British Museum's Lycian Collection

The Nereid Monument
Room 17

Click photo for a detailed image

According to the British Museum, The Nereid Monument (taken from Xanthos by Charles Fellows) was probably built for Arbinas, a Lycian dynast, and his family.  His name appears on the inscribed pillar at Xanthos.  He is mentioned elsewhere as the builder of the Temple of Leto outside Xanthos, and other monuments on the acropolis of Xanthos.  Arbinas's exploits are likened to those of a number of Greek heroes, and the theme of the podium frieze, a battle in the Greek manner, is possibly taken from the life of one of those heroes.  The smaller podium frieze shows the seige and surrender of a city and probably reflects a real event from the life of Arbinas, who died about 380 BC.

The architecture has affinities with the Ionic temples of the later 5th century BC in Athens, notably the Nike Temple and Erechtheion on the Acropolis.  The sculpture too, shows strong influence from the Greek mainland and the sculptors, like the architect, were probably Greek.  The overall design of the monument, however, was subordinated to its function and, although the style of the scupture is Greek, much of what it portrays is Lycian.  The east side of the building has been reconstructed, and those scuptures not incorporated are displayed elsewhere in the room.

Nereid Monument Diagram Diagram with description of the monument's elements.

Nereid sculptures, click to enlarge


From the British Museum:

The daughters of the sea-deities Nereus and Doris are known as Nereids. Numbering between 50 and 100, they were popular figures in Greek literature. They were believed to be personifications of the waves of the ocean, and benign toward humanity. The best known of the Nereids were Amphitrite, consort of Poseidon (a sea and earthquake god); Thetis, wife of Peleus, king of the Myrmidons, and mother of the hero Achilles; and Galatea.

This figure (pictured above on the right) is draped in a fine chiton (tunic), its folds enlivened by the rush of the sea breeze against her. A mantle falls over her left shoulder. She was carried along by a sea bird visible below the hem of her skirt. Her portrayal here is perhaps meant to suggest the means by which the soul of the deceased was transported to the afterlife.

A 19th century display of the Nereids


Some frieze details from the Nereid Monument, click to enlarge.

about this piece


The Tomb of Payava, a Lycian aristocrat
Room 20

Click to enlarge

375-360 BC, from Xanthos
Height: approx. 3.5 m (the original tomb was probably over 7 metres)

From the British Museum:

One of the most common forms of free-standing Lycian tombs is the barrel-vaulted sarcophagus, placed on a high base, with architectural features carved in stone to imitate wooden structures.

The British Museum has one complete barrel-vaulted tomb from Lycia. The occupant, Payava, is named in an inscription. The figures carved on the walls of the tomb combine Greek and Persian elements. On one of the shorter sides an athlete seems entirely Greek, and his bearded companion is dressed in Greek style, but on the adjacent side a dignified seated figure in full Persian dress is shown receiving a delegation. This may be the satrap (local ruler) Autophradates, who is named in the inscription as having made a presentation to Payava. On the other long side of the tomb is a scene of a battle. The second short side has two long-haired and bearded men, wearing cuirasses and a cloak. The inscription on this side names Payava, who may be one of the soldiers represented.

The heads and foreparts of lions, a favourite Lycian royal symbol, project from the curved roof. The roof is decorated with a chariot seemingly at full speed, a Greek motif enlivened by the fact that the horses turn their heads in different directions. The seated couple in the gable ends are again Persian, and correspond with a similar dynastic pair in one of the pediments of the Nereid Monument from Xanthos. In the pediments above these seated figures are pairs of sphinxes, traditional guardians of the dead.

On the uppermost level are two friezes showing on one side a wild animal hunt, including a fierce bear raised up on its hind legs, and on the other a battle between cavalry and foot-soldiers.

TThis sarcophagus was discovered at Xanthos by Sir Charles Fellows in 1838, and described as the 'Gothic-formed Horse Tomb'.

Room 15

Room 15 has material from Greece in the fifth century BC on the west side, while the east side is occupied by sculptures from Lycian tombs.  The Lycian sculptures are from Xanthos. The reliefs from the Harpy Tomb are included, as well as friezes from other monuments on the site, all dating from about 480-470BC.

Click on any of the photos below for a larger image (some also link to details)

Room 15, British Museum
Leopard relief from Xanthos
Lion relief from Xanthos
Horses relief from Xanthos
Horses relief from Xanthos
Lycian sarcophagus lid carving, from Xanthos


Lycian Coins

around 520-480 BC
around 480-440 BC
around 410-390 BC
around 390-370 BC