Some of this post I previously “published,” but in visiting Patara this past January substantial changes in the famous Bouleuterion (Council Chamber) had taken place and I thought some of you might be interested. It is now completely excavated AND reconstructed.
QUICK — what was the Lycian League? Not many of us know, but Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew! Yes, the “Lycian Confederation” is mentioned four times in the Federalist Papers that were produced between 1787–1788 (#9, 16, 45). Over 2,000 years ago it met in Patara—the same place where Paul and Luke changed ships on their way to Jerusalem (Acts 21:1-3).
So what was the Lycian Confederation/League? First, Lycia was/is a geopolitical region located along the Mediterranean Coast of modern Turkey, often called the Turquoise Coast because of its beauty! (see map below) The 23 cities that made up the Confederation/League were located along the Mediterranean coast or in the nearby rugged Taurus Mountains (but the number of cities varied from time to time).
The league itself may go back to around 205 B.C. This early form of the league would have had the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances. In 168 B.C., while still under Roman control, the Romans allowed these cities to still assemble together to govern themselves as a unit—but the power to decide questions of war, peace, and alliances were now Rome’s prerogative.
The Lycian Confederation is the first known democratic union in history! One of the features of this Confederation is that they committed themselves to be governed by a central assembly (Greek: synedrion) that they themselves elected. However, in fairness, the larger cities were allotted more representatives than the smaller ones. Large cities such as Xanthos, Patara, Myra, Pinara, Tlos, and Olympos were allotted three representatives each (the maximum allowed).
This body elected persons who administered the Lycian League for a year at a time. The council elected judges. Voted proportional taxes. A league court decided disputes between the cities.
The Lycian Confederation met at Patara—almost certainly in the Bouleuterion pictured above. It was thus here (at the out-of-the-way site of Patara) that proportional representative government first got its start. And, it was not until the founding of the United States (2,000 years later!!) that this concept was revived in the US House of Representatives (note the semi-circular seating arrangement of its chamber)!!
For a great summary article on the Lycian League and Patara see the article in Saudi Aramco World 2007.