The chief city of
Lycia (Strab. 14.3.6
), on the left bank of the river of
the same name (now Koca Çayi) ca. 12 km from the
port town of Patara (see below) near the river mouth.
Xanthians appear in the Iliad
, and Herodotos' story
(1.176) of the siege of Xanthos by the Persian commander Harpagos in 545 B.C. is famous. The city submitted to Alexander, became the seat of a Lycian religious federation, sided with Rome in her struggle with
Mithridates, and was besieged and taken by Brutus in
43 B.C. during the round of civil wars that followed
Caesar's murder. In the succeeding centuries the history
of Xanthos parallels that of many E cities of Greek tradition: it was prosperous and relatively quiescent. On the site there are the ruins of Early Christian and Byzantine churches and of a large Byzantine monastery. In the 7th
c. Arab attacks brought Xanthos to an end.
The defensive walls describe an irregular parallelogram in plan over the hilly site, with the longer (N-S)
diagonal a little less than a kilometer in length. The walls
enclose two summits, on one of which, at the W edge of
the site just above the river, was the Lycian acropolis; on
the other, towards the N angle of the walls, was the Hellenistic-Roman acropolis. Important sculpture was removed to the British Museum in the 1840s; since 1950 the site has been under excavation and study.
One of the most striking features of Xanthos was the
prevalence of monumental tombs and heroa, some of
which took the form of massive square pillars, surmounted by sarcophagi or funerary chambers, ranging up to 11 m in overall height. Dating from the 6th c.
B.C. through the 1st c. A.D., a few of these structures still
stand, the pillared ones in distant consanguinity with the
later tower tombs of Palmyra and other sites. Only the
foundations of the famous Monument of the Nereids,
near the S entrance to the city, survive. This was a
heroon of about 400 B.C., the funerary building of which
took the form of an Ionic temple of reduced scale; the
sculptures are in the British Museum. By the NE corner
of the Lycian acropolis are the remains of a Lycian pillar
tomb of perhaps the late 4th c. B.C. which was probably
moved to its present site when the theater was constructed in Roman times. North of the Lycian acropolis and beside the theater are the ruins of a Roman pillar tomb of early Imperial date. Beside it is one of the most
spectacular of Xanthian monuments, a Lycian pillar
tomb preserved nearly intact, its typically Lycian sarcophagus, with a lid of ogival section, still perched atop its robust, square-sectioned shaft. It dates from the 4th c. B.C. and is 8.6 m high overall. An archaic relief (ca.
545 B.C.), now in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum,
was found inside.
Just to the N is the celebrated Tomb of the Harpies
(more correctly, Sirens), dating from the early 5th c.
B.C. and nearly 9 m high. The funerary monument, atop
its monolithic shaft, was decorated with dynastic reliefs
that are now in the British Museum (they have been
replaced on the monument itself by casts). The Sirens
carry small-scale female figures representing dead souls.
Still farther to the NE, beyond the Roman agora, is another remarkable dynastic pillar tomb, probably of the last quarter of the 5th c. B.C. It is almost completely preserved except for the dynast's statue, which, with its lion
base, once surmounted the whole 11 m ensemble. The
funeral chamber, below the projecting roof atop which
the statue was placed, was decorated with reliefs (now
in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum) showing the ruler's victories. The monolithic pillar proper is inscribed
in both Lycian (as yet undeciphered) and Greek. Across
the site to the NE, some 550 m distant, are the sites or
remains of three more tombs: the Pavaya Tomb (4th c.
B.C., all in the British Museum); the Lion Tomb, the
Earliest Lycian pillar tomb so far known, dating from
about 545 B.C. (the reliefs are also in the British
Museum); and a well-preserved pillar tomb of the 4th c.
B.C. with a monolithic shaft supporting a marble burial
chamber that is surmounted by a sharply defined, projecting horizontal roof.
Of public monuments there are a number of identifiable remains. Rebuilding was frequent over the centuries, and the usual palimpsests of Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine construction appear. There is a
Hellenistic gate at the S entrance to the city of the 190s
B.C.; just behind it is a Roman arch dedicated to the
emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79). Immediately S of the
Lycian acropolis are polygonal walls of the 4th c. B.C.;
nearby are Hellenistic walls. The theater is of Roman
date and type and is fairly well preserved; the stage
building's essential form is readable. Beyond the theater
to the N lies the Roman agora, about 50 m square and
perhaps dating from the end of the 2d c. A.D. or the beginning of the 3d. It was surrounded by porticos and dedicated to the twelve Lycian gods.
F. Demeargne, H. Metzger, et al.,
Fouilles de Xanthos
1 (1958), 2 (1963), 3 (1969)MPI
7 (1966) 1225-31PI
XVIII A (1967) 1375-1408; E. Akurgal, Ancient Civilizations and Ruins of Turkey
(3d ed. 1973) 258-61, with bibliography on p. 364PI
W. L. MACDONALD