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Xanthus (Kınık)


The river Xanthus (left) and the acropolis of Xanthus (right).
The river Xanthus (left) and the acropolis of Xanthus (right).
Xanthus: town in western Lycia; its original name was Arňna, its modern name is Kınık.

The Lycian town Xanthus was situated on a high hill near a river with the same name, about eight kilometers before it empties itself in the sea. The town was the seat of a Lycian prince, who lost his independence when the town was captured by the Persian commander Harpagus in the mid-sixth century BCE. Archaeologists have found traces of the destruction, which is described by the Greek researcher Herodotus (Histories, 1.176).

Although many people were killed, the town was repopulated and prospered during the Persian age. Probably, the prince of Xanthus was considered to be the representative of all Lycians vis--vis the Persian satrap. One of the Xanthian leaders, called Cybernis by Herodotus and almost certainly identical to the Kuprlli we know from Lycian sources, took part in Xerxes' expedition to Greece (480) (Histories, 7.98). By the mid-fifth century, however, the ruling dynasty had started to act as if it were independent from the Achaemenid Empire, and for some time, Xanthus was a member of the Delian League.

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The Harpy Tomb. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
The Harpy Tomb

One of the monuments from this age is the Harpy Tomb, which is now in the British Museum in London. This Greek-style monument shows a soldier who hands over a helmet to a bearded man (a god or king?) on a throne. To the left and right you can see harpies carrying away human figures, who may or may not represent the souls of the people killed by the soldier.

Two monuments on the Xanthus agora: the Harpy tomb and a Lycian tomb. Photo Marco Prins.
Two monuments on the Xanthus agora: the Harpy tomb and a Lycian tomb.

Other monuments from this period are the city wall, rock tombs, and the monument of Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis, who was venerated in Xanthus. This triad was among the most popular deities of Lycia, and control of the Letoon added to Xanthus' importance.

The membership of the Delian League did not last. At the beginning of the Archidamian War (431-421), Xanthus had become independent. The city now embarked upon an assertive foreign policy and is known to have subjected nearby Telmessus in the 420s. From inscriptions, we know the names of the princes of the fifth century:

Pillar of Kherei. Photo Jona Lendering.
Pillar of Kherei

Kuprlli (Cybernis) c.480-c.440
Kheriga (Gergis, son of Harpagus) c.440-c.425
Kherei c.425-c.400
Erbbina (Arbinas) c.400-c.385

The Pillar of Kherei also dates back the this age. It contains a long inscription in Lycian, recounting the life of prince Kherei. Because the Lycian language is poorly understood, the details of the text are not fully understood either.

In the first quarter of the fifth century, the ruling dynasty came to an end: Kherei's successor Arbinas had to reconquer Xanthus, Telmessus, and Patara, and became a subject of Pericles of Limyra, who called himself "king of Lycia".

The acropolis of Xanthus. Photo Jona Lendering. The Lycian tomb on the agora of Xanthus. Photo Marco Prins. The agora of Xanthus. Photo Marco Prins. Pillar of Kherei, detail. Photo Marco Prins.
The Acropolis Lycian tomb, third century BCE The agora Pillar of Kherei

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Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 20 April 2010
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