The Nereid Monument is a sculptured tomb in the form of a Greek temple on top of a base decorated with sculpted friezes. The temple had columns on each side and stood elevated on a substantial podium, decorated with two friezes. There are also reliefs on the architrave, the inner chamber of temple walls and in the pediment. There were also many large free-standing sculptures between each pair of primary columns.
The Nereid Monument originally stood in Xanthos which was the name of a city in ancient Lycia, the site of present-day Kınık, Turkey. Lycia was a geopolitical region in Anatolia known to history since the records of ancient Egypt and the Hittite Empire in the Late Bronze Age. The Tomb was built in the early fourth century BC as a tomb for Arbinas, who belonged to the Xanthian dynast who ruled western Lycia at the time. Although Arbinas ruled Lycia as part of the Persian Empire, the monument is built in a Greek style, influenced by the Ionic temples of the Athenian Acropolis. The rich narrative sculptures on the monument portray Arbinas in various ways, combining Greek and Persian aspects.
The tomb is thought to have stood until the Byzantine era before falling into ruin. A British archaeologist rediscovered the ruins in the early 1840s and had them shipped to the British Museum, where some of them have been reconstructed to show the east façade of the monument. The Museum also houses many other parts of the memorial as separate exhibits.
The Nereid Monument included many large free-standing sculptures, including Nereids between each pair of main columns. Nereids are sea nymphs or female spirits of sea waters according to Greek mythology. The monument is now named after these life-size female figures in wind-blown drapery, identified as Nereids. They are classified as sea-nymphs because various sculpted sea creatures were found under their feet, including dolphins, a cuttlefish, and a sea-gull. Nereids symbolised everything that is beautiful and kind about the sea.
Xanthos was a chief city-state of the Lycians, an indigenous people of southwestern Anatolia, present-day Turkey. Xanthos’ fortunes were tied to Lycia’s as Lycia changed sides during the Greco-Persian Wars. Archaeological digs demonstrate that Xanthos was destroyed in approximately 475 BC-470 BC, or about 100 years before the Nereid Monument, whether this was done by the Athenians or by the Persians is open to debate.
As the centre of ancient Lycia and the site of its most extensive antiquities, Xanthos has many important artefacts that were discovered at the city. Two tombs, the Nereid Monument and the Tomb of Payava, are now exhibited in the British Museum. The Harpy Tomb is still located in the ruins of the city. A sanctuary of Leto is situated on the outskirts of the city to the southwest. The Xanthian Obelisk and the Letoon trilingual are two trilingual stelae which were found in the city and the Letoon.
Lycia, in Southern Anatolia, fought for the Persians in the Persian Wars, but on the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks, it moved back and forth in alliances between the Athenian Empire and the Persians until it fell under Macedonian hegemony upon the defeat of the Persians by Alexander the Great. Following an influx of Greek speakers and the sparsity of the remaining Lycian speakers, Lycia was rapidly Hellenized under the Macedonians, and the Lycian language disappeared from inscriptions and coinage.
- Why did a Persian ruler build this monument in the Greek style of the Athenian Acropolis?
- What story do the sculptured reliefs in Friezes and Pediments tell?
- What story would you tell if you built such a monument for yourself?
- Why did the ruler of Lycian Xanthos who was not Greek, chose to be buried in a tomb that resembles a Greek temple?
- The sculptures of this Monument tell a story. What story would you tell if you could build a monument?
- Is it not amazing how some museum pieces can transport you to another time and place?
- Title: Nereid Monument
- Date: 390BC-380BC (circa)
- Culture: Classical Greek
- Findspot: Present-day Fethiye in Mugla Province, Turkey
- Materials: Marble
- Acquisition: 1848
- Museum: The British Museum
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Photo Credit: 1) JOM