Legendary Heroes of Lycia


The legendary founder and leader of Lycia and came to be associated through Greek legend with Lycia in the same way that nearly every ancient British site has some association with King Arthur. 

In Homer’s Iliad, Sarpedon is the courageous leader of the Lycian contingent that went to assist the Trojans against the invading Greeks. He is the son of Zeus and Laodamia, who was the daughter of Bellerophon, and was killed by Patroclus after which Zeus had him carried back to Lycia by Apollo for a hero’s burial.

This may be a Homeric invention, but it seems that Homer took his material from some Lycian epic. Sarpedon’s chief cult center was at Xanthos, where he was supposedly entombed. By the 5th century BC a large cult complex was built atop the acropolis, the Sarpedoneia, and it was most likely here that the games of the Sarpedoneia were played and regular sacrifices were made to Sarpedon.

According to post-Homeric legend, Sarpedon was the son of Zeus and Europa, and after a quarrel with his brother Minos, fled to Lycia where he became king and was said to have lived for three generations.

This scene from a Greek calyx krater (a large Greek urn that holds almost 12 gallons of wine)painted in about 510 B.C., in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York shows the lifeless body of Sarpedon being transported from the battlefield by the twin brothers Hypnos and Thanatos (Sleep and Death), to be prepared for a hero's funeral. Zeus watches as his son "dies raging".


The son of Hippolochus, grandson of Bellerophon and great-grandson of Glaucus (II), Glaucus was a Lycian prince, second in command to his cousin Sarpedon in the Trojan War and a courageous warrior. Glaucus was engaged in battle with Diomedes, but when they remembered the friendship between their ancestors they ceased fighting and exchanged armour.  Since the armour of Glaucus was golden and that of Diomedes brazen, the expression golden for brazen (Iliad, vi. 236) came to be used proverbially for a bad exchange. Glaucus was later slain by Ajax.



In the Iliad, Homer mentions a renowned Lycian archer named Panderus fighting as an ally of the Trojans in the Trojan War.  He breaks the truce between the Trojans and the Greeks by treacherously wounding Menelaus with an arrow, and is finally slain by Diomedes (Homer, Iliad, ii. 827, iv. 88, V. 290). 

In medieval romance he became an important figure in the tale of Troilus and Cressida. He encouraged the romance between the Trojan prince and his niece Cressida.  From this, the word "pander" has passed into modern language as the common title of a lovers' go-between in the worst sense.

Strabo writes that there was a cult of Panderus at the Lycian city of Pinara.



Another legendary founder in Lycian and Greek mythology is Bellerophon, honoured at the Lycian city of Tlos where his body was supposedly laid to rest . A tomb relief of Bellerophon on Pegasus dating c.350-320 BC can be seen there and it is assumed that there was a cult center at Tlos.  Evidence of he Bellerophon myth is seen elsewhere in the city and most likely the first rulers of Tlos claimed that they descended from this mythical hero. Bellerophon may have originally been a Greek hero and only later linked with Lycia by Greek mythographers, due to the eternally burning fire emitting from the mountainside at Olympos - said to be the Chimerea (a fearsome fire-breathing monster, also spelled Chimaera) slain by Bellerophon fallen into the earth. If this is the case, then Bellerophon was quickly adopted by the Lycians. He is seen in relief at Tlos slaying the chimerea while mounted upon Pegasus, as well as on the Limyra Heroon and the Trysa Heroon. Bellerophon is also seen often elsewhere on reliefs from the end of the 5th century BC and later and Pegasus appears frequently on Lycian coins.

This is the legend of Bellerophon:

In Grecian times, Bellerophon (the brave son of the Korintos hero Flaukos) spies a flying horse.  This is Pegasus, the divine horse born of the blood of Medusa.  Bellerophon yearns to possess Pegasus but finds the wild creature impossible to capture.  With the aid of the city's soothsayer, Bellerophon begs the goddess Athena to help him capture Pegasus. Athena gives Bellerophon a golden bridle and with this he tames the winged horse and the two become unseparable.  However, Bellerophon accidentally kills his brother in a hunting accident and is forced to leave his country. He arrives in Tirynthe where Anteia, the queen (and daughter of the Lycian king Iobates) falls in love with the young, handsome Bellerophon.  However, Bellerophon refuses her advances and the angered Anteia tells her husband the king that Bellerophon has tried to take advantage of her.  Furious, but not wanting to be subject to the wrath of the gods by killing his guest, the king instead sends Bellerophon to his father-in-law, the Lycian king Iobates, with a sealed letter asking him to behead Bellerophon.  The Lycian king welcomes Bellerophon on the banks of the Xanthos River and orders a nine day feast in his honor.  On the morning of the tenth day, Bellerophon hands the letter to King Iobates.  Upon reading the letter the Lycian king sympathizes with his son-in-law but cannot justify killing a guest.  Instead, he sets Bellerophon on the challenge of killing the terrible Chimera which has been terrorizing Lycia and laying waste to the countryside.  With the body of a goat, tail of a snake and the head of a lion, the Chimera breathes fire and reduces everything in its path to ashes. So Bellerophon mounts Pegasus and the two of them kill the Chimera together - they fly up and attacking from above Bellerophon thrusts his iron-tipped lead spear into the monster's mouth, filling it with melted iron and lead.  King Iobates is so impressed, believing Bellerophon to be the son of gods, that he gives his second daughter Fione to Bellerophon in marriage and declares him to be the successor to his throne.  Unfortunately, Bellerophon is so proud that he declares that he should have a place on Mount Olympus amongst the gods.  Annoyed by this impudence, Zeus causes a forest fly to bite Pegasus while Bellerophon is riding him through the sky.  Pegasus bucks and Bellerophon is sent crashing to his death on the rocks below while Pegasus soars up into the sky forming the constellation known by his name.

Another version of the Bellerophon myth has a happier ending.  In this myth, King Iobates does not reward Bellerophon upon his killing the Chimera, nor for several other incredible and brave deeds.  In anger, Bellerophon begs Poseidon to flood the plains of Xanthos, which he did.  When Bellerophon approaches the city in advance of the waves, and the citizens recognize their impending doom, the women of Xanthos run towards Bellerophon offering him their bodies in exchange for mercy. King Iobates sees Bellerophon's startled reaction as he backs away and comes to realize that his son-in-law's accusations are not true.  When he learns the truth from Bellerophon, he begs Bellerophon's forgiveness and mercy and marries him to his second daughter, and Bellerophon and his Lycian wife then rule over Lycia together.  King Iobates praised the action of the women of Xanthos and decreed that henceforth the citizens of Xanthos would bear the name of their mother and not that of their father - an indication of the special position that was generally held by the women of Lycia.

There are several other variations of this myth.

The perpetually burning Chimaera, Olympos 
The Chimaera as it exists today in the form of a perpetually-burning fire
springing forth from the mountainside at the Lycian site of Olympos.