"The Lion Sarcophagus"Termessos (also known as Termessus) was inhabited by the Pisidians, an indigenous Anatolian nation of noted ferocity. The city first appears in history during the conquests of Alexander the Great. Alexander swept through the region but after winning a skirmish in the narrow mountain passes near the city, declined to storm it. (Guidebooks consistently portray Alexander as unable to take the city, but in fact he was merely disinclined to try.) After Alexander's death the city saw a famous clash during the wars of Alexander's "Successors." One of Alexander's generals, Alcetas, found himself trapped in the city by another of Alexander's generals, Antigonus the "One-Eyed." Beloved by the city's young people, Alcetas was betrayed by its "senior citizens" and comitted suicide rather than fall into Antigonus' hands. Mutilated and left unburied by Antigonus, Alceta's body was retrieved by the younger generation and given a hero's burial. The extant "lion sarcophagus" has convincingly been identified as his final resting place—among the only surviving graves of Alexander's friends and companions.
In the Hellenistic period, Termessos gradually "Hellenized," adapting Greek culture, language and even becoming a democracy. The impressive theatre was built during this period, no doubt serving as both entertainment venue and political meeting place. Throughout the period, Termessos was engaged in frequent warfare with its neighbors, often taking on more than one. For its help in his campaign against Selge (c. 158 BC), Attalus II of Pergamum erected the city's elegant stoa (porch).
Termessos passed easily into Roman friendship and later empire. The city received considerable autonomy for its role against King Mithridates. It guarded its privileges jealously; remarkably, its coinage never included either image or title of the Emperors. (This is the source of the tour-guide story that Termessos was never conquered by Alexander or the Romans!) Most of the city's buildings were erected in this period, including a temple to the Emperor Hadrian. At some point the city Christianized, and bishops from Termessos participated in the early church councils, but the city was abandoned between the 5–7 centuries. (Remoteness and earthquakes may have both played their part.) Except for the occasional nomad it lay empty after that, which explains its relatively pristine state.