Three articles appear below:

1    The Greats of History
2    Another Great One (Darius)
3    Another Great One (Xerxes)


(Investigator 116, 2007 September)

History has produced at least 38 great people  people actually called "the Great" by historians.

The Greats of the human race include two women, several theologians/scholars, several popes and some Christian "saints". The other Greats were kings and conquerors.

Apparently all the Greats were religious or nominally so. None were certain atheists.

Many other historical figures are described as "great", or "greatest" in some context, but without historians having added "the Great" to their name. For example, Thutmose III (died 1450 BC) is regarded as "the greatest of the rulers of ancient Egypt" but he was not Thutmose the Great.

Various websites detail the lives of historical figures they call "the Great" but who are not so called in standard references such as the Encyclopedia Britannica and Chambers Biographical Dictionary.

For example, Asoka (264-223 BC) is considered a "great" emperor of India and at least one website calls him "the Great" but standard references do not. Similarly with Sargon, Darius, Xerxes, Justinian, Stefan (king of Serbia), Sejong (king of Korea), Gustavus Adolphus (King of Sweden), King Chulalongkorn and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (both of Thailand), and others.

There is a website about a Mipham the Great (1846-1912), a Tibetan monk and scholar, but he is not mentioned in the Britannica or in Chambers.

Here is Investigator's list of official Greats:
  • Rameses II the Great (died 1224 BC) Egyptian pharaoh from 1290 BC famous for temple-building and enlarging Egypt's empire.
  • Cyrus the Great (died 529 BC) Founder of the Persian Empire who let exiled peoples including the Jews return to their native lands.
  • Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) King of Macedonia and conqueror of the Persian Empire.
  • Antiochus III the Great (242-187 BC) Seleucid king of Syria.
  • Pompey the Great (106-48 BC) Statesman and general of the Roman Republic. Called Magnus (the Great) by his troops in Africa 82-81BC.
  • Herod the Great (73-4 BC) Ruler of Palestine.
  • St Dionysius the Great of Alexandria (AD 200-264) Greek theologian and bishop of Alexandria.
  • Saint Antony the Great of Egypt (251-356) Egyptian ascetic and founder of Monasticism.
  • Saint Eustathius the Great (died 337) Bishop of Antioch who opposed the anti-Trinitarian followers of Arius.
  • Constantine I the Great (280-337) Roman Emperor 306-337. He made Christianity the state religion and improved the administration of the Empire.
  • Shapur II the Great (309-379) Tenth king of the Sassanian Empire of Persia
  • Saint Basil the Great (329-379) Bishop of Caesaria, author, and opposer of Arius.
  • Saint Macarius the Great (4th-5th century) Christian apologist. His Apocriticus responded to objections to the Christian faith.
  • Theodosius I the Great (346-395) Roman emperor from 379. He reunited the Eastern and Western Empire.
  • Arsenius the Great (354-455) Roman noble, later a monk in Egypt, who influenced the development of Monasticism in Christendom.
  • Saint Euthymius the Great (377-473) One of the fathers of Monasticism who established religious communities throughout Palestine.
  • Leo I the Great (died 461) Pope from 440 and saint who established the primacy of the Church in Rome and persuaded Attila the Hun to spare Rome.
  • Theodoric the Great (455-526) Ruler of the Ostrogoths and from 493 King of Italy.
  • Gregory I the Great (540-604) Roman patrician who became Pope from 590 and extended the area of papal primacy through diplomacy and missions.
  • Charlemagne (Charles the Great) (742-814) King of the Franks from 768 and Holy Roman Emperor from 800.
  • Alfred the Great (849-900) King of Wessex who made peace with the Danes and introduced new law codes and programs of education.
  • Hugh the Great (died 956) Duke of the Franks and most powerful person in France.
  • Otto I the Great (912-973) King of the Germans from 936, and emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 962.
  • Saint Vladimir the Great (956-1015) The first Christian sovereign of Russia.
  • Canute the Great (died 1035) King of England from 1016, Denmark from 1018 and Norway from 1030.
  • Llywelyn the Great (died 1240) Welsh noble who sought to create a Welsh national state.
  • Saint Albert the Great (c.1200-1280) German scholar, philosopher, theologian, and student of natural science.
  • Saint Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) German Mystic.
  • Casimir III the Great (1310-1370) King of Poland who founded Cracow University.
  • Louis I the Great (1326-1382) King of Hungary from 1342 and of Poland from 1370.
  • Ivan III the Great (1440-1505) Grand prince of Moscow from 1462. He drove out the Tartars and laid the administrative foundation for a centralized Russian state.
  • Akbar the Great (1542-1605) Third Mogul ruler who ruled most of India.
  • Abbas I the Great (1571-1629) Shah of Persia who recovered territory from the Ottomans, introduced public works programs, and established diplomatic and economic ties with Europe.
  • Frederick William (1620-1688) "The Great Elector" of Brandenburg who built up his state and secured the independence of Prussia.
  • Peter I the Great (1672-1725) Czar of Russia from 1682 who introduced programs to modify Russia.
  • Frederick II the Great (1712-1786) King of Prussia.
  • Catherine II the Great (1729-1796) Empress of Russia from 1762. She expanded the Russian Empire and introduced legal and administrative reforms.
  • Kamehameha I the Great (1758-1819) Hawaiian conqueror and king who united the Hawaiian Islands and founded the Kamehameha dynasty.
  • (B. S. assisted by Carmilla)


    New total – 39

    (Investigator 117, 2007 November)

    Darius the Great was specifically mentioned as not "Great" in the article "The Greats of History" in Investigator 116.

    A re-check of our references show we made an error and he is "Great" after all.

    Darius the Great (548-486bc) ascended the Persian throne in 521bc.

    He put down various rebellions, undertook major building works, re-organized the administration and finances of the Persian Empire, extended its borders to the Indus River, subdued Thrace and Macedonia, and in 519 authorized the Jews to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.

    In 516 or 515 Darius invaded what is now Ukraine and Russia. Advancing from the Danube against the Scythians, who kept retreating and devastating the country, he reached the Volga River thus advancing east about as far as the Germans did in World War II. His attempts to conquer Greece in 592 and 590 failed – his fleet destroyed by a storm, and his army defeated at Marathon.

    Like the other Greats Darius appears to have been religious:

    In the opinion of some authorities, the religious beliefs of Darius himself, as reflected by his inscriptions, show the influence of the teachings of Zoroaster, and the introduction of Zoroastrianism as the state religion of Persia is probably to be attributed to him. (The New Encyclopedia Britannica 1986 Volume 3)

    To determine who is Great and who isn't we used two standard references. The Encyclopedia Britannica calls Darius "the Great" but Chambers Biographical Dictionary omits this title.

    (BS assisted by Carmilla)


    New Total – 40

    (Investigator 121, 2008 July)

    Investigator's "Greats" of history – people called "The Great" by historians due to their accomplishments – now number 40.

    The fortieth "Great" to show up is Xerxes the Great (519-465 BC) of Persia.

    Investigator's list in #116 had 38 Greats. In #117 Darius the Great was added, making the total 39.

    Investigator's delayed recognition of Darius and Xerxes is due to having relied on two standard references – Chambers Biographical Dictionary and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Xerxes is titled "The Great" in the Britannica but not in Chambers, nor in other biographical dictionaries consulted. Perhaps we can consider Darius and Xerxes as borderline "greats".

    Xerxes is best known for Hollywood's depiction of his massive invasion of Greece marked by the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.

    This raises the question, "Did 300 Spartans really fight 1 million Persians?" – which we'll consider shortly.

    Xerxes, son of Darius the Great, became king in 486 BC.

    His religion was probably Zoroastrian and he himself was also regarded as a god. He put down rebellions in Egypt and Babylon around 484 BC. Darius had treated Egypt and Babylon as unified to Persia but Xerxes abandoned the titles King of Egypt and King of Babylon and titled himself "King of the Persians and the Medes".

    Having secured his power Xerxes decided to avenge his father's defeat at Marathon (490BC) by conquering Greece.

    Preparation took three years. The Phoenicians supplied a navy and military contingents from twenty provinces, as far apart as Egypt and India, gathered at Sardis, Turkey.

    There is a story that Xerxes estimated the army's size by moving it through an enclose field that could accommodate 10,000 men – and filled it 170 times. The Encylopedia Britannica, however says: "…5,000,000 men according to Herodotus and 360,000 by modern estimates, supported by 700 to 800 ships."

    In 480 BC the largest military force the world had seen marched.

    A bridge consisting of two lines of boats was put across the Hellespont, but destroyed by a storm, whereupon Xerxes had the sea whipped as punishment and the bridge rebuilt.

    It required seven full days, it is said, for the army to march across.

    Thrace and other northern Greek states were already subject to Persia or became allies. Initially, therefore, the going was easy.

    But then the army reached the pass of Thermopylae – six kilometres long, mountains on one side, sea on the other.


    The movies 300 (2006) and The 300 Spartans (1962) about the Battle of Thermopylae raise the question, "Was it really 300 Spartans against a million Persians?"

    As already suggested, ancient estimates of Xerxes' army are exaggerated. Modern estimates run from a low of 150,000 to a high of 500,000 with 300,000 the usual estimate.

    Greek troops at Thermopylae initially numbered 7100. They came from several Greek city-states. Although only 300 were Spartans, King Leonidas of Sparta was in overall command.

    On the third day of fighting, Persian troops approached the rear of the Greek position via a mountain track. Leonidas ordered most of the Greeks to withdraw while 300 Spartans, 400 Thebans and 700 Thespians delayed the Persians.

    Thus on day 3 it was not 300 against one million but nearer 1400 against 300,000.

    The Spartans and other Greek soldiers had heavy armor including breastplate, bronze helmet with cheek-plates, and bronze-plated shield. Their main weapons were a spear, over 2 1/2 meters long, and a thrusting sword. Their phalanx formation would have been especially effective in the narrow pass.

    The Persians, including the Immortals – Xerxes' elite soldiers numbering 10,000 – were comparatively lightly armed and carried wicker shields.

    Given these circumstances the attempt to stop 300,000 with 7100 was not, initially, a suicide mission.

    Greek deaths for the three days have been estimated at 2000, Persian deaths 20,000.

    After Thermopylae the Persians took and plundered Athens but their fleet was defeated at Salamis. Xerxes returned to Asia, leaving behind a large force which the Greeks defeated in 479.


    The myth of Thermopylae is the issue of freedom. The "Three Hundred", in this myth, disdained narrow Spartan interests and died to save Greece as a nation from foreign tyranny.

    Sparta, however, was a rigid military state in which male citizens devoted themselves to war and enforced slavery on the bulk of the population. Education, other than training for war and indoctrination into devotion to the state, was almost zero. Sparta produced nothing associated with great civilizations, no literature, art, or architecture. Athenians, Egyptians and Persians were more culturally advanced and had more liberty. Other Greek city-states considered Sparta backward.

    Sparta's enslaved people were slaves for life, prevented by law from ever earning freedom, often severely mistreated, and forced into the military when extra troops were required. If they showed courage fighting for Sparta they were praised, then executed.

    After the Persian threat receded Sparta conquered much of Greece including its main rival Athens but was finally defeated when Thebes revolted in 371 BC.

    As a symbol of freedom Sparta is a poor choice!


    After the war with Greece the Persian Empire entered a period of peace. Xerxes undertook huge construction works at Persepolis, enjoyed his harem, and had his brother's entire family killed after one of many palace intrigues.

    Otherwise not much is known about Xerxes after 479BC. The Bible story of Esther – the Jewish maid who became Queen of Persia and saved the Jews – may have its setting at this time.

    In 465 BC Xerxes and his oldest son were murdered by members of his court.