The Lycian League

The Lycian League

Lycia, due to its geographical location has always stayed on the fringes of global events and power struggles of the antiquity. However, at the same time she has always been in touch with all parties in terms of political power struggles.

Whether from the point of view of the wars against Persians or the hegemony of Alexander the Great and especially the reign of successors or the interaction with Rome, her share from the historical conflicts varied. Apart from that, there is something else that gave a special status to Lycia; the Lycian league has been a role model for Montesquieu (1698-1755) in creating a federal state structure. On the other hand, George Washington (1732-1799) did not consider the League sufficiently federative to be a base for political foundation of the USA and preferred the Upper State (Grey State) constitution of Switzerland. 

The Lycian league was able to fully develop as of 167 BC and became an exemplary federal structure that is made up of different cities and regions. 

Documentation regarding the public and political life in Lycia prior to this date is scarce. The amount of factual information is insufficient and most of the information is obtained from the tablets or reconstructed from existing literature. 

Evidently, in time Lycia has fully opened itself to the influence of Hellenism. Although the reign of Ptolemy after the reign of Alexander the Great has enabled the region to flourish economically and culturally, as a result of the conflicts between Antiochus III of Seleucids and Philip V. of Macedonia, the empire of Ptolemy collapsed and the said development ceased. 

Rome was also drawn in to the conflict and has in the end secured its dominion over the western side of Asia Minor by defeating Perseus the Macedonian King and the rulers of Rhodes in 167 B.C. 

Having sided with Rome and showing strong resistance to the Rhodians by organizing revolts against them , Lycia was granted the status of “civitas libera” (Free City). This meant that she was independent in terms of domestic and outside affairs. Indeed, such independence need not conflict with the interests of Rome.

Lycia then is formed in to a prominent political and social league. The Lycian cities are organized into a union more powerful compared to the previous relations. As such, similar city unions especially back in the motherland of Greeks were taken as a basis for adoption.

(The root of the idea of forming federations goes back to distant past. This fact is proven by the reality that there existed coinage that were minted in partnership and the Lycians had sent an army under a joint command at the time of Trojan War)

Strabo the geographer of antiquity tells us about the organizational structure of this union. Strabo mentions about this matter especially in relation to the era of Augustus and refers to a source from 100 B.C as reference to his writing. The said source is lost.

Accordingly, the league was made up of 23 cities. The number of delegates to represent each city at the federal assembly was determined in direct proportion to the size of the cities. The largest of the cities had three votes each, middle sized cities had two votes. Smaller cities were represented by single vote each at the federal assembly. Again, the volume of financial contribution was determined also under the same principle. However, general assembly was not convened immediately for the purpose of carrying out the matter at hand. Initailly a commission would be formed.

The League of Lycian Cities used to elect a “Likyark” as the head of federation. In addition, such other public officials as military administrators and Judges were also elected. Thus, it is evident that there existed a military upper command and domestic disputes were handled by internal justice system. We do not have any records of great majority of events that has taken place within the federation structure throughout the independent existence. But, what we know fro m example is that coin minting was regulated as a whole but it was carried out by individual cities. Minting of silver coinage shortly after 167 B.C has been concretely proven.

According to what Strabo reports, there were six cities that had three votes each. The number of member cities was never static. For example, Plinius mentions of 70 cities that were members of the Lycian league.

The campaign against sea piracy for example was one of the reasons that unified the Lycians and indeed the lawlessness had reached its peak within the last decade of 2. Century B.C. Sea piracy has always existed along the shores of south west Asia Minor. However, once the Rhodes was weakened by Romans, a vacuum was created and there were no one to confront the pirates. Subsequently, a campaign was organized against the pirates at 103 B.C and the Lycians participated within the ranks of Romans. Lycia also participated in the campaign by the Romans against Pontic King VI. Mithridates. This war was ignited upon the massacre of Roman citizens living in Ephesus in 88 B.C. At the end of the war in 84 B.C, Mithridates was defeted by Sullat, the Roman Consul and dictator. Lycians of course benefited from this war also. Sulla approved many freedoms of the Lycian league and declared its members as the friends of Roman people. 

The civil war of Rome jolted Lycians to the extreme. They faced the wrath of Brutus, the murderer of Caesar, in supporting Caesar. Brutus had demanded money from the Lycians in order to equip his army. When the federal capital Ksantos refused to meet the demand of Brutus, the city was besieged, conquered and razed to the ground. Other member cities of the league surrendered and forced to make large sums of payments. But, when Antonius defeated the murderers of Caesar and Augustus granted him with the eastern part of the empire as a gesture, the situation changed. Lycia was granted privileges and became the only region that is independent of Roman domination in Asia Minor. The Lycians were again rewarded by Augustus for their loyalty and attachment to Caesar. 

The importance of federation declined within the subsequent decades because the Roman Emperor Claudius created the state of Pamphilia in 43 B.C and turned it into a double state together with Lycia. As such, the Lycian league lost its civitas libera status, a Roman governor was appointed and therefore has lost its political and social importance. The league continued to exist on paper and the still had some autonomous rights as the judicial powers or defending of common rights against the governors or the imperial power in Rome. At the same time, she was the holder of imperial cult, that is the religious belief in the power of ex-emperors and indeed, increasingly in the living emperors. The highest authority now was the abbacy of imperial cult. The existence of the title “Likyark” is documented to exist within the period of imperial domination, so much so that the number of member cities had increased. The principle of proportionality was also continued until about mid second century. However, at that point the Lycian history and therefore the history of Lycian League was incorporated into the mainstream Roman history under the patronage of Pax Romana and began to lose her independent importance in the antiquity.

Wolfgang Dorn


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