Esther 1:1-22 The Persian Empire stretches from India to Cush (the Upper Nile Valley region) and includes many subservient peoples including the Jews from Judah.
King Xerxes I reigns from his royal palace at Susa (Shush in modern day Iran). In 483BC, during the third year of his reign, Queen Vashti, his wife, angers the king and is deposed.
Esther 2:1-18 Hadassah – a young Jewish woman of noble birth – is brought to the king’s harem at Susa. She is given a Persian name – Esther – and completes twelve months of beauty treatments before being brought before the king. Xerxes falls in love with Esther and she becomes Queen in 479 or 478BC
Archers' frieze from Darius I's Palace at Susa (Louvre Museum, Paris)
By the reign of Xerxes I (486-465BC), the Persian Emperors regularly used four or five of their royal palaces - located at far-flung regional capitals - as places where they could issue decrees and mete out local justice. Each of these royal palaces – at Pasargadae and Persepolis (in Parsa), Susa (in Elam), Ecbatana (in Media) and Babylon (in Babylonia) – had their own magnificent audience hall, and each regional capital had its own royal court.
Each year, the king and his courtiers made a seasonal progression from one regional capital to the next. The stiflingly hot summer months were spent at Ecbatana, high on the Iranian plateau where cool winds blew down from the surrounding mountains; the long winters were spent in the warmer climes of Susa on the edge of the Mesopotamian floodplain.
The Book of Esther describes the unparalleled luxury of the king’s apartments at Susa. The royal household reclined on couches of gold, resting on marble pavements inlaid with mother-of-pearl and precious stones (see Esther 1:6). They wore gold bracelets adorned with horned griffins and necklaces featuring the Achaemenid flying disk (examples of which are on display at the British Museum in London).
A Persian gold bracelet with horned & winged griffins (British Museum)
The cedar timbers were brought from Lebanon, while ivory came from Ethiopia and India. The palace walls were covered with colourful moulded glazed bricks depicting the spearbearers of the king’s bodyguard (which can be seen at the Louvre Museum in Paris). The courtyards were lined with seated sphinxes and pacing lions, and decorated with linen wall hangings, while the splendid thirty six-columned ‘apadana’ or audience hall featured a magnificent raised golden throne (see Esther 5:1).
The ruins of ancient Susa stand today on two tells (settlement mounds) beside the River Shaur (or Chaour) to the east of the modern city of Susa. The remnants of a temple complex can be found on the southern tell, while the ruins of the royal palace and audience hall built by King Darius are located to the north.
Remains of the Tomb of Daniel can be seen between the Acropolis (the southern tell) and the River Shaur. A later palace, built by Artaxerxes II (405-359BC) was situated on the western bank of the river, opposite the royal palace of Darius and Xerxes.