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Xantos Ancient City, General information & History

The city of Sarpedon

Xantus ancient city can be reached in Kınık Town which is at the 46th km of Fethiye-Kaş road. İt had been established near Eşen river Formerly known as ''xantus, ''.  it is located on two separate hills. These two hill settlements developed on different dates belonging to Lycian and Roman periods. The Lycian acropolis is an acropolis of the Lycian period, which is surrounded by a wall built on a steep cliff on the edge of the Eşen River; The other Acropolis is the Acropolis belonging to the Roman period and is on the northern hill and occupies a larger area. As it was mentioned in stone carved incriptions, The city has been used  as the administrative center of the union during the period of the Lycian Union & the name of the city was ''Arnna''. 


One of the most influential sources on those periods, Homer's work ''İliad'' says that The legendary Lycian King Sarpedon who is believed to be the son of Zeus,  joined the Trojan war with his troops as allies of the Trojan people. However, there is no more concrete information proving this situation and the history of the city cannot be taken to such an ancient period. According to the Iliad, Sarpedon died in the Trojan War.

The city of Xantos was surrounded by the Persian Commander Harpagos during the period of 544-546 BC during the great Persian domination in Anatolia and Greek lands. Although the people of Xantos showed a heroic resistance, when they realized that they could not overcome the huge Persian army, they took a decision. In this context, the warrior men first killed their women and children in order not to fall into the hands of the enemy. Than they set the city on fire, and fought untill killed. Some people committed suicide.

The truthness of this story can be argued. İt can not be clearly whether it is true or just a myth. But there is a truth that we come across  the same story in different places in further periods of history. The most well-known of these is the same situation in Masada, which was led by King Herod who resisted the Roman army for years. According to the myth, the Jewish kingdom of that period, which was built on a high hill within the borders of Israel, lived for a long time in the Roman siege, and when they realized they were going to be captured, they chose someone among themselves as last person  who would kill the last man standing and commit suicide after all the women and children were killed.


Xanthos, between 475-450 BC, suffered a major fire disaster and once again ruined. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great conquered the city. After the death of Alexander Xathos, From 309 BC Xantus was ruled by the Egyptian helenistic dynasty Ptolemaas, after them by the Syrian King Anthiokhos III of Hellenistic origin. The Ptoleme and Anthiokhos dynasties are dynasties founded by the generals who shared his land after the death of Alexander the Great. Xantos  was conquered and ruined by the Roman Brutus in 42 BC when it was the capital of the Lycian union, and later rebuilt by the Emperor Marcus Antonius. In  Xanthos under the Roman rule in the 1st century, a Victory monument was built in the name of Emperor Vespasianus. Most of the Roman-style buildings that survived today were built during this period. During the Byzantine rule, Christianity was widely spread to the Lycian cities and Xantos became a bishopric center. Many religious buildings were built during this period. In 7th Century AC, After the Arab raids, the city, which could not get support from Byzantium, lost its importance. In 1938, the Archaeologist Charles Fellows discovered the place (how to rediscover an ancient city in the middle of a country that is known by everyone ?) And carried some of the remains to London's British Museum.


Both acropolis of Xanthos is surrounded by fortification walls where different construction systems are seen. At the north of the Lycian acropolis there is the Roman theater. The most interesting ruins of Xanthos are located at the west of the theater. The most important of these is the monumant of the family of the dead with a high rectangular monolithic base.The monument was ornamented with stone carved images named as Harpy  reliefs.  Harpies are bird like, female shaped creatures in the myth that are believed to carry the souls of the dead to the sky. Today, the original reliefs of the Harpy Monument which are dated to 5th century BC, are on display at the Biritish Museum in London. Next to this monumental tomb, there is another Lycian sarcophagus from the 4th century BC. The square shaped wide area at the end of the theater is the Roman era agora surrounded by shops. In the northeast corner of the agora, there is another monument which is wery similar with ''harpy monument''. The memorial tomb with monolithic rectangular body has inscriptions written in Lycian and Greek languages. The inscription in the trunk of the monument is the longest inscription in Lycian language, which has survived to the present, and describes the adventures of the prince of Xanthos, named Kherei. In the Roman acropolis, it is possible to see many rock tombs and pedestals. The area is located on the southern foots of the area.  In the right side of the ramp that leads to area, there are only ramainings of some monuments which were taken to England.The Nereid monument with a temple built on the 4th century BC, is one of the famous monuments of Xanthos. Xantus ruins were included in the World Cultural Heritage List by UNESCO due to the specificity of the Lycian civilization and the importance of the finds obtained during the excavations.

Harpy monumen
Lycian Rock Tombs

Stolen Monuments of Xantus;

1. Payava Monument;

Pavaya Monument is a rock tomb built in the form of an inverted boat as  often seen in the Lycian tradition. Pavaya monument which dates back to 370-360 BC, was taken from Xanthos to England in 1842 and being exhibited at the British Museum today,  On one side, there is a peace agreement scene, and the Lycian inscription about the Persian Satrabi (King) Autophradates. The inscription consists of two lines at the top. On the other side, there is a relief battle scene and a Lycian inscription on the upper side of it, which states that Payava had built it. On both of the long sides of the reverse boat-shaped stone carved cover, there are four chariots and a chariot driver.  embossing. The sarcophagus of Payava had been taken to the British Museum by Archeologist Sir.Charles Fellows in 1842.

Payava monument Xantus-Asia Minor

Stolen Monuments of Xantus;

2. Nereid Temple; British Museum

The 4 x 6 columned temple  building, which was dated to 4th century BC by Charles Fellows in 1840,  was built on a high and full podium. The columns are in Ionic order. the reliefs reflect subjects such as war, prey and gift giving. There are two more friezes on the pedestal. In the small one, the attack on a fortified city and the invasion  were described in chronological order. In the large frieze (the section decorated with reliefs in the ancient Greek and Roman structures ), the battle scenes are carved on each plate. There are two figures in the middle of one of the pediments. Around the monument, 12 statues were found which were thought to be standing between the columns. Most of these are in dressed women shape the skirts of whom are flying in the wind. Fishes and marine animals are depicted under their feet. For this reason, the Mounument (Mythology, Nereus and Doris' s 50 daughters. They are also called underwater nymphs) was named as the monument of Nereids. Related image is below

Nereid Temple

Stolen Monuments of Xantus;

3. Harpy Monumental Tomb / British Museum;

It is one of the most important monumental tombs in Anatolia, and the rest is located in Xanthos, the administrative capital of Ancient Lycia.  The Harpy tomb which was Approximately built in 480 BC, is located on a large rectangular column resting on another one. At the top of the column is a burial chamber under a large cover stone. The outer surroundings of the marble burial chamber were decorated with reliefs in the Greek Archaic style, but reliefs were taken to abroad in 1840 and are in the British Museum. In the reliefs, the tomb owner and his wife are shown while giving gifts to the other family members. The half-bird-half female figures in the North and South symbolize the babies. The stone carved chambers around the monument that can be seen today are the imitations.

Imitations around Harpy monument and the  scetch of real one

Below are the historical scetchs during the excavations days in Xantus by George Fellows. click on the images to widen.

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