Religion and cultural conservatism in Lycia : Xanthos and the Letoon
In Lycia, Xanthos and its main sanctuary, the Letoon, have throughout centuries kept some very particular features which have survived intense cultural upheavals and influences both Persian and Greeks. The infrastructures and shape of the Letoon indicates that there is more to the sanctuary’s rituals and architecture than normalised Greek divinities and temples. Lycia, following the Persian invasion in the 540s, remained a remote region of the empire and benefited from an autonomous status. Nevertheless the outside contacts and cultural exchanges multiplied and intensified, especially with the Persian ruling class, but also with the Greeks who took an increasing part into the trade and artistic influence of Lycia. The most important city of the region, Xanthos was the focus of the Persian presence in Lycia but also at the spearhead of Hellenic influence in western Lycia. This underlying Greek presence became ever more pregnant under the rule of the last dynasts of Xanthos at the turn of the fourth century and under the rule of the Carian satraps under the power of whom Lycia was put in the 360s. The Hellenistic period only confirm the prior trend. To begin with, we are trying to define how the Persians had an impact on the Lycian culture and conclude that it was a great influential force but stayed somewhat limited to the higher classes of the Xanthian society. The parallel with the Greek influence is contrasting. The arrival of Greek trends was more insidious but also more widespread to the lower classes of society and lasted longer. We will conclude that none of those influences were imposed but rather chosen by the Xanthian society. We will continue by trying to understand how those cultural manifestations affected local religious beliefs. By exposing the successive evolutions of the Letoon and of the divinities residing here, we will see that the syncretic divinities of the Letoon kept a lot of their ancestral attributes and places of worship are keeping track with their sacred past. In this process we are trying to show that religion holds a peculiar place in a nation or a city’s culture. In this attempt we are concluding that religion is the most stable aspect of a local culture and is the recipient for the safeguard of a nation’s identity.