Lycia (5)

Lycia: the mountainous southwest of Turkey.

Map of Lycia
Map of Lycia

Yet, Lycia was now part of the Roman sphere of influence and suffered from the First Mithridatic War (89-85), when king Mithridates VI of Pontus attacked all Roman possessions in Asia Minor. When the war was over, the Romans redesigned the map and added Cibyra, Balbura, Bubon, and Oenoanda to Lycia, towns situated in the interior. Phaselis was occupied by the Cilician Pirates, but they were no match for the Roman general Pompey the Great, who in 67 reorganized the Near East. A couple of years later, Cicero visited Lycia, and described the inhabitants as "a Greek nation". This suggests that the fantastic stories about Bellerophon and Sarpedon were by now widely believed as accurate descriptions of events in the early days. The Roman politician also observed that "they come close to singing at the end of their speeches".note

Dedication to Zeus (top, center), Artemis (bottom, center), and the Twelve Lycian Gods, who are standing on twelve dogs
Dedication to Zeus (top, center), Artemis (bottom, center), and the Twelve Lycian Gods, who are standing on twelve dogs

In the crisis after the assassination of Julius Caesar, one of the murderers, Brutus, attacked Lycia. Xanthus was ruthlessly sacked, and it became clear that the country, although formally independent, was in fact Roman territory. (The main city was, after the destruction of Xanthus, Patara.) A prince named Gaius, grandson of Rome's first emperor Augustus, traveled easily trough Lycia, and although he died in Limyra (in 4 CE), this had nothing to do with violent anti-Roman resistance. In these years, Strabo wrote that Lycia was a well-governed region.note The Romans finally annexed it in 43 CE, creating the new province of Lycia et Pamphylia.

Theater of Patara

The Roman Empire guaranteed rest, and for some time, Lycia was quiet. The Lycian League, expanded to thirty towns, played a role in the cult of the emperor, but was no longer a political instrument. Our sources do not refer to sensational events. For example, Pliny the Elder tells an anecdote about a governor who had dinner inside a plane tree with seventeen guests.note Athenaeus praises the rue from Myranote and Pliny has a kind word about Telmessian wine.note Other sources refer to Lycian sponges (which Aristotle, had already mentioned as something special),note to the rose attar from Phaselis, and to the saffron from Olympus. No serious matter, in other words.

Xanthus, Arch of Vespasian
Xanthus, Arch of Vespasian

Several emperors are known to have ordered buildings in Lycia. Hadrian, for example, ordered better port facilities in Andriace (near Myra). Antoninus Pius intervened after an earthquake, colaborating with a Lycian magnate named Opramoas of Rhodiapolis. Septimius Severus and Caracalla are also mentioned as benefactors of the Lycian towns. The bridge at Limyra, one of the oldest segmented arch bridges in the world, cannot be dated accurately, but is certainly a Roman construction.

Gradually, Lycia disappears from our sources. The Byzantine author Zosimus knows about a bandit leader, Lydius, who ravaged Pamphylia and Lycia, until in 280 the Roman emperor Probus captured him in Cremna (in Pisidia).note We learn about Christian leaders, but even the most famous of them, Nicholas of Myra, is just a name. In 366, an usurper named Procopius fled to the mountains of Lycia, but he was handed over to the emperor Valens, who had him beheaded.note Again: just anecdotes.

Yet, we know that the population continued to increase, and that Lycia did not really suffer from the plague of 541. Perhaps people fled to this isolated part of the Roman world, perhaps it was too far away from the great trade routes to suffer from the disease. We don't know. The only thing we can establish, is that the decline from which the Mediterranean world generally suffered, started late in Lycia. Yet, by the mid-seventh, when the Arabs started to raid the coasts, the ancient country suffered heavily. Now, the Middle Ages had also begun for the Lycians.