The chief city of Lycia (Strab. 14.3.6), on the left bank of the river of the same name (now Koca Cayi) 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. (W. L. MACDONALD) Wikidata ID: Q464936
Info: Princeton Encyclopedia
(Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, from Perseus Project)