The oldest literary source mentioning the shrine at Labraunda is Herodotos’ Histories. In the account of the battle at Labraunda in the Persian Wars at which the Persians defeated the Carians and their Milesian allies in 497 BC, the Labraunda sanctuary is briefly mentioned.

    Plutarch, who lived in the 2nd century AD, explained why the cult statue of the god Zeus at Labraunda was holding a double axe (an axe with two cutting edges). Gyges, who is mentioned in this quote, was the king of Lydia in the mid-7th century BC, which is also the date of the oldest pottery found in the excavations so far.

   The geographer Strabo (ca. 63 BC – AD 21) mentioned not only the marble quarries at Mylasa, from where the marble at Labraunda had probably been transported, but also the almost 60 stadia (ca. 10.6-11.6 km) long Sacred Way that connected Mylasa to Labraunda.

    Pliny the Elder (who died in AD 76 at the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii) included in his encyclopedia Naturalis Historia a note on a pool with eels at Labraunda. This, together with the following quote from Aelian, is probably evidence for a fish oracle at Labraunda, which may have been established in the 1st century AD, when many new oracles were created in the ancient world.

        Aelian, who lived in the second half of the 2nd century AD, also mentions the spring at Labraunda, but in this version there are tame fish in the spring, not eels as Pliny had it. The distance from Mylasa to Labraunda is here given as 70 stadia (ca. 12.4-13.5 km), which appears to be more close to reality than the almost 60 stadia reported by Strabo. Aelian also suggests an alternative etymology for the epithet Labrandeus, different from the one found in Plutarch; although violent and heavy rains do indeed occur at the site, scholars today prefer to believe that the first half of the name Labraunda had the same etymological origin as a plant called laparsa- in Hittite texts.

    Tame fish which answer to a call and gladly accept food are to be found and are kept in many places, . . . and at the shrine of Zeus Labrandeus in a spring of transparent water. And there the fish have golden necklaces and earrings, also of gold. The shrine of this Zeus is 70 stadia distant from the city of Mylasa. A sword is attached to the side of the statue . . .

    . . . and Zeus received the epithet of Labrandeus because he sent down furious [‘labros’ in Greek] and heavy rainstorms.

(Aelian, On Animals 12.30; transl. A.F. Scholfield, Loeb Class. Library)


- Why is it that the statue of the Labrandean Zeus in Caria is fashioned holding an axe, but not a sceptre or a thunderbolt?

- Because when Heracles had slain Hippolyte, together with her other arms he took her axe and gave it as a present to Omphale. The Lydian kings who succeeded Omphale used to carry it as a part of the sacred regalia, handing it down one to the other until it came to Candaules. He deemed it of little worth and gave it to one of his Companions to carry. But when Gyges revolted and was at war with Candaules, Arselis came from Mylasa with an army as an ally for Gyges and slew both Candaules and his Companion and brought the axe to Caria together with the other spoils. He therefore constructed a statue of Zeus and placed the axe in its hand, and called the god Labrandeus; or the Lydians call the axe labrys.

(Plutarch, The Greek Questions 45, Moralia 301F-302A, transl. F.C. Babbitt, Loeb Class. Library)

Presently, when the Persians had come and had crossed the Maeander, they and the Carians joined battle by the river Marsyas; the Carians fought obstinately and long, but at the last they were overcome by odds. Of the Persians there fell as many as two thousand men, and of the Carians ten thousand. Those of them that escaped thence were driven into the precinct of Zeus of Armies at Labraunda, a great and a holy grove of planetrees. (The Carians are the only people known to us who offer sacrifices to Zeus by this name.) Being driven thither, they took counsel how best to save themselves, whether it were better for them to surrender themselves to the Persians or depart wholly away from Asia. But while they took counsel, the Milesians and their allies came up to their aid; whereupon the Carians put aside their former plans, and prepared to wage a new war over again. They met the Persian attack and suffered a heavier defeat in the battle than in the first; many of their whole army fell, but the Milesians were hardest stricken. Yet the Carians rallied and fought again after this disaster; for learning that the Persians had set forth to march against their cities, they beset the road with an ambush at Pedasus, whereinto the Persians fell by night and perished; they and their generals, Daurises and Amorges and Sisimaces; and with these fell also Myrsus, son of Gyges. The captain of this ambuscade was Heraclides of Mylasa, son of Ibanollis.

(Herodotos 5.119-121, transl. A.D. Godley, Loeb Class. Library)

But as for Mylasa: it is situated in an exceedingly fertile plain; and above the plain, towering into a peak, rises a mountain, which has a most excellent quarry of white marble. Now this quarry is of no small advantage, since it has stone in abundance and close at hand, for building purposes and in particular for the building of temples and other public works; accordingly this city, as much as any other, is in every way beautifully adorned with porticoes and temples. . .

        . . . The Mylasians have two temples of Zeus, Zeus Osogo, as he is called, and Zeus Labrandenos. The former is in the city, whereas Labranda is a village far from the city, being situated on the mountain near the pass that leads over from Alabanda to Mylasa. At Labranda there is an ancient shrine and statue of Zeus Stratios. It is honoured by the people all about and by the Mylasians; and there is a paved road of almost sixty stadia from the shrine to Mylasa, called the Sacred Way, on which their sacred processions are conducted. The priestly offices are held by the most distinguished of the citizens, always for life.

(Strabo, Geography 14.659, transl. H.L. Jones, Loeb Class. Library)

    In several country seats indeed of the Emperor fish eat out of the hand, but—what our old writers have recorded with wonder as occurring in natural pools, not fish-ponds—at Helorus, a fortress of Sicily not far from Syracuse, and likewise in the spring of Zeus Labrayndus, the eels even wear earrings.

(Pliny, N.H. 32.7, transl. W.H.S. Jones, Loeb Class. Library)