Xanthos (Lycian: ????? Arñna, Greek: Ξάνθος, Latin: Xanthus, Turkish: Ksantos) was a city in ancient Lycia, the site of present-day Kınık, Antalya Province, Turkey, and of the river on which the city is situated.

The ruins of Xanthus are on the south slopes of a hill, the ancient acropolis, located on the northern outskirts of the modern city, on the left bank of the Xanthus, which flows beneath the hill. A single road, Xantos yolu, encircles the hill and runs through the ruins. Xanthos is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Letoon, the centre of the Lycian civilization, exerted significant architectural influences upon other cities of the region, with the Nereid Monument directly inspiring the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Caria.

Xanthos is the Greek appellation of Arñna, a city originally speaking the Lycian language. The Hittite and Luwian name of the city is given in inscriptions as Arinna (not to be confused with the Arinna near Hattusa). Xanthos is a Greek name, acquired during its Hellenization. The Romans called the city Xanthus, as all the Greek -os suffixes were changed to -us in Latin. Xanthos was a center of culture and commerce for the Lycians, and later for the Persians, Greeks and Romans who in turn conquered the city and occupied the adjacent territory. As Xanthus, the former Byzantine bishopric remains an Eastern Orthodox and Latin Catholic titular see. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century, the region became Turkish. The ancient city had long since been abandoned.


Trojan War heroes and Lycian leaders Glaucus and Sarpedon are described in the Iliad as coming from the land of the Xanthos River. In the same text, Achilles' immortal, talking horse is named Xanthos. Xanthus is mentioned by numerous ancient Greek and Roman writers. Strabo notes Xanthos as the largest city in Lycia.

Under the Persian Empire

Both Herodotus and Appian describe the conquest of the city by Harpagus on behalf of the Persian Empire, in approximately 540 BC. According to Herodotus, the Persians met and defeated a small Lycian army in the flatlands to the north of the city. After the encounter, the Lycians retreated into the city which was besieged by Harpagus. The Lycians destroyed their own Xanthian acropolis, killed their wives, children, and slaves, then proceeded on a suicidal attack against the superior Persian troops. Thus, the entire population of Xanthos perished but for 80 families who were absent during the fighting.

During the Persian occupation, a local leadership was installed at Xanthos, which by 520 BC was already minting its own coins. By 516 BC, Xanthos was included in the first nomos of Darius I in the tribute list.

Xanthos' fortunes were tied to Lycia's as Lycia changed sides during the Greco-Persian Wars. Archeological digs demonstrate that Xanthos was destroyed in approximately 475 BC-470 BC; whether this was done by the Athenian Kimon or by the Persians is open to debate. As we have no reference to this destruction in either Persian or Greek sources, some scholars attribute the destruction to natural or accidental causes. Xanthos was rebuilt after the destruction and in the final decades of the 5th century BC, Xanthos conquered nearby Telmessos and incorporated it into Lycia.

The prosperity of Lycia during the Persian occupation is demonstrated by the extensive architectural achievements in Xanthos, particularly the many tombs, culminating in the Nereid Monument.

Conquest by Alexander the Great

Reports on the city's surrender to Alexander the Great differ: Arrian reports a peaceful surrender, but Appian claims that the city was sacked. After Alexander's death, the city changed hands among his rival heirs; Diodorus notes the capture of Xanthos by Ptolemy I Soter from Antigonos.

Roman and Byzantine rule

Appian, Cassius Dio, and Plutarch report that city was once again destroyed in the Roman Civil Wars, with only some 150 survivors, c. 42 BC, by Brutus during his campaigning early in that year before the Battle of Philippi.[1] Appian notes that it was rebuilt under Mark Antony. Remains of a Roman amphitheater remain on the site. Marinos reports that there was a school of grammarians at Xanthos in late antiquity. Xanthus was in the Roman province of Lycia, in the civil Diocese of Asia.

Ecclesiastical history

Xanthus was important enough in the Roman province of Lycia to become a suffragan of the Metropolitan Archbishopric of provincial capital Myra, in the sway of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Three of its bishops are historically documented :

  • Macedon, participant in the First Council of Constantinople in 381
  • Athanasius, signed in 458 the letter of the episcopate of Lycia to Byzantine emperor Leo I the Thracian after Coptic mobs lynched Patriarch Proterius of Alexandria
  • Giorgius, participant in the Council in Trullo in 692.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Xanthoupolis is a titular diocese under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose bishop assisted the Metropolitan Province of Smyrna, part of the larger Province of Asia Minor. Its last known bishop was Father Ignatios, later Metropolitan of Libya under the Patriarchate of Alexandria, who presided over this diocese from 1863 to 1884.[2]

In the Catholic Church, the diocese was nominally restored in 1933 as Latin Titular bishopric of Xanthus (Latin) / Xanto (Curiate Italian) / Xanthien(sis) (Latin adjective).[3]

It is vacant, having had a single incumbent, not of the fitting Episcopal (lowest) rank but archiepiscopal :

  • Titular Archbishop: Bruno Bernard Heim (Swiss) (1961.11.09 – death 2003.03.18), as papal diplomat and heraldist (also author) : Apostolic Delegate to Scandinavia (1961.11.09 – 1969.05.07), Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Finland (1966 – 1969.05.07), Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Egypt (1969.05.07 – 1973.07.16), Apostolic Delegate to Great Britain (1973.07.16 – 1982), Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to Great Britain (1982 – retired 1985) and on emeritate[4] When asked where Xanthus was, Heim would jokingly reply: "Most of it is now in the British Museum".[5]


As the center of ancient Lycia and the site of its most extensive antiquities, Xanthos has been a mecca for students of Anatolian civilization since the early 19th century. Many important artefacts were found at the city. Two tombs, the Nereid Monument and the Tomb of Payava, are now exhibited in the British Museum. The Harpy Tomb is still located in the ruins of the city. A sanctuary of Leto called the Letoon is located on the outskirts of the city to the southwest. The Xanthian Obelisk and the Letoon trilingual are two trilingual stelae which were found in the city and the Letoon. The site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

The archeological excavations and surface investigations at Xanthos have yielded many texts in Lycian and Greek, including bilingual texts that are useful in the understanding of Lycian. One monument, the Xanthian Obelisk, is a trilingual recording an older Anatolian language conventionally called Milyan language.

The River Xanthos

Strabo reports the original name of the river as Sibros or Sirbis. During the Persian invasion the river is called Sirbe, which means "yellow", like the Greek word "xanthos". The river usually has a yellow hue because of the soil in the alluvial base of the valley. Today the site of Xanthos overlooks the modern Turkish village of Kınık. Once over 500 m long, the Roman Kemer Bridge crossed the upper reaches of the river near the present-day village of Kemer. The modern Turkish name of the river is Eşen Çayı.

A Greek legend is that the river was created by the birth pangs of Leto, whose temple, at the Letoon, is on the west bank of the river a few kilometers south of Xanthos. The Letoon has been excavated in the 20th century, and has yielded numerous Lycian, Greek, and Aramaic texts. A notable trilingual text, known as the Letoon trilingual, in all three languages was found and has been found to contain a reference to King Artaxerxes. The Letoon has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.