“The Persian Army entered the plain of Xanthos under the command of Harpagos and battled the Xanthians. The Xanthians fought in small - numbers with legendary bravery against superior Persian forces. They resisted the seemingly endless Persian hordes with great courage but were finally succumbed and forced back behind their walls and besieged. Rather than submit, they collected their women, children and slaves, enclosed them in the citadel and burned the place to the ground. Then, having sworn to do or die, they marched out to meet the enemy and were killed to a man.” This is how Heredotus explains the war of 545 B.C. Only the Xanthians who happened to be in other places at the time were spared and it was they who returned at a later date to resurrect their city. After reading this passage from Herodotus of Halicarnassos, we learn that Xanthos existed during the 6th century B.C. They fought as allies of the Trojans, coming “from distant Lycia and the eddying Xanthos”; their commander Sarpedon was among the minor heroes during the battles which took place in the 12th century B.C. This gives us the indication that Xanthos was extant around 1200 B.C., as well. However, this hapless though magnificent city was completely razed to the ground between 475 and 450 B.C. During excavations, this was confirmed by a thick layer of ash covering the site.
In 429 B.C., all of Lyica united against the Athenian satrap Melasandros, who wanted to impose new taxes on them. Melasandros died in this war whereas relations with Athens fizzled out. Xanthos was captured by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C., whereas . the Xanthians’ dealings with him are a matter of uncertainty.
In the turbulent period following Alexander’s death, Xanthos came into the hands of Antigonus. However Lycia was claimed by the Egyptian king, Ptolemy I who sailed into the region with his naval fleet and took it from Alexander’s General Antigonus by force in 309 B.C.. Subsequently, we hear of the fortunes of Xanthos, which comes from an inscription, later erased but still legible, on a jamb of the city’s S gate. This informs us that ‘King Antiochus III dedicated the city to Leto, Apollo, and Artemis.” From this unusual text, it is inferred that the Syrian King engaged in taking Lycia from the Ptolemies in 197 B.C.. finding himself unable to occupy Xanthos by force, made an agreement with its citizens, who were no doubt tired of being besieged, that they should make a nominal surrender of the city to him, on condition that he should consecrate it to the national deities of Lycia, that is in effect that he should declare it free and invoilable.
This benefit, however, was not of long duration. After Antigonus’ defeat at Magnesia, Xanthos, along with the rest of Lycia was annexed to Rhodes.
During the Roman civil wars of the 1St century B.C., the Xanthians staged
their second melodramatic holocaust. In 42 B.C., Brutus, who was engaged in
raising forces and tribute for his forthcoming showdown with Octavian and Antony,
came to Lycia. The Lycian League resisted him, but was defeated, whereby Brutus
proceeded to besiege Xanthos. He demolished the Lycian acropolis and slaughtered
its inhabitants. Plutarch recorded that after the fall of the
city, a woman was seen hanging from a noose with her dead child slung from her neck, setting fire to their house with a burning torch. Hearing this, Brutus was moved to tears and proclaimed a reward for-any of his soldiers who saved a Lycian from death. A bare 150 Xanthians fell alive into Roman hands.
The following year, Marc Antony, hoping to heal the scars left by Brutus, extended an olive branch to the Xanthians by having their city rebuilt. Emperor Vespasianus seemed to have treated the city with care, for a monumental arch in his name was erected in Xanthos. Besides Rome, the wealthy citizens of Lycia also made major contributions in the reconstruction of Xanthos in the 2nd century AD.
During the Byzantine Period, the fortification wall was rebuilt and a monastery built on top of the hill. The city had its bishop, though he ranked rather low under the metropolitian of Myra. It was abandoned once the Arab raids started during the 7th century.
The site was virtually intact in 1838 when British explorer Sir Charles Fellows arrived here. He was inspired to return four years later in Her Majesty’s Ship Beacon, whose sailors spent two months carting away the monuments in one of the great archaeological rapes of the 19th century. Today, those works of art are on display in the Lycian Room at the British Museum. Excavation work ongoing since 1950 has been undertaken by French institutions, first by Dr. Pierre Demarque, then by Prof. Henri Metzger. The diggings are currently under the direction of Prof. Christian Le Roy.
Let’s wander together around Xanthos, which proudly stands on the hill of the green plain that is watered by the Esen Stream as if to say. “What a magnificent city I was in the days of yore.”
Xanthos is situated near the Esen Stream, which forms a natural border of the provinces of Mugla and Antalya. The ruins are right next to the village of Kinik, 55 km. outside Fethiye, on the Fethiye-Kas Highway. As you ascend from the village, the first thing you will encounter on the left side of the slope is the portal to the city that was built during the Hellenistic Period. A little further up from that are the ruins of the Arch of Vespasianus, who was the Roman Emperor between 69-79 AD.
On the right are the remains of the base of the Nereids Monument, which was carted off in sections and shipped to London. This Ionian order structure, which dates back to 400 B.C., was in the form of a temple. Placed on a high pedestal measuring 10.15 x 6.8 x 5.15 in., it has two series of reliefs depicting battle scenes. Above the reliefs ran architectural ornamentation and an architrave supported on four columns. Friezes with scenes from everyday life decorate this architrave.
Statues of sea fairies or ‘Nereids’ for which the temple was named were placed between the columns. The Hellenistic fortification walls encircling the city of Xanthos were reinforced by towers added during various periods, whereas the E flank of the battlements dates from the 4th century B.C. The present theater stands over the Lycian acropolis while across from this sits its Roman counterpart. Let’s wander around the Lycian acropolis, the site where a Roman theater stands, which we encounter as soon as we enter. As it stands, this was built in the mid-2nd century AD.; a handsome donation of 30,000 denars by Opramoas of Rhodiapolis was earmarked specifically ‘for the construction of the theater.’ Located nearby are three splendid monuments, one of which is a Lycian pillar-tomb. Standing 4.35 m. high, this monument was built during the 4th century B.C., but was carried to its present site during the erection of the theater in the Roman Period. Water from the village of cay, which is located 15 km. from Xanthos, was brought here via aqueduct, the cistern of which is found on the Lycian acropolis.
On the W flank of the theater, which is remarkably preserved and carries the characteristics of the Roman Age, are three rather decorative monuments. The first one of these dates from the 1st century A.D. and is a Roman pillar-tomb; the second monument is a Lycian pillar-tomb, which sits on a high base, has a total height of 8.59 m. and was constructed in the 4th century B.C. The third monument is that of the famous Harpies’ Tomb, erroneously named through a dubious interpretation of its reliefs while Fellows was having it shipped to England. The whole monument, measuring 8.87 m. high, has a base 5.43 m. in height. Large square lifting-bosses have been left projecting on three sides. The chamber at the top was carved from marble and decorated with reliefs; they were removed by Fellows and the covering stones propped up with wooden struts and a pile of stones. The tomb remained in this mutilated state until 1957, when Turkish authorities installed the cement casts which have done much to restore the beauty of the monument. The reliefs are interesting, but, as often encountered, not easy to interpret. The seated figures are members of the dynastic family; formerly Hera and Aphrodite were recognized on the W side, and Artemis with her hound on the E. All the reliefs were originally colored, chiefly in red and blue, traces of which were visible at the time of the discovery.
To the rear of the monuments is an agora dating from the Roman Period. In the corner facing the tombs is. a Byzantine basilica. Behind the 2nd century A.D. agora at a NE angle is the famous Xanthian Obelisk. This obelisk, which measures 11-rn. high, is situated behind the agora and bears inscriptions totaling 250 lines, in both Lycian and Greek. These inscriptions describe the struggle for freedom by the Lycian King Kerei against the Athenians during the Peleponnesian Wars. In particular, they mention the Athenian Melasandros, who was sent to Lycia in 430-429 B.C. to collect tribute and prevent the Spartans from intercepting the Athenian corn ships. He failed and was killed in battle. It is likely that his defeat was among the exploits of Kerei. As with the Harpies’ Monument, this inscribed column sits over a tomb that has reliefs. The Xanthos Obelisk dates back to ca. 42 5-400 B.C. It is understood that on top of the obelisk, a statue of the king sitting on his throne, which was in the shape of lion. To the E of the agora, one the side of the road sits a Lycian house-type tomb. Now, let’s go up to the theater, which is situated within the acropolis.
In the SE corner of the Lycian acropolis are the foundations of a square building comprising of several rooms which is thought to have been the palace of the dynasts in the earliest times (700-540 B.C.), which was destroyed at the time of its capture by Harpagos. It was replaced by another building of which the basement survives; the upper parts were apparently of wood. This was destroyed by fire in 470 B.C. Higher up to the west is a small sanctuary with three parallel chambers, measuring 10.30 x 12 in., as well as the scanty remains of a temple of the Lycian equivalent of the Greek Artemis. At the W extremity stood a building which must have originally been very handsome; its architecture seems to have imitated the wooden houses whose features appear also in the tombs of housetype,and was decorated with a sculptured frieze; the blocks of this frieze were plundrered by the Byzantines for repair of the acropolis wall, and were later removed to London by Fellows. Just to the NW of this building is a rectangular foundation on which stood a pillar with a pediment on two sides; this too went into the building of the Byzantine wall.
Most of the NE part of the acropolis is occupied by an extensive monastery. This includes a church set against the E acropolis wall, and to the W of this is an open courtyard with wash-basins along one side. There are several mosiacs in the Lycian acropolis. One of these mosaics depicts the famous scenes of the Calydon hunt as well as Thetis drowning Achilles in the River Styx. Today, they are on display in the Antalya Museum. However, remains of the mosaics can be seen on the floor. For example, one can see the Leda and Swan scene on the exterior of the SE corner of the city walls.
Directly across from the Lycian acropolis is the Roman acropolis. Let’s examine the artifacts here by walking in an E direction. We first encounter a Byzantine basilica. This incredible structure of which Lycian stones were used, is a basilica with three aisles. Some of the steps where the choir would stand in the apse can still be seen. On the apse’s N section is a polygonal-shaped room with marble plates of geometric motifs on the floor, whereas one encounters a fountain in the middle of the room. The entire floor of the basilica is covered entirely in mosiacs, whereas there is a cistern under the middle aisle.
After seeing the wall remains of the agora across from the basilica, and walk E. you shall see the Belly Dancers’ Sarcophagus. War is depicted on one of the lid’s long faces, while a hunting scene is seen on the other. As for the lid’s two narrow faces, they depict two belly dancers turning towards each other. For this reason, this mid-4th century B.C. crypt has been called the “Belly-Dancers’ Sarcophagus.”
From here, if you walk along the length of the N wall, you shall encounter the pedestal of the Lion Pillar amongst the bushes at the corner where the wall turns. The upper portion is in the British Museum.
In coming into the clearing, one comes across the necropolis where numerous sarcophagi can be seen. The house-type tombs amongst the rocks are rather interesting. The Lion’s Tomb and the Merihi Monument are the most striking tombs here. The Lion’s Tomb, which depicts reliefs showing lions attacking a bull. dates back to Ca. 480-450 B.C. The sarcophagus lid, which is not in its place, depicts a wild boar hunt on one face and a feast scene on the other. Just beyond this is the overturned pedestal of the Merihi Sarcophagus, (Ca. 390 B.C.). the lid of which is in British Museum. One sees chariots pulled by four horses in a struggle against the Chimaera monster on both sides of the lid, which has the word Merihi inscribed upon it.
After looking at the rock tombs next to the Merihi Sarcophagus, let’s go inside the wall. There are four monument tombs next to each other. The most striking of the four is the Lycian pillar tomb which was built from dressed stone during the 4th century B.C. It has three steps leading to the burial chamber, the floor of which is faced with marble. The facade, constructed in the Ionian order, measures 6.39 in. high. A little further on is the site of the Payava Tomb, (ca. 370-360 B.C.) which was carted away to England. There remains a very small part of the pedestal in a rather dismal state. On one face of the monument you shall find a Lycian inscription of two sentences which mentions the name of the Persian Satrap Autophradates. The other face has a relief of a war scene and a one-sentence Lycian inscription on the top part which states that the tomb was the work of Payava. On the long carved sides of the sarcophagus lids are reliefs with four horses pulling a chariot.
South of the Payava Tomb lies another 4th century sarcophagus which is plainer that the others. There is a magnificent Lycian sracophagus, known as the Ahqqadi Sarcophagus, which stands to the west of these tombs. After seeing these, we can pass by a Byzantine basilica at the top of the acropolis which was built over an ancient Roman temple. From here we can return to the parking lot.