The earliest known inhabitants of the area were the Solymoi (or Solymi), also known as the Solymians, who may have spoken a Semitic language. Later in prehistory, another people, known as the Milyae (or Milyans) migrated to the same area; they spoke an Anatolian language (Indo-European) language known as Milyan and the area was known as Milyas.
According to Herodotus, Milyas was subsequently settled by a people originating in Crete, whose endonym was trm̃mili – the hellenized form of this name was Termilae (Τερμίλαι). Under a leader named Sarpedon, the Termilae had been driven out of Crete (according to Herodotus) by Minos and settled in a large part of Milyas. Subsequently, the Milyae were concentrated increasingly in the adjoining mountains, whereas the Termilae remained a maritime people. The area occupied by the Termilae gradually became known to them as trm̃mis.
Greek sources referred to trm̃mis as Lykia (Latin: Lycia). The reason for this, according to Greek mythology, was that an Athenian aristocrat named Lykos (Lycus) and his followers settled in trm̃mis, after being exiled from Athens. The land was known to the Greeks as Lukia (later Lykia; Latin Lycia) and its inhabitants were referred to as Lukiae (later Lykiae; Latin Lyciani). However, trm̃mili remained their endonym.
Photios I of Constantinople wrote that Theopompus in one of his books mention how the Lycians, under the command of their king Pericles fought against Telmessos and they managed to corner them within their walls and forced them to negotiate.
Later classical scholars offer differing and sometimes plainly erroneous accounts of the Lycians. Strabo distinguishes "Trojan Lycians" from the Termilae mentioned by Herodotus. Cicero, who may be unaware of the region's previous history (and subsequent hellenization), states flatly that the Lycians are a Greek tribe.
According to Herodotus, the culture and customs of the Lycians resembled a hybrid of Cretan culture (like that of the Termilae) and that of the neighboring Carians. (The Carians spoke an Anatolian language and one might infer from this that they were closely connected culturally to the Milyae). For instance, Herodotus mentioned a unique custom, whereby Lycian males named "themselves after their mothers" and emphasized their "mother's female ascendants". This passage has normally been understood as meaning that the Lycians were a matrilineal society.
In Greek culture, Lycia (like Delos and Delphi) was sacred to Apollo, who was also known as Lycian, Delian and Pythian (Delphi). In the Homeric Hymns, Apollo is mentioned as the lord of Lycia: "O Lord, Lycia is yours and lovely Maeonia and Miletus, charming city by the sea, but over wave-girt Delos you greatly reign your own self". Bacchylides in his Epinician Odes, called Apollo "lord of the Lycians'. Pindar in his Pythian Odes, called Apollo the "lord of Lycia and Delos, you who love the Castalian spring of Parnassus". In the Aristophanes work, The Knights, at some point Cleon called Apollo, god of Lycia. Semos the Delian wrote: "Some say the birth of Apollo took place in Lycia, others Delos, others Zoster in Attica, others Tegyra in Boeotia." Pausanias wrote that the Lycians in Patara show a bronze bowl in their temple of Apollo, saying that Telephus dedicated it and Hephaestus made it. In addition, Clement of Alexandria wrote that the statues of Zeus and Apollo, along with the lions that were dedicated to them were created by Phidias. Solinus wrote that the Lycians dedicated a city to Hephaestus and called it Hephaestia.
Throughout the 1950s, P. Demargne and H. Metzger meticulously explored the site of Xanthos in Lycia, which included an acropolis. Metzger reported the discovery of Geometric pottery dating the occupation of the citadel to the 8th century BC. J.M. Cook concluded that these discoveries constituted the earliest form of material culture in Lycia since the region was uninhabited throughout prehistoric times. The Lycians may ultimately have been nomadic settlers that descended into the southwestern areas of Asia Minor only during the 8th century BC.
- Macaulay, G.C. and Lateiner, Donald. The Histories. Spark Educational Publishing, 2004, ISBN 1-59308-102-2, p. 63.
- Louis H. Feldman, 1996, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World: Attitudes and Interactions from Alexander to Justinian. Princeton, Princeton University Press, pp. 190–1; 519–21.
- Photius, Bibliotheca excerpts, 176.3
- Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, 3.6
- Strabo. Geographica, 12.8.4. "The existence of two groups of Lycians arouses suspicion that they were of the same tribe, whether it was the Trojan Lycians or those near Caria that colonized the country of the other of the two."
- Strabo. Geographica, 12.8.5. "Not only the Carians, who in earlier times were islanders, but also the Leleges, as they say, became mainlanders with the aid of the Cretans, who founded, among other places, Miletus, having taken Sarpedon from the Cretan Miletus as founder; and they settled the Termilae in the country which is now called Lycia; and they say that these settlers were brought from Crete by Sarpedon, a brother of Minos and Rhadamanthus, and that he gave the name Termilae to the people who were formerly called Milyae, as Herodotus says, and were in still earlier times called Solymi, but that when Lycus the son of Pandion went over there he named the people Lycians after himself. Now this account represents the Solymi and the Lycians as the same people, but the poet makes a distinction between them."
- Cicero, Verrine Orations, 2.4.21
- Cicero, Verrine Orations, 2.4.21 - LA
- Fant, Clyde E.; Reddish, Mitchell G. (2003). A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey. Oxford University Press. p. 485. ISBN 9780199881451.
- Diodorus Siculus, Library 1-7, 5.77.5
- Diodorus Siculus, Library 1-7, 5.77.5 - GR
- Homeric Hymn to Apollo, 179-181
- Bacchylides, Epinician Odes, 13.140
- Pindar, Pythian Odes, επωδή 2, 40
- Aristophanes, THe Knights, 12260
- Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica, T611.3
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.41.1
- Clement of Alexandria, Exhortations, 4.2
- Solinus, Polyhistor, 39.1
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.27.2
- Cook, p. 54. "The remainder of this survey is of necessity sketchy and selective. In LYCIA P. Demargne and H. Metzger have carried out an extensive exploration of the site of XANTHUS in the years 1950–1959. They have devoted special attention to the so-called Lycian acropolis which rises sheer above the river; this seems to have been the citadel of Xanthus in early times, with monumental tombs of its occupants on the shelf to the north.
- Cook, p. 55. "Professor Metzger now kindly informs me that Geometric pottery has been found at the citadel, thus dating the occupation back to the eighth century (and so to the time of Homer). This is the earliest stratum encountered at Xanthus—despite the recent researches in the field—in Lycia as a whole. The problem of Lycian origins is a baffling one. The country may have been uninhabited in prehistoric times; but it is strange if the Lycians did not descend into south-west Asia Minor until the eighth century. It may be that nomadic settlement, leaving virtually no trace behind, is in part the explanation here."
- Cook, J.M. "Greek Archaeology in Western Asia Minor". Archaeological Reports, No. 6 (1959 - 1960), pp. 27–57.