Who were the Lycians?

The civilization of Lycia is one of the most enigmatic of the ancient world. Lycians legacy of impressive cities, built amongst the dramatic landscapes of the area, still holds many mysteries. The most distinct and striking remnant of Lycian culture is unquestionably their rock tombs – ornate creations carved from the soft limestone hills of the area, but there is much else of interest about them. The historic sites they left behind are, in many cases, very well preserved.

What was distinct about their civilization?

Lycia was a collective of some twenty of so cities, which combined individual freedom and independence, with a strong political unity – an impressive achievement that the Greeks admired them for. In fact they were one of the few nations not considered ‘Barbarians’ by the Greeks. The Lycian Federation is the first known instance of a democratic union, and contrasted markedly with the constantly warring Greek city-states.

Throughout their long history they remained a fiercely independent people who would defend themselves to the bitter end. Twice in their history the population of the principal city of Xanthos committed mass suicide rather than surrender against vastly superior invading forces.

They held out against Greek rule for many centuries and were the last region in the whole Mediterranean coast to succumb to Roman rule. The Romans and the Persians did effectively rule Lycia at various times but, even then, they were allowed to retain the Lycian union, and maintain their way of life.

How did their civilization come to an end?

Large earthquakes in 141 AD and 240 AD caused widespread destruction to many of the Lycian cities. The Bubonic plague epidemics that swept through Anatolia (the central region of Turkey that Lycia is part of) between 542 AD and 745 AD must have had a big impact on their numbers. Raids from Arabs and Pirates (who have long had a significant presence in the area) during the 8th century AD probably finished off the Lycians.

The area was left fairly uninhabited until Turks started to populate it in the 13th century AD.