The Discovery of Lycia and Current Research

Ancient tomb at Telmessos, drawn by Fellows' expedition artist, Sir George ScharfSir Charles Fellows is perhaps the most well known early explorer of Lycia - bringing it to the attention of the west, although others had been there before him.  One of the first to write about Lycia was the British Rev. Richard Pococke, who travelled to Lycia in 1739-40.  Twenty years later the Classical antiquary Dr. Richard Chandlar (also British) was sent by the Dilettani Society to explore and investigate. 

From 1811-12, Captain Francis Beaufort surveyed the entire southern coastline of Turkey taking care to study any antiquities accessible from the sea.  Then in the first half of the 1830's more scientific and archaeological studies were made in neighboring Lydia and Ionia by scholars known to Charles Fellows. The French government also sent the distinguished archaeologist Charles Texier to Asia Minor at this time, to search for antiquities to add to the Louvre.

Chareles Fellows had an immense interest in topography and nature combined with a deep love of the Classics and antiquities and a very adventurous spirit.  Reading such publications as Lt-Col. William Martin-Leake's account in Journal of a Tour in Ancient Minor, 1824, about his travels in 1800:

"To the traveller who delights in tracing vestiges of Grecian art and civilization amidst modern barbarism and desolation, and who may thus at once illustrate history and collect valuable materials for the geographer and artist - there is no country that now affords so fertile a field of discovery as Asia Minor."

and knowing several people who had explored Asia Minor gave Fellows the incentive he needed to set out on his own expedition.  The Greek War of Independence had ended in 1833, and travel within Asia Minor could now be done safely.  The son of a wealthy silk merchant and banker, then unmarried Fellows had the leisure, health and resources to make an archaeological expedition himself.  His aim was to follow the paths of early travellers, examine ancient ruins and collect data on the natural history, topography, geology of the areas he saw, as well as to travel in a mysterious Oriental country and to learn about the people he encountered.  Perhaps he would even explore areas unknown to Europeans and also make his way to the mysterious, little-chronicled ancient Lycia.  

Charles Fellows, 1845Very little was known of Lycia at the time.  The texts of Homer, Herodotus, Plutarch and Pliny the Elder told of the legends and history of the Lycians.  The geography and mythology were described in detail and the sites of some of the places of Lycia were well known.  However, the location of Xanthos, the capitol and most famous city of Lycia remained unknown.  Charles Fellows was to make this exciting discovery and to unravel many of the secrets of Lycia.  He was the first westerner to see many of the Lycian cities since they had been abandoned in late antiquity.  

Fellows made his first excursion to Asia Minor in 1838, discovering many places previously only a blank on the maps.  Forced to take an inland route on his return along the southern coast, Fellows discovered the lost city of Xanthos with its "extensive and highly interesting ruins".  Shortly after he discovered Tlos.  Upon his return to England he published an account of his travels and quickly attracted the attention of antiquarians to his exciting Lycian discoveries.  Soon the British Museum became involved and it was decided to send a naval vessel to Xanthos to collect pieces of its art for conservation in the museum.

Before this took place, Fellows made his second personal tour to Lycia in 1840.  This time he astonishingly discovered thirteen other cities in Lycia, visiting as many as twenty-four of the thirty-six places mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Historiae naturalis, AD 77, which were still in existence at that time.  Returning to England, he published a second account of his travels, in 1841.  He hoped to kindle interest in his lovely Lycia so that others would follow in his footsteps.  He fully expected to return to his private life and quiet hobbies, but this was not to be.

Hearing that the government expedition to Xanthos to bring back antiquities was to be sent without any experienced person to guide the naval men in their search, Fellows volunteered his services to be the supervisor of the party.  As it turned out, Fellows had to assume complete control of the excavations and even fund the operations, as that detail had been overlooked. 

Seventy huge crates of marbles were packed up and taken to England aboard the surveying British naval ship the HMS Beacon. The exhibition of the finds caused a huge sensation in London, almost as great as that of the exhibition of the Elgin Marbles forty years earlier. Thousands came to marvel at the finds from Xanthos which included the monumental Nereid Monument, the Horse Tomb, the Harpy Frieze and other miscellaneous reliefs from the city walls. 

The Nereid Monument, British Museum

Click here to learn more about the Nereid Monument and other Lycian finds now in the British Museum.

Other notable men aboard the HMS Beacon were Edward Forbes (appointed naturalist to the ship) and his friend Lieutenant Thomas Spratt (later Admiral), who left the Beacon together for a three months' expoloration of Lycia, exploring the interior and drawing a good map.  Their results were published in 1847 in two volumes, entitled "Travels in Lycia." 

In 1843 Fellows returned to Lycia to complete his excavations and was later knighted by Queen Victoria on May 7, 1845 at St. James's Palace.  Many of his finds can still be seen in the British Museum today - the Xanthian Room has always been among the most popular in the museum. All of Fellows’ excursions were painstakingly recorded and beautifully illustrated.  The details of his account and beautiful illustrations can be seen in the excellent book Xanthus, Travels of Discovery in Turkey by Enid Slatter.  

Fellows' work was very influential and during the next decade Lycia was the focus for a number of surveys done by European geographers, naturalists and archaeologists.  Some were sent specifically by their governments to find ancient sculptures to put in their museums.

Battle Scene Relief on the Nereid Monument, British Museum
Battle scene elief on the Nereid Monument, British Museum
 (Amazon women fighting barbarians)


Recent Discoveries In Lycia

No excavation was done in Lycia following the interest Fellows sparked briefly in the 1850's and most of the sites remained untouched save for a small amount of digging by villagers.  The first sign of a resurgence of interest in Lycia was the publication of Lycian coinAkurgal's (a famous Turkish archaeologist) work on the sixth-century AD reliefs of Lycia in 1941.  Lycian studies advanced a bit further in 1962 when a French team (Demargne and Metzgen) began the excavation of Xanthos and its associated nearby sanctuary, Letoon.  This work continues today. In the last two decades excavations have reached a peak with archaeological work at a number of sites. Currently there is a French team excavating Xanthos and Letoon.  There is an Austrian team working at Limyra which regularly produces monographs on Lycian matters.  A German team has recently worked at Cyaneae (Kyaneai) and its associated territory.

Two international conferences on Lycia were held in Paris in 1979 and Vienna in 1990.  

Despite the recent interest in Lycia, many Lycian sites remain virtually untouched and no one really knows what is buried under their ground.  It may be much - the Turkish archeologist Cevdet Bayburtluoglu has begun uncovering the formerly obscure Arycanda which may prove to be one of the most spectacular ruin sites in all of Turkey.  Work is also ongoing at Patara, where an extensive city is being unearthed from the sand under Professor Dr. Hawa İşkan Işık, head of the Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Akdeniz University.  The excavations are proceeding under the supervision of her husband, Professor Fahri Işık, a lecturer at the same university. Many exciting discoveries are being made, including the discovery of what may be the oldest lighthouse in the world as well as the parliment building of Lycia.

Other recent work in Lycia:

Excavations at Limyra

The Hacimusalar Project


Recent publications about ancient Lycia include:

George Bean's Lycian Turkey(1978), a comprehensive guide to the archaeological sites.  Between 1947 and 1977 this archaeologist may have examined ever ancient site on the coastal fringes of Turkey and the nearby Dodecanese Islands of Greece. Almost no archaeologist knew the land better than George Bean, and his series of work is highly readable and still useful, but it has been superceded in recent years by a revival of fieldwork in all parts of Lycia, as evidenced by the published proceedings of two international conferences (Actes 1980; Borchhardt and Dobesch 1993), and the regular project reports in the Kazi Sonuçlari Toplantisi, Anatolian Studies, and the American Journal of Archaeology, amongst others.

Other publications include: