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Ancient Region of Anatolia
Lycia (Λυκία)
Location Southern Anatoliamarker
State existed: 15-14th c. BC (as Lukka)
1250-546 BC
Language Lycian
Historical capitals Xanthosmarker
Roman province Lycia
Lycia (pronounced ; Lycian: Trm̃mis; ) was a region in Anatoliamarker in what are now the provinces of Antalyamarker and Muğlamarker on the southern coast of Turkeymarker. It was a federation of ancient cities in the region and later a province of the Roman Empire. The Lycian League was the first federation in the world with democratic principles which later influenced the United States Constitution.


Map of Lycia showing significant ancient cities and some major mountains and rivers.
Red dots are mountain peaks, white dots are ancient cities.

The borders of Lycia varied over time but at its center was the Teke peninsula in south-western Turkey. It was bounded by Caria to the west and north west, Pamphylia to the east, and Pisidia to the north east. The region is mountainous and densely forested region with few large valleys. The mountains are the westernmost part of the Taurus mountainsmarker in particular the Akağları and Beydağları mountains whose peaks can exceed 3000 meters. Inland is the Elmalı basin. The major rivers are the Eşen Çay (ancient Xanthos river), Demre Çay (ancient Myros river), Arykandos, and Alakir Çay. The area is known for steep gorges and underground rivers.


In modern Turkey the region is split between Antalya (on the east) and Muğla (on the west) provinces. The major city is Fethiyemarker built on ancient Telmessos. Well known towns include Kalkanmarker, Kaşmarker, and Demre (ancient Myra). Inland Elmalımarker is fairly important.

Turkey's first waymarked long-distance footpath, the Lycian Way, follows part of the coast of the region.


Ancient names are sometimes be difficult to match the Cragus and Anticragus mountainsmarker on the west side of the Xanthos river seem to include modern Babadağmarker.

The principal cities of ancient Lycia were Xanthosmarker, Pataramarker, Myramarker, Pinaramarker, Tlosmarker and Olymposmarker (each entitled to three votes in the Lycian League) and Phaselismarker. Cities such as Telmessosmarker and Krya were sometimes listed by Classical authors as Carian and sometimes as Lycian.

Features and sights of interest

Though the second-century AD dialogue Erotes found the cities of Lycia "interesting more for their history than for their monuments, since they have retained none of their former splendor", many relics of the Lycians remain visible today, especially their distinctive rock-cut tombs in the sides of cliffs in the region. The British Museummarker in Londonmarker has one of the best collections of Lycian artifacts. Lycia was an important center of worship for the goddess Leto and later, her twin children, Apollo and Artemis.

Ancient language

The eponymous inhabitants of Lycia, the Lycians, spoke an Indo-European language, belonging to its Anatolian branch. The closest language to the Lycian language is the Luwian language, which was spoken in Anatolia during the 2nd and early 1st millennium BC; it may even be its direct ancestor.


Bronze age

Ancient Egyptian records describe the Lycians as allies of the Hittites. Lycia may have been a member state of the Assuwa league of ca. 1250 BC, appearing as 'Lukka or Luqqa. After the collapse of the Hittite Empire, Lycia emerged as an independent "Neo-Hittite" kingdom. According to Herodotus, Lycia was named after Lycus, the son of Pandion II of Athensmarker. The region was never unified into a single territory in antiquity, but remained a tightly-knit confederation of fiercely independent city-states.

Lycia was frequently mentioned by Homer as an ally of Troymarker. In Homer's Iliad, the Lycian contingent was said to have been led by two esteemed warriors: Sarpedon (son of Zeus and Laodamia) and Glaucus (son of Hippolochus). Elsewhere in Greek mythology, the Lycian kingdom was said to have been ruled by another Sarpedon, a Cretanmarker exile and brother of the king Minos; Sarpedon's followers were called Termilae, and they founded a dynasty after their conquest of a people called the Milyans. As with the founding of Miletusmarker, this mythical story implies a Cretan connection to the settlement of Asia Minor. Lycia appears elsewhere in Greek myth, such as in the story of Bellerophon, who eventually succeeded to the throne of the Lycian king Iobates (or Amphianax).

Classical period

Lycia came under the control of the Persian Empire in 546 BC when Harpagus of Media, a general in the service of Cyrus conquered Asia Minormarker. Harpagus's descendants ruled Lycia until 468 BC when Athens wrested control away. Following the ousting of the Persians, as Athens and Sparta fought the Peloponnesian wars, the majority of Lycian cities defaulted from the Delian League, with the exception of Telmessos and Phaselis.

In 429 BC, Athens sent an expedition against Lycia to try to force it to rejoin the league. This failed when Lycia's leader Gergis of Xanthos defeated General Melasander. The Lycians once again fell under Persian domination and by 412 BC, Lycia is documented as fighting on the winning side of Persia. The Persian satraps were re-installed, but (as the coinage of the time attests) they allowed local dynasts the freedom to rule. Persia held Lycia until it was conquered by Alexander III of Macedon during 334-333 BC.

Hellenistic period

After the death of Alexander the Great in 324 BC, his generals fought amongst themselves over the succession. Lycia fell into the hands of the general Antigonus by 304 BC. In 301 BC Antigonus was killed by an alliance of the other successors of Alexander, and Lycia became a part of the kingdom of Lysimachus, who ruled until he was killed in battle in 281 BC. By 240 BC Lycia was part of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, centred on Egypt, and remained in their control through 200 BC. It had apparently come under Seleucid control by 190 BC, when the Seleucids' defeat in the Battle of Magnesia resulted in Lycia being awarded to Rhodesmarker in the Peace of Apamea in 188 BC. It was then granted independence by Romemarker in 168 BC (see Lycian League below) and remained so until becoming a Roman province in 43 AD.

Lycian tombs at Simena, Üçağız (Turkey).

Lycian League

The Lycian League was established in 168 BC with democratic principles. It comprised some 23 known city-states as members. Lycia, which had been under Rhodianmarker control since the Peace of Apamea in 188 BC, was granted independence by the Roman Empire at the conclusion of the Third Macedonian War. These city states joined together in a federal-style government that shared political resources against larger nations. A “Lyciarch” was elected by a senate that convened every autumn at a different city, where each member sent one, two or three representatives, depending on the city's size, to the senate, or Bouleuterion, as it was called. The major cities of the League included Xanthosmarker, Pataramarker, Pinaramarker, Olymposmarker, Myramarker, and Tlosmarker, with Patara as the capital. Phaselismarker joined the League at a later time. The league continued to function after Lycia became a Roman province in 46 AD. Lycia ceased being a federation in the fourth century AD, when it was taken over by the Byzantine Empire.

Roman period

In 43, the emperor Claudius annexed it to the Roman Empire and united it with Pamphylia as a Roman province. The heir of Augustus, Gaius Caesar, was killed there in 4 AD.

Byzantine era

It subsequently was a part of the Byzantine Empire.

Turkish era

It was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire and eventually became part of Turkeymarker. There had been a population exchange between Greece and Turkey following the Greco-Turkish War in the early 20th century. The region is now one of the key centres of domestic and foreign tourism in Turkey.


  1. "Lycia", retrieved from
  2. Patty and Kemal Safyurek. Lycia and the American Constitution, retrieved from 2007 Mavi Real Estate and Property Services.
  4. Asia Minor Coins - Lycian Dynasts
  5. Haywood, John, et al. Historical Atlas of the Classical World: 500 BC - AD 600. Barnes & Noble Books: New York, New York, 2002, Plate 2.09.
  6. Haywood, John, et al. Historical Atlas of the Classical World: 500 BC - AD 600. Barnes & Noble Books: New York, 2002. Plate 2.09.
  7. Barraclough, Geoffrey, ed. Collins Atlas of World History. Borders Press: Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2003, p. 77.
  8. Black, Jeremy, ed. World History Atlas. Dorling Kindersley: London, 2000, p. 179.
  9. Barraclough, Geoffrey, ed. Collins Atlas of World History. Borders Press: Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2003, pp. 77, 89.


Primary sources

  • “Poem on the Battle of Kadesh” 305-313, Ramesses II
  • “Great Karnak Inscription” 572-592, Merneptah
:Breasted, J. H. 1906. Ancient Records of Egypt. Vol. III. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • “Plague Prayers of Mursilis” A1-11, b, Mursilis
:Pritchard, J. B. 1969. Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Secondary sources

: Refers to many different sea peoples and their contact with Egyptmarker and Anatoliamarker. Also tells about the Philistines during the reign of Ramesses III.
: Discusses Lukka's relations to other regions (like Miletusmarker) and where they inhabited.
: Covers the Lycians and where they lived, their history, language, culture, cults, and their language.
:A description of the Egyptian evidence on the Sea Peoples.

See also

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