Tears of Xanthos

Tears of Xanthos;

Every human being is dignified, but never as much as a native of Xanthos.

Wait, don’t get mad so fast. The reason why I said that is because these people were going to lose their lands and freedom when the war with obvious outcomes was over, but instead of obeying the cruel enemy, they chose to commit mass suicide as a society. What makes this story interesting is that they chose to commit suicide not once but twice.

Do you wonder how?

The area that covers from Fethiye to Finike was named Lycia in history. I want to take you to the capital of Lycia, Xanthos, however not the present day of Xanthos, but hundreds of years ago.

We get to Xanthos by taking a 30 minutes long cozy car ride from Fethiye to Kalkan. Please don’t think “why are we riding on a car while we can sunbathe on our Yacht?”. Because you, in that way, will get to see cities and villages, in which those brave people had to go through one of the most impressive struggles that mankind ever witnessed.

The name of the city would be named Arnna in the old Lycian language, however, later it was changed to Xanthos. The river that flows right by the city carries a big amount of clay which turns the color of the river into yellow. Many believe that the color of the river is the reason why city is called Xanthos, due to the fact that Xanthos means yellow in Greek.

“I have come a long way from here to help
I have come from distant Lycia and the eddying Xanthos,
where I settled my dear wife, child and enough business and personal effect
to make the poor and destitute salivate in anticipation.

Once again, I’ve taken Lycians into battle
Look, and you will see me out in the very front”

The famous movie “Troy” illustrates how the Greek Army came with hundreds of battleships to fight Trojans, because of the beautiful princess Helen who had been kidnapped. The ones who watched the movie will not have a hard time remembering brave (and handsome) Prince Hector. The above-mentioned sentences were told to Hector by Xanthosian commander Sarpedon to bolster him.

I will tell you the story of those Xanthosiens who went all the way to present-day Canakkale (Troy), from Fethiye 3200 years ago:

Persians head for Lycian territories after occupying the entire Anatolian peninsula in 546 BC. The Persian Army which is commanded by Harpagos surrounds the city and demands Xanthosians to surrender however they come across Xanthosians who’d never give up their land and freedom as it is in Xanthosiens genes to fight and die bravely rather than getting enslaved.

The siege lasts for months. As time passes by, the city walls start to weaken and hunger becomes a more significant problem.

When the defeat is unavoidable, all the Xanthosien men come together in the center of the city and promise each other something hard to believe. After this gathering, all the men go home and slaughter their wives and children. This slaughter goes on until there are no more women and children in the city. After torching all houses, farms and valuable buildings, they open the gates of the city and run towards the enemy to fight. They all die fighting against their enemy which outnumber them heavily.

That night, the first recorded mass suicide of the world took place.

This tragedy and heroism saga has been passed onto future generations by songs, requiems and stories. While the story of brave Xanthosians was being told in every continent, there were 80 Xanthosian families away from the war zone just by coincidence. They eventually came back to the city. With people who come from other Lyrican cities, the city steadily improved itself and got back to its point where it was before the war.

Let’s look at the second story now:

After 500 years, this time Anatolian peninsula is invaded by Romans. The famous Roman commander Brutus takes over Halikarnassos (Bodrum), Knidos (the tip of the Datca peninsula), Letoon (Fethiye) and Antiphellos Letoon (Kaş) one by one. It is 42 BC when the Roman Army head for Xanthos to take it over.

As the Romans know Xanthosians and what happened in the past, they choose to negotiate with them instead of fighting, however Xanthosians don’t cooperate with Romans at all. After another long siege, a group of Xanthosians open the city’s gate and leave the city open to the attack of the Roman Army. They manage to set all of the Roman Army’s equipment to fire. The fire is so big that it spreads to the city’s walls and the houses of the city begin burning. Brutus, afraid that the city will burn to the ground, orders his soldier to put the fire out. All the Xanthosians regardless of their social class; women, children, and slaves, struggle against Roman soldiers who try to put the fire out. Moreover, they do all they can do to get the fire spread to the entire city.

When the fire covers up the whole city, Brutus comes close to the city’s walls and begs Xanthosians to help him to save their city. Xanthosians ignore him and they keep destroying their city. Even little children choose to either jump into the flames or jump off the city’s walls. A group of children gets slaughtered by their fathers while another group of children is begging their fathers to kill them before they get captured by the enemy.

After seeing what happened that night, Brutus tells his soldiers that he will pay for each Xanthosian, who is captured alive before they manage to commit suicide. Roman Soldiers struggle to save Xanthosians’ lives, while Xanthosian does all they can, to kill every human being in the city.

When the dawn breaks, everything has been over. While Brutus wandering around the completely burnt-out city, he sees a woman whose dead body hanging on a lasso whose baby is wrapped around her body, holding a torch in its hand.

Roman Soldiers manage to save only 150 Xanthosians from this tragedy.

What is left behind from the tragedy is an inscription which summarizes their struggle:

“We made our houses graves,

And our graves are homes to us.

Our houses burned down,

And our graves were looted.

We climbed to the summits,

We went deep into the earth,

We were drenched in water,

They came and got us.

They burned and destroyed us.

They plundered us.

And we,

For the sake of our mothers,

Our women,

And for the sake of our dead,

And we,

In the name of our honor,

And our freedom,

We, the people of this land,

Who sought mass suicide.

We left a fire behind us,

Never to die out…”

AND you, our dear guests, while walking around the city of that person who left a fire that “never die out” on those terrible days, will feel their souls and pain around you.

The moisture that will stick to your skin every step you take is actually the Tears of Xanthos.

BUT what about the physical remains of that tragedy; would we be able to see them?

You’d better ask this question Archaeologist Charles Fellows, as he, while his “archaeological” work in progress in 1842, “carried away” The Nereid Monument, the relief panel of the Harpy tomb as well as the tomb of Payava to the British Museum.

Nowadays, unfortunately, XANTHOS has only the imitations of them….

Never mind though; it seems that the soul of the tragedy is still very much alive.

And what about Charles Fellows’ soul?

I believe, it still struggles to elucidate thousands of Xanthosian who died here…


Tears of Xanthos

October 2010