Because ancient historians do not mention Esther or Vashti as the wives of Ahasuerus (the Hebrew name for King Xerxes), many scholars regard them only as characters in a work of fiction. Since ancient chronological records could be as much propaganda as they are historical accounts, they must be evaluated by all available evidence. Scribes sought to make their own rulers look good and their opponents appear bad. The Greek historians, whose people had fought long wars with the Persians, naturally did not resist the temptation to focus on whatever made the empire appear in an unfavorable light.

But other scholars have carefully sought to read between the lines, especially since the biblical book of Esther otherwise accurately reflects what archaeology has consistently discovered about the world of the Persians. The story of Esther can be fitted into the known historical evidence.

The Greek historian Herodotus reports that Xerxes’ queen was Amestris, not Vashti, and that she was still active when Xerxes’ son became king in 464 BC. As for the name Amestris, J. S. Wright has suggested that it may be a Greek form of Vashti since Greek has neither a v or sh equivalent. While ancient records did not often speak about women, Herodotus paid attention to Amestris, because she was a powerful individual. But she was also vengeful with a cruel streak. After Xerxes fell in love with a woman named Artaynta, Amestris waited until Xerxes’ birthday to demand that the woman’s mother be handed over to her so that she could mutilate her.

According to Scripture, Xerxes demoted Vashti in the third year of his reign (Esther 1:2). But the Bible does not say that he divorced or had her killed. Not until the seventh year of his rule did he actively begin to select a new chief wife (Esther 2:16). The four-year gap appears to be when he made his failed expedition against the Greeks. If the mother of Artaynta incident happed after his return, it would have given him additional motivation for finding a new queen. Thus, Esther may have been his queen until his death by assassination in 465 BC.


Baldwin, Esther: An Introduction and Commentary.

Shea, “Esther and History,” 227-246.

Yamauchi, Persia in the Bible.