Relief panel from the Harpy Tomb

Lykian, about 470-460 BC
From Xanthos, (modern Günük, south-western Turkey)

Lykia was an ancient district of south-western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). It remained virtually unknown to western Europe until Charles Fellows explored the area in 1838. The published account of his travels attracted the attention of the authorities in The British Museum who commissioned him to acquire sculptures and bring them back to England. Most of the material that eventually came to the museum was tomb sculpture, including almost entire monuments.

This is known as the 'Harpy Tomb', after the four female-headed birds at the corners of each side. They are perhaps better identified as sirens, and carry small figures that may represent the souls of the dead.

The tomb is a fine example of a common type of Lykian tomb: a square limestone box, perched on top of a tall pillar, decorated with marble sculptured panels carved in relief. The body was placed inside this upper chamber through a small opening on the west side. The four sides all have similar scenes of seated figures, perhaps either deities or deified ancestors, receiving gifts from standing figures. It has been sugested that one of the seated figures is Harpagus, founder of the Lykian dynasty, and another the warrior king Kybernis, who is perhaps the occupant of the tomb. Above the opening of the doorway is a cow suckling its calf, a motif that appears on the coins of Sppndaza, ruler of Lykia from 475 to 469 BC.

Although the style of carving is undeniably Greek in inspiration, some peculiar characteristics suggest that the sculptor was not a Greek. The proposed date of the monument shows that the Archaic style lasted longer in Lykia than on the Greek mainland or east Greek sites.

Find in the collection online

More information

Bibliography

J. Boardman, Greek sculpture: the late Clas (London, Thames and Hudson, 1995)

L. Burn, The British Museum book of G-1, revised edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

F.N. Pryce, Catalogue of sculpture in the (London, 1928)

Dimensions

Height: 8.840 m (total)
Height: 8.840 m (total)

Museum number

GR 1848.10-20.1 (Sculpture B 287)

GAA6564

Excavated by Sir Charles Fellows

Location

Find in the collection online



Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore