.

Philip Pullman described the book as, “A brilliant piece of narrative, splendidly organised, told with an energy and confidence that are enormously attractive, and suffused with all the humanity and generosity of spirit that Gombrich’s thousands of admirers came to cherish during his long and richly productive life. It’s a wonderful surprise: irresistible, in fact.”

Discover More

Following in the footsteps of E. H. Gombrich’s worldwide bestseller A Little History of the World, the books in our Little Histories series explore the history of the world’s most remarkable people, events and ideas. With engaging personal insights, our authors will take you on a whistle-stop journey from ancient times to the present – exploring all of life’s big subjects from archaeology to science. Other Little Histories available include, Philosophy, Economics, Science, Literature, Language, Religion and Poetry. More details about the whole series can be found on the Little Histories website.

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