Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Marble reliefs from the Harpy Tomb.
    Chest with reliefs on all four sides which originally surmounted a Lycian sepulchral tower.

    1. North side. In the centre a young armed man stands on the left offering a helmet to a bearded man seated on the right. The former wears sandals, greaves, short chiton with sleeves of crinkled material, the lower part in flat pleats with high zigzag edge, and cuirass with leathern flaps; at his left side is a short broad sword, the scabbard ending in a knob; in front of his chest projects a bird's head and neck, the sword-handle; it is higher than the scabbard, the blade being curved. The back of the head is broken away and the face is weathered. His left hand supports a large shield which stands on edge on the ground before him; with his right hand he extends a plumed Corinthian helmet to the seated figure, who raises his right hand to receive it. The latter wears sandals, sleeved Ionic chiton and mantle thrown over his back, left shoulder and knees. His right hand holds a spear or sceptre sloped against the left shoulder. He has a moustache and pointed beard, long nose and almond-shaped eyes, the inner angle curving, the upper lid prolonged in an incised line. The head is disproportionately large and is lost at the back. The outline of the hair is waved. The seat is a stool with turned legs, upon which is a cushion; underneath it is a small quadruped with thick body, short legs, and pointed snout lowered to the ground to left, possibly a bear (the identification by some writers as a pig is wrong, as the animal has paws).
    On the angle-slabs, facing outwards, are the figures formerly known as Harpies, but which are now identified as Sirens. They have the head, breasts and arms of women; the body ends like an egg, with a bird's spreading tail and talons attached. Long wings spring from the shoulders and under the arms; the ends are continued on the centre slab. The figures are shown as nude save that on the elbows are the crinkled sleeves of chitons. The hair is worked in small waves and confined by a pointed diadem; it falls in long tresses on the left figure, and is looped up at the back on the right. Their features wear a soft smile, as they fly off carrying diminutive female figures in their arms clasped against their breasts by both hands and talons. The latter wear long crinkled chitons with sleeves and long overfolds; the feet are bare, their hair is long and falls loosely; on the right, the hair is waved, with a diadem; on the left it is treated as a plane with horizontal grooves. Each raises the inner hand to the chin of the Harpy, the outer hand hangs down; the one on the right holds in the hanging hand an object now broken, perhaps a patera.
    On the extreme right in the corner squats a diminutive woman in an attitude of grief, her chin resting on both hands, her head turned upwards towards the siren. She wears a long crinkled chiton with large loose sleeves and a diadem on her hair, which hangs loose at the back. The mouth and front edge of forearms and legs are broken away.

    2. South side. The angle-slabs are practically replicas of those on the North side; in each is a Siren carrying off a female. On the left slab the hair of the Siren is looped up-behind, two, short curls falling in front of the ear; the female raises its right hand, while the left arm hangs limply; it is clasped more tightly than the other. On the right slab the woman raises both hands, and the hair of the Siren falls in long plaits. Both women have waved hair with diadems. The right bottom corner of the left angle slab is missing; there is no seated mourner.
    The central group consists of a man enthroned on the left, before whom stands a figure of uncertain sex. The seated man is beardless, with full features and heavy forms; he wears Ionic chiton, mantle over the left shoulder, and shoes with turned-up toes, and is seated on a throne with turned legs, cushion and high back. A spear, or sceptre, leans against his left shoulder. His hands are extended before him, the right holding an apple, the left holding aloft a pomegranate. The back of his head and the back leg of the throne are missing. The head and shoulders of the standing figure are broken off, but the outline of the nose and chin, which was beardless, may be traced on the slab; it has generally been interpreted as male; the left hand holds a fluttering dove in front by the wing, the right hand is raised with fingers extended in an attitude of adoration; the dress consists of Ionic chiton, mantle and sandals.

    3. East side. This side has suffered most from weathering. The central group consists of a bearded man enthroned on the left to whom a youth brings offerings. The throne has legs terminating in animal's feet, a high sloping back, a brace and a handrail supported by a small Triton who is extended with body to front and bearded head to right, the hands outstretched as supporters; a cushion is indicated. The details of the man's face are weathered; he has a long pointed beard, and wears Ionic chiton and mantle, the end of the latter falling over the back of the chair; his feet, which seem to be bare, rest on a cushion the front of which, with the toes, is broken away, as is also the back leg of the chair. His left hand rests on the staff of a spear or sceptre his right holds a poppy (?) before his face. Before him is a diminutive draped boy, holding out to him a cock held in the right hand, and in the left a fruit. The lower part of this figure is missing; it may have been shown as kneeling.
    On the left angle slab two draped figures advance towards the centre, both wearing Ionic chitons and mantles; the first has sandals, the second is barefoot. The first holds a pomegranate suspended from the left hand and in the right holds up a flower (?). The second draws up an edge of the mantle with the left hand, and with the right raises a poppy-head (?) to the face. The sex of these two persons has been much disputed; the pose of the hands, the attributes and the arrangement of the drapery compare with the women on the West side; on the other hand, the contours are indefinite, and therefore probably male; the hair is short like the man on the right angle slab, and the second of the two appears to have a short pointed beard; this figure is remarkably corpulent.
    On the right angle slab, a youth advances towards the centre. His feet are broken away; on his farther side is a dog looking up at him, its tail on the right edge of the slab. He wears Ionic chiton and mantle over the left shoulder and his hair is short at the back. He holds a stick with a curved handle in his left hand; his right hand holds up an object, which is broken away save for a handle underneath his fingers, but which was in part of metal separately attached, for which the rivet hole remains; it may have been a cup on a tall stem. The feet are missing.
    All the persons on this side, save the boy in the centre, had metal circlets about their hair; the rivet holes remain at the back of the heads.

    4. West side. In each angle slab an enthroned woman faces the centre. The woman on the left has a broad pointed diadem round her hair, which is waved over the forehead and tied in a knot behind, the ends falling on her shoulders. She wears Ionic chiton with long full sleeves down which runs a broad flat seam-strip, and a mantle over the left shoulder and knees; the end of the chiton falls like a bird's wing under the seat; on her wrists are bracelets. Her right hand is extended holding a libation-bowl on her knee; her left was raised holding some object which is now broken away. On her feet are shoes with upturned toes; she is seated on a throne with high back (the top broken), turned legs, a handrail supported by a seated sphinx to right and ending in a ram's head, cushion and footstool (a fragment rejoined and the right side missing). The footstool is in one piece with the throne, as on the Branchidae statues.
    The woman on the right is similar save that the hair is looped up; in her left hand she holds out a pomegranate, with her right she raises a poppy flower to her face. Her throne is of different design; the back is curved and ends in swan's head; there is no Sphinx under the handrail, which ends in a ram's head; the legs are rectangular with volute indents and terminate above in volutes. The left bottom corner of the footstool is missing; it is thicker than the other and independent of the throne.
    On the centre slab, three women move to right in procession towards the right seated figure. They are similar save in the attitude of the hands, and have diadems round the hair, which falls on back and breast in long tresses, Ionic sleeved chitons and mantles, the ends of which fall at the side on the first figure, down back and front on the other two. The first two have shoes with turned-up toes, the feet and legs below knees of the third are broken away, save for one bare toe. The first draws the side of her mantle in front of her face with the left hand and supports a fold in front of her hips with the right. The second holds a pomegranate in front of her with the right, while the left raises a poppy to her nose. The third holds up an egg before her face, while the left holds up the drapery. All wear bracelets.
    On the left the centre slab is prolonged above to form a lintel for the door, and the left angle slab is correspondingly cut back over the libation-bowl of the left seated figure to receive it. Above the door is a flat moulding and above this a relief of a cow to left suckling a calf.

    The shaft was of limestone, the reliefs of large-grained marble, now weathered; they are made up of central slabs and angle-pieces. The subjects are set in a frame; at the sides and at the top is a flat moulding, curving below into the relief-ground and projecting 0.023m; the relief of the figures occasionally projects beyond it. At the bottom is a straight base-line below which is a cyma recta.
    The north, south and east sides are similar in composition; in the central slab a seated figure receives offerings, while angle-pieces are filled by subsidiary figures. The western side contained the entrance to the chamber and shows seated figures in the angle-pieces and a procession in the centre, with an independent relief in the space over the door.
    The reliefs are worked with elaboration of detail, fleshy smiling faces and soft draperies that reveal the contours. The west side is not only the best preserved and most important, but is superior in style; the proportions are better, the scale smaller, the heads being kept below the moulding. On the North and East (and possibly the South) sides, all heads cut into the moulding, except the Siren groups which, however, extend over the side border, as if to emphasise the idea of departure. On these three sides the figures are thick and clumsy.
    The hair is, with one exception, delicately worked in rows of waved lines, cut short on the neck for the men, loose or looped up on the women. The eye shows a raised eyeball and raised lashes, the inner angle sometimes blunted. The drapery is carefully finished; on the chitons of the children the crinkling is convex, on the other figures it is worked in narrow concave bands. The wider folds of the mantles are also curved. The lower edges of the sleeves are formally drawn forward.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 480BC-470BC
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 108 centimetres (North, centre slab)
    • Length: 61 centimetres (North, r. and l. angle slabs)
    • Length: 108 centimetres (South, centre slab)
    • Length: 61 centimetres (South, r. and l. angle slabs)
    • Length: 127 centimetres (East, centre slab)
    • Length: 60 centimetres (East, r. and l. angle slabs)
    • Length: 57 centimetres (West, l. angle slab)
    • Length: 41 centimetres (West, door)
    • Length: 86 centimetres (West, centre slab)
    • Length: 61 centimetres (West, r. angle slab)
    • Length: 245 centimetres (West, whole)
    • Height: 53 millimetres (door)
    • Height: 102.5 centimetres (approx, siren relief slab)
  • Curator's comments

    BM Sculpture

    The monument, which is commonly known as the 'Harpy Tomb,' was discovered by Fellows among the ruins of Xanthus, adjoining the theatre, on April 19th, 1838, and was described by him in the following terms: 'The Harpy Tomb consisted of a square shaft in one block, weighing about eighty tons, its height seventeen feet, placed upon a base rising on one side six feet from the ground, on the other but little above the present level of the earth. Around the sides of the top of the shaft were ranged the bas-reliefs in white marble about three feet three inches high; upon these rested a capstone, apparently a series of stones, one projecting over the other; but these are cut in one block, probably fifteen to twenty tons in weight. Within the top of the shaft was hollowed out a chamber, which, with the bas-reliefs sides, was seven feet six inches high, and seven feet square. This singular chamber had been probably in the early ages of Christianity the cell of an anchoret, perhaps a disciple of Simon Stylites. . . . The traces of the religious paintings and monograms of this holy man still remain upon the backs of the marble of the bas-reliefs.’ (Marbles, p. 21).
    See also Fellows, Journal, p. 231, pl. opp. p. 232; Account, p. 170, and pl.; Travels, pp. 172, 438, 490 and 493; and cf. Birch in Archaeologia, XXX, p. 186: ‘the interior has some crosses and a scroll or book, much effaced, on which is ME [γας θέος?] ... the interior of this chamber represented woodwork with its beams and sunken soffits, and an ancient door still exists, under the cow suckling its calf.’ Little of this painting can now be traced.

    A drawing by Scharf in the Departmental Library shows the monument as discovered; for another view in the original state see Mon. Ined. d. Inst., IV, pl. 2, reproduced in Rayet, Mon. de l’Art Ant., I, V, p. 3. Fellows removed the reliefs by building up a support for the capstone within the chamber; the present appearance of the tower is shown in Benndorf, Reisen in Lykien, I, pl. 26.

    South side: The interpretation of the seated figure as a man is traditional, but the upturned shoes and gesture of the hands as well as the attributes they hold recall the women of the West side. If it were certain that the figures on the left of the East side were female, this seated figure would have to be accepted as a woman, as the ambiguous contour of its breast is similar; it is, however, most probable that the East side figures are men.

    The ground of the reliefs was bright blue, which remains round the head and left hand of the youth on the right angle slab of the East side. A. H. Smith also detected this under the wrist of the first figure behind the throne
    on this side (Catalogue, 1892, p. 57). Birch saw scarlet on the crest of the helmet on the North side (Archaeologia, XXX, p. 192); Scharf observed traces of red in the hollow of the shields and upon sandals (Mus. of Class. Antiq., I, p. 252); while the tint can no longer be stated, patches of faded pigment are still to be seen in the soles of sandals. Elsewhere a stain on the marble indicates the former presence of paint. Considerable remains of this may be observed on the left angle slab of the North side, above the head, on the body between arms and talons and below the body of the ‘Harpy’. A palmette scroll is clearly visible in silhouette between the bars of the throne on the East side. A. H. Smith (l.c.) saw palmettes on the right throne of the West side, which are now hard to trace; but cushion and interspace of the left throne of the same side show clear traces of patterns, probably similar palmettes, while the side shows remains of incised guide-lines for maeander. There was a maeander on the top border and an egg and dart on the bottom curved moulding. The metal attachments on the East side have been noted above.

    The earliest interpretation of the subjects was suggested by the sculptor Benjamin Gibson and adopted by Fellows, and other early commentators (see Fellows, Account, p. 171; Birch in Archaeologia, p. 171; Panofka in Arch. Zeit., 1843, p. 49). This identification, as the rape of the daughters of Pandareos, King of Lycia, by the Harpies (Odyssey, xx, 66) has been generally discarded; it does not explain at all the central groups, which are of prime significance, and it is now agreed that the winged corner figures do not represent Harpies (Furtwangler in Arch. Zeit., 1882, p. 204-Weicker, Seelenvogel, p. 32, n. 3).
    A second group of theories sees in the enthroned figures deities of the underworld to whom the souls of the dead pay reverence. On the west side are Demeter and Persephone and three worshippers who carry symbols of life and birth, as the egg and the pomegranate. The door of the tomb indicates death, as the cow and calf above suggest renewal of life. The figures on the other sides are variously interpreted: Zeus (south), Poseidon (east) and Hades (north) by Braun (Ann. d. Inst., 1844, p. 151); Zeus in his triple aspect by Curtius (Arch. Zeit., 1855, p. 10 and 1869, p. 10); Hades (east), Minos (north), and Rhadamanthos (south) by Tonks (A.J.A., 1907, p. 334); A. H. Smith (Cat., p. 59) suggests unknown Lycian deities; Picard a Lycian under the triple aspects of master of heaven, sea and underworld (Sculpt, ant., p. 300). The objection to this method of explanation is that deities are not represented on grave-reliefs elsewhere in Greece and that, given the purely Hellenic workmanship of the relief, an interpretation within the Greek cycle of ideas seems most probable.
    Most recent commentators, beginning with Milchhoefer (Arch. Zeit., 1881, p. 53), incline to the view that the seated figures are not deities but heroified persons buried in the tomb to whom the members of the family bring offerings. This view not only avoids the difficulty of the former explanation, but is supported by the analogy of other works, the series of early hero-reliefs from Sparta (Wace, Sparta Cat., pp. 102 ff.) being especially adduced for comparison. In these we have seated figures, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, receiving gifts from adorants or holding a cup for libation; the offerings of the cock, the flower, the pomegranate and other details find exact parallels on these Spartan reliefs.
    That the principal or western side should be assigned to the women is explained by Loewy with reference to the matriarchal form of Lycian society (Mélanges Perrot, p. 223, and cf. Herodotus, i, 173). The other three sides, which resemble each other more closely, reveal a gradation of age and importance of the seated figures; the eastern shows an old man with a long beard, the northern a man with a short beard, the southern a beardless youth (Brunn, Münchener Sitzungsb., 1872, p. 523); that three generations are intended seems likely, the aim of the sculptor being to express a continuity of cult at the communal family tomb.
    Smith, no. 94; Synopsis, Lycia, no. 1; Benndorf in Jahreshefte, 1900, p. 101,
    and Reisen in Lykien, I, p. 87; Birch in Archaeologia, xxx, p. 185; Braun in Ann. d. Inst., 1844, p. 133, Mon. d. Inst., iv, pl. 3, and Rhein. Museum, 1845, p. 481, and Gesch. d. gr. Kunst, II, p. 188; Brunn in Sitzungsb. d. k. bay. Akad. d. Wissensch., 1870, II, p. 205, and 1872, p. 523; Brunn-Bruckmann, 146-147; Bulle in Strena Helbigiana, p. 35, n.; Buschor, Sculpt. des Zeustempels zu Olympia, p. 35; Carotti, Hist. of Art, I, fig. 133; Collignon, Sculpt. gr., I, p. 262, figs. 129-132, and Statues funeraires, p. 78, and Archeologie gr., p. 115, fig. 55, and Mythologie de la Grece, p. 286; Conze in Arch. Zeit., 1869, p. 78; Cotterill, Anc. Greece, p. 59; Curtius in Arch. Zeit., 1855, p. 2, pl. 73, and 1869, pp. 10, 110; L. Curtius in Ath. Mitt., 1906, p. 180; Deonna, L'Archeologie, II, pp. 127, 388, 439, and III, p. 121; Dieulafoy, Art ant. de la Perse, III, p. 73; Talfourd Ely, Manual of Archaeology, p. 159, fig. 90; Engelmann in Roscher's Lexikon, s.v. Harpyia, p. 1847; Fiechter in Jahrbuch, 1918, p. 177; Fowler and Wheeler, Gr. Archaeology, p. 212, fig. 158; Friederichs-Wolters, 127-130; Furtwangler in Arch. Zeit., 1882, p. 204; E. Gardner, Gr. Sculpt., ed. 1905, p. 109, fig. 10; P. Gardner, Sculpt. Tombs of Hellas, p. 69; Harrison, Prolegomena to Gr. Religion, p. 177, fig. 20; Hill, Masterpieces of Sculpture, pl. 1; Gerhard in Arch. Zeit., 1845, p. 69; Kekule, Gr. Skulpt., 3rd ed., p. 34; Joubin, Sculpt, gr., p. 251; Kalkmann in Jahrbuch, 1894, p. 24, and Proport. d. Gesichts, pp. 94, 105; Klein, Ges. d. gr. Kunst, I, pp. 267, 322; Langlotz, Frühgr. Bildhauerschulen, pp. 103, 105; Lechat, Sculpt. att. avant Phidias, p. 147; Legge, Gr. Sculpt., p. 26; Lethaby, Gr. Buildings in the Brit. Mus., p. 198; Loewy in Mélanges Perrot, p. 223; v. Mach, Gr. Sculpt., p. 14, pl. VI; Mendel, Constantinople Catalogue, I, p. 558; Michaelis in Arch. Zeit., 1867, p. 13; Milchhoefer in Arch. Zeit., 1881, p. 53; L. Mitchell, Anc. Sculpt., p. 187, fig. 88; Mobius in Ath. Mitt., 1916, p. 170; V. Muller in Ath. Mitt., 1921, pp. 41, 51; W. Müller, Gr. Kunst, p. 96; Murray, Gr. Sculpt., 2nd ed., I, p. 116, pl. 3, figs. 22-25; Neugebauer in Arch. Anz., 1920, p. 30; Overbeck in Zeitschr. fur Altertumswiss., 1856, p. 289, and Gr. Plastik, 4th ed., I, p. 226, figs. 57, 58; Panofka in Arch. Zeit., 1843, p. 49; Perrot, Hist. de l’Art, VIII, p. 332, figs. 144-148; Perry, Gr. and Rom. Sculpt., p. 111; Picard in Monum. Piot, XX, p. 52, and Sculpt. ant., p. 300; Rayet, Monum. de l’Art ant., pls. XIII-XVI; Reber, Ges. d. Baukunst, p. 196, fig. 125 (English ed., 1882, fig. 113); Reinach, Répertoire d. Reliefs, I, p. 470; Rosch, Altertüml. Marmorwerke von Paros, p. 25; Schuchhardt, Alteuropa, p. 310, fig. 93; Delia Seta, Religion and Art, p. 232, fig. 120; Scharf, Mus. of Class. Antiq., I, p. 252; C. Smith in J.H.S., 1893, p. 103; Strong, Apotheosis and After Life, pp. 148 and 263, n. 64; Studniczka in Jahrbuch, 1894, p. 269; Russell Sturgis, Hist. of Architecture, I, p. 105; Tarbell, Gr. Art, p. 145, fig. 87; Tonks in A.J.A., 1907, p. 321; Wace, Sparta Mus. Cat., p. 121; Waldmann, Gr. Originate, no. 14; Walters, Art of the Greeks, p. 78, pl. 23; Weicker, Seelenvogel, p. 7, fig. 4, pp. 32, 125, and De Sirenibus, p. 33.2; Weicker, Alte Denkmdler, V, p. 241; Wherry, Gr. Sculpt., p. 72; Winter, Kunstgesch. in Bild., I. 7, pl. 208, nos. 4, 5, 6; Woltersin Springer's Kunstgesch., 1923 ed., fig. 191, p. 206, figs. 407, 408.


  • Bibliography

    • Sculpture B287 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G15

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Greek & Roman Antiquities

  • Registration number


  • Joined objects

IMAGE SHOWS WEST SIDE.  Marble reliefs from the Harpy Tomb. North side: a warrior offers his helmet to a bearded man on a stool. At either end, a harpy carrying a human figure, and below the right-hand harpy a woman mourning. South side: a standing figure

IMAGE SHOWS WEST SIDE. Marble reliefs from the Harpy Tomb. North side: a warrior offers his helmet to a bearded man on a stool. At either end, a harpy carrying a human figure, and below the right-hand harpy a woman mourning. South side: a standing figure

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: GAA6564

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help