Letoon is a religious center located about 4 km from the city of Xanthos. According to the researchers the history of Letoon developed in parallel with the city of Xanthos. It is thought that a sacred place was built around a water source located here and that it was dedicated to mother goddess who is named Eni mahanahi in Lycian. Eni mahanahi and her two children Ertemi and Natri are known as Leto, Artemis and Apollon in Hellenistic period. Letoon was a site of pilgrimage since early times. As this sacred place was the official cult center of the Lycian League in the Hellenistic period, it was the most important sanctuary for all Lycia, where the resolutions of the league were announced to the public. The city takes its name from Leto, the sacred goddess of Lycia. A triple cult of worship was formed by including Leto and his twin children Apollo and Artemis. The entire settlement was arranged for this cult. There are tree temples built side by side in the city center. According to the inscriptions and other findings, it is thought that the westernmost of the temples is dedicated to Leto, and the easternmost is to Apollo. The smaller one in the middle is for Artemis. Because of the presence of a large piece of bedrock in the middle of the temple of Artemis, it is thought that there may have been a rock worship in Archaic period.
The site was first identified by Richard Hoskyn in 1841 while trying to reach the Xanthos ruins. The scientific excavations in Letoon have been on going since 1962. The foundations of three temples built side by side were unearthed. Based on the numerous inscriptions found in the area, it is thought that these temples were built at the end of the 5th century BCE, during the reign of Xanthos Dynast Arbinas. The temples were destroyed during the Byzantine period, and the stones belonging to the temples of Apollo and Artemis were used for the construction of church buildings. Today, only the foundations of the temples can be seen, although a significant part of the ruins of the temple of Leto was unearthed during the excavations. Research shows that these temples replaced earlier wooden structures (temples). Both in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, a fountain structure was built on the sacred spring in front of these three temples. Terracotta figurines dating from the Archaic to the Hellenistic period were found in the sacred spring. It is thought that they were the offerings made to the Nymphs, which the Lycians called the Elyanas. The porticoes surrounding the west and north of the sacred precinct were built in the 2nd century BCE and were repaired and expanded in the 1st century CE. The ruins of the northern porticoes cover the remains dated to the 5th or 4th century BCE. Some of the sculptures were reconstructed by combining the pieces found in the filling material in the late period walls, and are today exhibited in the Antalya Museum. A limestone pedestal decorated with a bull’s head and garlands in the northwest of the north portico draws attention with its meticulous workmanship. Due to the height of the ground water, it is possible to see it only in the driest period, at the end of summer. The pedestal may have served as a statue base and the building around it may have been related to the Emperor cult of the Augustus period. The 36-row theater building, which is the best preserved structure of Letoon, is dated to the 2nd century BCE. The inscriptions suggest the presence of a stadium in Letoon, but its location has not been determined yet.

Trilingual Inscription of Letoon

It is probably the most important of the numerous inscriptions discovered during the Letoon excavations. The 1.35 meter-high stele was found in 1973 under the terrace wall to the west of the Apollo temple. There are similar texts, one in Lycian and one in Greek, on its two large sides. A summary of these texts in Aramaic is written on one of the narrow side of the stele. For this reason, it is called the Trilingual Inscription of Letoon. It is dated to the period when Lycia was under the rule of the Hecatomnid Carian Satrapy, with an even sharper estimate to 337 BCE. The inscription describes the establishment of a new cult authorized by the Carian Satrap Pixodoros. Even if the Lycian and Greek texts are not the same word by word, their similar content have been a significant source for the decipherment of the little known Lycian language. The stele is currently on display in the Fethiye Museum.


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Image sources:
C. Fellows, 1847
O. Benndorf & G. Niemann, 1884
F. N. Pryce, 1929
P. Demargne & P. Coupel, 1969
J. des Courtils, 2003
Bora Bilgin, 2022
Tayfun Bilgin, 2022
Reha Özer, 2022