In the present website the name is spelled Labraunda, but several other forms are also correct such as Lambraunda, Labranda and Labraynda. The reason for the confusion is that the spelling differed from century to century and that all the different forms exist in ancient sources and in inscriptions from the site. Herodotos, the earliest literary source (5th century BC), wrote Labraunda, and this was also the most common spelling in Hellenistic times (3rd-1st centuries BC) and later.

    In ancient times the people living in south-western Anatolia were known as the Karians. They had their own language, Karian, which was an Indo-European language related to that of their neighbours in Lykia to the east. Their country Karia was bordered to the north by the river Maeander (Büyük Menderes Çayı) and in the east by the river Indos (Dalaman Çayı). From 546 BC Karia formed part of the Persian empire, and was ruled by satraps appointed by the Great King at Persepolis in Persia. In the 4th century, Karia was ruled by satraps of a local dynasty. The first one was Hekatomnos (392-377 BC). As rulers after him followed his five sons and daughters, one after the other. They are called the Hekatomnids, which means the descendants of Hekatomnos. After the oldest, Maussollos (377-352), came his wife and sister Artemisia (352-351), then Idrieus (351-344), followed by Ada, who was also his sister and wife (344-341) and, after her, the youngest brother Pixodaros (341-336). Alexander the Great put Ada back in charge in 334 BC.

    The most important sanctuary in western Karia was Labraunda, especially in the 4th century BC, since the Hekatomnids favoured it more than any other shrine in Karia. At that time the sanctuary of Labraunda does not seem to have belonged to any city. It was probably an independent shrine and a place for pilgrimage, ruled by its priests and belonging to the people of all surrounding villages.

Labranda – Labraunda – Lambraunda – or Labraynda?

Labraunda was a sanctuary

    Labraunda was a solitary sanctuary, to which people came walking or riding from all different directions. The nearest city or town was Mylasa, ca 14 km away. There were, of course, people who lived permanently at or near Labraunda, especially the priests and their families, temple servants and slaves, workmen who were employed for the maintenance of the sacred buildings, and farmers who leased and cultivated sacred lands, where olives and other crops were grown. But there is no indication that there was any proper village near the sanctuary.

    Labraunda had been a sanctuary for centuries before the 4th century BC. The oldest potsherds found thus far in the excavations date from the mid-7th century, but the shrine may turn out to be much older. It is conceivable that Labraunda was first seen as a sacred place because of a remarkable rock just above the sanctuary. It has the appearance of having been split in two by a thunderbolt, and it is quite possible that this rock together with the thunderstorms that from time to time occur here made the people around believe that this was the abode of the sky god. Just under the split rock there is a source of clear, fresh water, and a simple spring house was built here in ancient times. It is probable that the oldest finds from the site are to be found in the neighbourhood of this spring. In the 1940’s the Swedish excavators tried to excavate close to the source, but it proved impossible due to the water that flooded the excavation trenches.

Why was there a sanctuary at Labraunda?

    Inland Karia was not urbanized in the Archaic period (7th – 6th centuries BC) but was an area with many small villages and hamlets. To protect their common interests they were joined in various confederations or leagues, of which the largest one in the 5th and 4th centuries was called The Karians. The first ancient author who mentioned both the league of the Karians and the sanctuary of Labraunda was Herodotos, who lived in the 5th century BC. He came from Halikarnassos (today’s Bodrum) and his father had a Karian name, Lyxes. Acording to Herodotos the forces of the Karians took refuge at the Labraunda shrine, where a battle followed against the Persians. It appears that Labraunda was an important meeting-place for the Karian league. It has been suggested that one reason for the Great King of Persia to appoint Hekatomnos satrap of Karia a century later was that he already held the position of the leader and the King of the Karian league, a position that Maussollos may have taken over after his death. This could also serve to explain why the Hekatomnids made Labraunda their favoured sanctuary.

In the 3rd century, another league appears to have taken over as the most important Karian confederation. It was called The Chrysaoreis. According to the geographer Strabo, who wrote in the late 1st century BC or early 1st century AD, they had their meeting-place in the territory of Stratonikeia, at the temple of Zeus Chrysaoreus. This had, however, not always been so. An inscription shows that this league used Labraunda as a meeting-place in 267 BC; some other inscriptions from Labraunda also mention the Chrysaoreis.

Labraunda and the Karian Leagues

    The most important period at Labraunda appears to have been the 4th century BC, especially during the years when Maussollos (377-352 BC) and Idrieus (351-344) were the rulers of Karia. Before Maussollos, the sanctuary consisted of only one single terrace, the northern part of the later temple terrace. There was probably only one building at the site, a little temple with two columns on the front, and an altar. There was also a large grove of plane trees. Maussollos first built some retaining walls for the new and enlarged terraces, and a paved road all the way from Mylasa, since without a road large marble blocks could not have been brought up to Labraunda, which lies at an altitude of about 700 meters a.s.l. He then erected a stoa (the North Stoa) and a large building for the sacred banquets, an andron (Andron B). Maussollos was evidently not popular among all Karians. His building projects at Halikarnassos, Labraunda and elsewhere may have been one cause of discontent since their financing was presumably a heavy burden for the Karians. Inscriptions inform us of four different plots against him. One was an assassination attempt in 355/354 BC during the annual sacrificial feast at Labraunda. Security apparently worked, however, and Maussollos had a narrow escape. The would-be assassin, whose name was Manitas, was killed on the spot. His and his accomplice Thyssos’ properties were confiscated and the proceeds handed over to Maussollos.

The Hekatomnids and Labraunda

    Since Labraunda was quite far away from the nearest cities, normal daily life was probably quite dull for the inhabitants of the little community at Labraunda, peopled by priests, servants, temple slaves, workmen and farmers. The contrast with the few days every year when feasts took place must have been vast. It appears that the major event of the year was the feast and sacrifice to Zeus, which probably went on for five consecutive days. There were, of course, also other, minor feasts, but we have no information about these from the sources.

Life at Labraunda

    When the first temple was built, possibly ca 500 BC, there was in all probability no paved road to Labraunda, but only paths leading up to the sanctuary. Large marble blocks therefore had to be avoided in that building. When the building activity started in the 4th century, it was only made possible by the paved road. The largest blocks of marble used in the front of Andron B, the first major marble building, were the three front architrave beams above the columns. Their measurements indicate a weight of ca 2.5 tons each. What appears to have been part of a marble beam over the niche at the back wall of the cella (the inner room) of the building was, however, even larger; it is 63 cm high and 52 cm wide, and the width of the niche is 4.8 meters. The weight of such a beam in its final shape would be ca 5.5 tons, but blocks were always in half-finished shape during transport, which means that it weighed quite a bit more. The marble came in all probability from the quarries on the high hill on the other side of Mylasa (Sodra Dağ). The transport from the quarry to the Mylasa plain was no doubt on a wooden sledge to which strong ropes were attached so the speed could be reduced, if needed; cylindrical wooden rollers may have been used under the sledge, where the slope was less steep.

How the marble was brought to Labraunda?

Inscriptions, sculpture and architectural fragments excavated until 1960 have either been transferred to the Bodrum Museum or remain at the site. Pottery and other small finds (including the Karian inscriptions) are in the Izmir Archaeological Museum, whereas a few finds from the recent excavations are in the Milas Museum.

Inscriptions, sculptures and other finds from the excavations


Southern terrace wall at the entrance of the site

For a brief period in the 4th century BC, however, the official spelling was apparently Lambraunda, since the god is called Zeus Lambraundos in the inscriptions. In Roman times (from the late 1st century BC and on), the simpler spelling Labranda became more and more common. In Latin, Pliny the Elder (first century AD) spelled the name of the god Labrayndus, which indicates that the sanctuary was called Labraynda in his sources. An analysis of the different forms shows that Labraunda and Labraundos were Karian 4-syllable words, that the letters au was not a diphtong but two separate vowels with the stress on the a and not on the u, which possibly was almost silent. The pronounciation may have been something like Labránda. The 4th century form Lambraunda with an -m- may indicate a nasalization in the Karian pronounciation of the word; later this may have changed. It can also be noted that the toponym Labraunda is a plural, as is Mylasa too.

Rendering of the sacred festival (B. Berg 1985)

View from the south. The well-house is to the left in the foreground

and the Built-tomb at the top left; the split-rock is at the top right

Ancient plane tree, east of the sanctuary

    The erection of the temple and of other structures was probably planned and maybe also begun by Maussollos, but he died in the spring of 352, before they were finished, and it was his brother Idrieus’ name that became connected with most of the Hekatomnid buildings. Idrieus erected, or completed, the new temple to Zeus and the two-room Oikoi Building behind it. He also built a second banqueting hall (the so-called Andron A), an entrance building (the South Propylon) and the little Doric Building beside it, which was possibly a fountain house. Another building that appears to date back to the Hekatomnids is the East Stoa, which forms part of the large complex behind the high northern wall of the entrance area.

    Since no other building than a little well-house appears to have been added to the architectural environment of the sanctuary in the next 300 years, and since few buildings were erected even in Roman times and later, it is still today possible to experience Labraunda as a truly Hekatomnid sanctuary.

Restored view of the Andrones and the Temple (F. Hederus, 1953)

There were probably thousands of participants at the annual sacrificial feast, coming in large processions both along the paved Sacred Way from Mylasa and on another paved road leading from the north, from villages in the mountains behind Labraunda, and from towns as Alinda and Alabanda in the valley beyond. They brought not only oxen, sheep and goats to be sacrificed to the god and wine for the sacrificial feast but also various other kinds of food and equipment. Musicians were certainly present both at sacrifice and feasting, and athletes as well; athletic competitions were part of the feast as at other sanctuaries. This is indicated by the existence of a stadion a few hundred metres to the west of the shrine. The most important part of the feast was, of course, the time-consuming sacrifice at the altar of the god, where the animals were ritually killed, and the god’s part consisting of bones and fat was burned. After the butchering of the sacrificial animals, servants and slaves started to prepare and cook the meat for the ensuing feast. In the meantime there were competitions in the stadion.

    There were also other sacrifices. The most important members of the communities, the elected leaders and the priests were then invited into the banqueting halls, the andrones, to recline on the couches, where the sacrificial meal was served, and where quantities of wine were consumed in honour of the god, whose image in bronze was standing in the niche at the back of the room. Other important people reclined in the dining rooms of the East Stoa, where the rooms were furnished with 11 couches each. One couch could take two diners, which means that the andrones and the stoa could take over 200 people. Even so we have to imagine that most participants were feasting outside, in tents or under temporary shelters, arranged on the different terraces of the shrine.

Once the blocks had been transported down to the city, the marble may have been transferred to wagons with heavy wooden wheels for the journey over the plain. They were pulled by oxen or other draft animals, as many as needed. For the ascent up to Labraunda some 650 meters above the Mylasa plain, the transport may have continued on wagons, if not by sledges on wooden rollers, in both cases pulled by as many draft animals as needed. It is not conceivable that such a heavy transport up to Labraunda would have been possible without a paved road.

The sacred way above Kargıcak

    Among the finds from the excavations a large collection of inscriptions in the Greek language deserve special attention, especially those that are inscribed by Maussollos and Idrieus on the buildings that they erected, since this means that these buildings can be securely dated. There is also an important series of letters between on one hand the kings Seleukos II of Syria and Philip V of Macedon and on the other the local dynast Olympichos, the high priests of Labraunda and the city of Mylasa concerning the status of the shrine in the second half of the 3rd century BC. In all, 134 Greek inscriptions have been found during the excavations, and much information can be gathered from them.

Marble anta block from Andron B,

inscribed with the end of a letter from Olympichos to Mylasa

    Some probably Hellenistic terracotta tablets, inscribed with texts in the Karian alphabet and language, are also of great interest, although the contents of these texts remain undeciphered. Possibly they are religious or magic texts.

Fragmentary terracotta tablet with inscriptions in the Karian lalphabet

on front and bottom (left), and on back (right)


    The most important marble sculpture from the site is a one-meter high male sphinx, found to the south of Andron B. The head and other fragments of at least one more sphinx were also found. They may have been placed on the roof of Andron B as so-called corner akroteria. Those finds are now in the Bodrum Museum. Among the pottery finds, an important one is a fragmentary Panathenaic prize amphora of the mid-4th century BC, with an incised inscription, which says that the vase was given to Zeus by a man from nearby Herakleia, who had received it as first prize in the stadion race at the international games in Athens.




. . ikles, son of Kallikles, from Herakleia, having won the stadion

race, gave it to Zeus

The sphinx, found in 1953, was probably a roof decoration of Andron B (now in Bodrum Museum)

    Among the bronze finds, the Hellenistic arm-rest of a couch, decorated with a dog’s head, deserves special mention. It was found in the Oikoi building, but probably belonged to a couch used in one of the banqueting halls, Andron A or Andron B.

Dog’s head decorating the bronze arm rest of a couch, found in the Oikoi building

(now in Izmir Museum)