Esther 1:1 (ESV)

1 Now in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces,

The Persian Empire was founded in 550 BC by Cyrus the Great, after he had conquered the kingdoms of Babylon and Media. The empire soon became the world’s first superpower. In the time Cyrus’ successor, Darius the Great, the empire continued to extend until it included great areas of Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and even Russia.

King Ahasuerus, who is mentioned in this verse, is known today as Xerxes I. He was the son of Darius the Great. Thus, he ruled at a time when the Persian Empire had reached its peak. Time and again in the book of Esther we are reminded that Xerxes’ empire stretched over 127 provinces. The land Cush, mentioned here, was located in the area of modern-day Sudan and Ethiopia.

Much can be learned about Xerxes I from extra-biblical accounts. He was evidently a man of great military and administrative skill. Yet he was also a cruel tyrant, who did not hesitate to punish with death those whom he suspected of disloyalty.