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The ancient coastal region of southwest Turkey known as Lycia was bordered on all sides by massive mountain ranges, making it a uniquely independent state for much of its early history. The earliest inhabitants may have been native Anatolians mixed in with limited migrations from Crete.

Its proximity to Greece made it a desirable location for early colonists, but the Lycians resisted such attempts. In centuries of Greek domination of Asia Minor only one important colony, Phaselis, was ever established among the Lycians.

The Persians too sought to occupy the well defended territory but found Lycian independence deeply rooted in the culture. In the late 6th century BC, the Persians came to dominate Asia Minor and the surrounding vicinity but found Lycia to be a difficult conquest. When the Persians attacked the Lycian capital of Xanthos, the Lycians fought valiantly, but were eventually overcome. The survivors burnt the city, committing mass suicide, rather than submit to Persian rule.

Xanthos was later repopulated and Persian rule proved to be less dramatic than what was feared. Other than an annual tribute, the Lycians were left mainly to their own devices. Lycia was ruled essentially by a council of 23 federated cities, with certain more established cities having more clout than others.

The cities of Myra, Olympos Patara, Pinara, Tlos and Xanthos occupied the upper tier in Lycian politics. Under Persian 'protection' Lycia began to thrive and economic growth took hold. The Lycian alphabet also spread throughout the region in this time period.

Under Persian influence, the Lycians continued to oppose the Greeks. When Xerxes invaded Greece in the 5th century BC, Herodotus claims that Lycia contributed 50 ships to the expedition. Though the Persians had much success, the eventual defeat of Xerxes opened the door to Hellenistic influence from the west.

The Athenians attempted to capture Lycia on several occassions, but the Lycians would repulse them repeatedly. The reign of Alexander the Great of Macedonia changed the landscape of the eastern world, however, and Hellenistic culture eventually followed him into Lycia. At the death of Alexander, Ptolemy of Egypt took over rule and Greek influence finally took a firm root.

Roman intervention finally came in the late 3rd and early 2nd centuries BC, when Antiochus III of Syria invaded from the far east, wresting control of the nation from the Ptolemies. After Roman victory over Antiochus at Magnesia, the administration of Lycia was handed over to Rhodes, but the Lycians resisted this bitterly. For nearly 3 decades the Lycians fought for independence, and by 167 BC, the Roman Senate grew tired of the trouble, and granted semi self rule to the resistance.

Within another century, the Lycians would prove their loyalty and gratitude to Rome against the great Pontic King Mithridates who overran the entire region in 88 BC. Against Mithridates, Lycia was essentially the only conquest that was contested by the natives, and Rome's eventual victory would result in renewed independence and increased territory for the Lycians.

During the Roman civil wars between Octavian, Marc Antony and the assassins of Julius Caesar (Brutus, Cassius, etc.), Lycia fell victim to the power struggle that ensued. In 42 BC, Brutus attempted to secure Xanthos and once again, the residents chose mass suicide rather than submit to Roman rule. However Antony, and later, Augustus, would eventually secure the territory under their own regimes and Lycia emerged as a prosperous area of Roman Asia. Under Augustus, the Lycian Federation maintained independence, but this arrangement would only last a generation.

As Romanization of the area began to take hold and resistance to foreign rule diminished, the emperor Claudius incorporated Lycia, together with Pamphylia, as a Roman province in 43 AD. Under direct Roman rule, Lycia prospered and great public works were undertaken. Trade dominated the culture and Lycia evolved into a peaceful and ideal Roman province.

Lycian prosperity was not to last, however. Devastating earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD sent the province into decline, but it had another re-emergence as Christianity began to take root in the east. Lycia, as well as most of modern Turkey was an early and important stronghold for the Catholic Church, and the religion was firmly established here. With the collapse of the Western Roman Empire Lycia passed safely into Byzantine rule in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. It would remain under Byzantine rule until the Arab conquests of the 8th century AD.

Thereafter, the native Lycians seem to have returned to their original roots of independence, leaving the area largely uninhabited (until Ottoman colonization in the 13th century), rather than submit to Arab rule. Of important and interesting note to world history and lore is the service of St. Nicholaus of Myrna. Serving as archbishop in the mid 4th century AD, this saint forms the basic, if somewhat misrepresentative basis for the American cultural icon Santa Claus.


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Lycia - Related Topic: Mithridatic War


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