The British Museum devotes an entire long room (# 17) to the Nereid Monument, a temple-tomb built in the Greek tradition around 400 BC in Lycia, an area of southwest Turkey across the Aegean from Greece.
Lycia was considered a lost civilization for centuries. Herodotus and other Greek and Roman historians wrote a lot about Lycians and Homer mentions them as allies of Troy in the Iliad. Lycian soldiers fought with Xerxes when his Persian army invaded Greece in 480 BC and destroyed Athens. The Athenians and their allies, however, eventually defeated the Persians and Lycia found itself subjugated to the new Athenian Empire during the Golden Age of Athens when Pericles rebuilt the Parthenon and other temples on the Acropolis that were destroyed by the Persians. Later they were part of Alexander the Great’s empire and later still the Roman Empire. But gradually over a period of 2,000 years the country just disappeared. Pirates took over the Anatolian coast and Lycians abandoned their cities and moved inland to high plateaus and their population dwindled over the centuries to practically nothing.
In 1838 a British adventurer named Charles Fellows came to Turkey to explore the area and discovered the lost city of Xanthos plus more than 20 other Lycian towns. He came back in 1840 and personally funded and supervised the removal of more than 70 tons of art and building treasures and had them shipped to the British Museum in London, creating a sensation similar to Lord Elgin’s sculptures 40 years earlier. He wrote a book about his adventures in Lycia and was knighted for his efforts.
We know a little about the Lycian civilization. They had their own language but their alphabet was mostly based on the Greeks. In their religion, too, they shared most of their gods with the Greeks. They worshiped their ancestors and built magnificent temples in their honor. Children were named after their mothers, not their fathers. At the height of their glory the Lycian League consisted of 23 city-states, each with equal representation, and they were a model for the US Constitution. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison mention Lycia in The Federalist Papers. Oh, and once a year the Lycians had a national assembly that was always presided over by a woman.
There are two rooms to the right of room 17. Room 22 consists of the treasures of Alexander the Great but it was closed for repairs during our visit. Room 23 possesses a collection of Greece and Roman sculptures. Most are Roman copies of Greek sculptures produced during the Golden Age of Athens. One is a bust of Pericles made by a Roman around 200 AD. The original Greek sculpture was produced around 340 BC.
Room 18 is to the left of room 17. It houses the Elgin Marbles, which will be the subject of my next two postings.