Xanthos was the capital city of the Lycian Federation and its greatest city for most of Lycian history. It was made famous to the Western world in the 19th century by its British discoverer Charles Fellows. Xanthos is very old - finds date back to the 8th century BC, but it is possible that the site may have existed during the Bronze Age or during the first centuries of the Iron Age.
Pillar tombs at Xanthos
The history of Xanthos is quite a violent - the Xanthosians twice demonstrated the fierce independence of the Lycian people when they chose to commit mass suicide rather than submit to invading forces. The Xanthosian men set fire to their women, children, slaves and treasure upon the acropolis before making their final doomed attack upon the invading Persians.
Xanthos was later repopulated but the same gruesome story repeated itself in 42 BC when Brutus attacked the city during the Roman civil wars in order to recruit troops and raise money. Brutus was shocked by the Lycians' suicide and offered his soldiers a reward for each Xanthosian saved. Only 150 citizens were rescued.
We made our houses graves
And our graves are homes to us
Our houses burned down
And our graves were looted
We climbed to the summits
We went deep into the earth
We were drenched in water
They came and got us
They burned and destroyed us
They plundered us
For the sake of our mothers,
And for the sake of our dead,
In the name of our honor,
And our freedom,
We, the people of this land,
Who sought mass suicide
We left a fire behind us,
Never to die out...
Poem found on a tablet in the Xanthos excavations, translated by Azra Erhat.
Xanthos stands atop an elevated area within the Xanthos valley with the Xanthos River flowing closely under the city's west side. From this elevation one receives a supreme view of the valley surrounded by the spectacular Taurus Mountains.
Although Charles Fellows carried away most of the finds of Xanthos (now in the British Museum) many interesting monuments and structures remain, including two of the most interesting tombs in Lycia.
Features of Xanthos include:
The "Harpy Tomb" - Sitting upon a massive base is a thick pillar with a grave-chamber and crowning slabs. The whole thing stands about 25 feet high. The chamber at the top was marble and decorated with splendid reliefs (which some belief to depict harpies). The reliefs are now in the British Museum but have been replaced by some very nice casts.
Pillar Tomb - A completely unique tomb in Lycia, actually two-tombs-in-one - a normal Lycian sarcophagus stands upon a shorter-than-usual pillar tomb. It is quite tall, only a little shorter than the Harpy Tomb. 4th century BC.
The "Xanthian Obelisk" - a tall pillar tomb covered with Greek and the longest Lycian inscription known to exist. This writing was instrumental in helping to begin to understand the riddle of the difficult Lycian language.
Other Features of Note include an amphitheatre, a Roman arch, a Byzantine church with lovely mosaic floors and a fortress at the top of the acropolis.