The modern region of Anatolia, in Turkey, is well known as a hotspot of ancient civilizations. Also known as Asia Minor, it was a true crossroad of great powers in the pre-Christian era. From the Hittites to the Greeks and Romans, the area today is a true treasure trove of historic remains. And the ancient town of Kibyra is just one of the many remnants of that glorious age.
Kibyra – the Power That Bordered Ancient Lycia
This ancient metropolis was once a formidable power that rivaled its neighbor, the famous Lycia . It was also known as Cibyra, or Cibyra Magna (Great Kibyra), and its well-preserved remnants can now be found near the modern Turkish city of Gölhisar. In ancient history, Anatolia was divided between powerful regions such as Lycia, Lydia, Cappadocia, and others. Amongst them all, the town of Kibyra managed to rise in power and wrestle itself outside the boundaries of the province of Lycia.
It grew from humble origins. The ancient Greek historian Strabo tells us that the inhabitants of Kibyra were the descendants of Lydians, settlers who migrated into this region and subdued their neighbors, the Pisidians. Modern archaeology reveals that these settlers established a new city some 18 kilometers (11.18 mi) from the present remains of Kibyra. However, after only a short while, they abandoned it and moved to a better location nearby, founding Kibyra proper sometime around the 3rd century BC.
This new city had a much better position. It was situated on hills that overlooked broad fertile pastures to the west, as well as the majestic Akdağ mountains. To the east extended the fertile plains of modern Gölhisar, dominated by the wide stream of Dalaman. In every way, Kibyra provided wonderful vantage points, and was also well protected and easy to defend. It was a city with great prospects and even greater ambitions – and its rulers were quick to utilize that.
The stadium of Kibyra for 10,000 people is famous for gladiator fights during the Roman Empire. ( Alexey Pelikh /AdobeStock)
A Rising City State
In the dawn of its history, the region of Anatolia was populated by many unique Anatolian-speaking peoples. The Luwians were a majority, and it is today believed that the name Kibyra comes from their language. However, the area soon fell under the Hellenistic cultural influence, and the Greek language was quick to take over. Either way, the use of the name Kibyra – scholars agree – had something to do with the city’s political strength.
From its founding, the new city of Kibyra had a multicultural and multilingual character. It was populated by native Luwian speakers, by the settlers from Lydia, as well as the arriving immigrants from Pisidian towns of Milias and Termessos. Solymian, Greek, Pisidian, and Lydian were all spoken in this bustling town that was a major producer of pure-bred horses, leathers, and forged goods. It was a town well known for its skilled blacksmiths and their products, as well as the horses that were bred on the surrounding fertile plains.
What is more, the historian Strabo tells us that the city was quickly strengthened thanks to its powerful justice system. This means that law played a central role in the ruling of the town, allowing it to remain a regional power and rise to that position very fast.
In time, Kibyra rose in power politically as well as economically. So much so that it established a federation, in league with the Lycian towns of Boubon, Oinoanda, and Balbura. This federation was called a “Tetrapoleis” (Four Cities), and named collectively as Kibyratis. Of the four cities, Kibyra was the most powerful, being able to muster 30,000 soldiers and 2,000 cavalries. Due to this, it had double voting rights, while the other three towns had a single vote each.
Kibyra Becomes a Victim of Rapidly Changing Times
Alas, no prosperous town in Anatolia remained so for very long. After perhaps a century of flourishing, the “Tetrapoleis” of Kybriatis was abolished in 84 BC, by the Roman General Lucius Licinius Murena, during the First Mithridatic War . The last tyrant of Kibyra, Moagetes II, was deposed, and the town became a part of the Roman province of Asia. The other three cities were once more a part of the Lycian League. Of course, the city was not destroyed or suffer otherwise, but it certainly lost its prestige and semi-independence. Before the powerful Romans, no metropolis could stand independent.
Kibyra ancient city in Burdur, Turkey. (JackF/AdobeStock)
In the following decades, the city dwindled in power. In 23 AD, it was struck with a terrible earthquake, which damaged its great buildings very badly. The Emperor Tiberius provided finances for the city’s repair, and the grateful citizens named their town Caesarea Kibyra from that point on. The town endured in the coming centuries, its character defined by the coming and going of great powers. Alas, in 417 AD, its fate was sealed by another devastating earthquake. This time, the city was badly devastated, and the economy collapsed. Many of the buildings – by that time very ancient – collapsed and could not be repaired. The citizens gradually gave up on old Kibyra, moving in waves to the nearby city – the modern-day Gölhisar. By the 800s AD, Kibyra was fully abandoned, and only a faint memory of its ancient glory remained.
A Glory Unstained by the Passing Centuries
Today, visitors to the site can marvel in the excavated remnants of ancient Kibyra. It possesses some of the best preserved Roman and Hellenistic ruins in Anatolia. Amongst these are the Odeon – the famous music theater which boasts a unique Medusa’s head mosaic – as well as the Olympic sports stadium, which measures 650 feet (198 m) in length and 80 feet (24 m) in width.
The Medusa mosaic is unlike any other in the world, and is stunning in every regard.
Medusa Mosaic discovered at Kibyra is a captivating piece of art. ( Public Domain )
Also discovered at the site are numerous ancient temples, Roman baths, buildings, as well as well-preserved Classical statues.
Kibyra Odeon (Dosseman/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )
In the end, Kibyra is definitely a testament to the rich history of Anatolia, known also as Asia Minor. Always at the crossroads of civilizations, it acquired a unique and rich character that is perfectly outlined in the wealth of the archaeological remains it has.
Top image: The captivating Medusa Mosaic uncovered in the Odeon at Kibyra. Source: Mehmet Kılınc/ Pexels
By Aleksa Vučković
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