The origins of Xanthos go back to a very early date. It was ruled by the kings of Lycia until the Persian occupation in the second half of the 6th century B.C. It was twice destroyed by the Persians during this period. The Lycian market place or agora was located on the bank of the Xanthos River, not far from the theater. According to Herodotos, the residents of the city fought courageously against the Persians led by the Persian general. Harpagos. They had invaded the region of Lycia in the year 545 B.C. Herodotos wrote that the Xanthions removed their women and children, their servants and all their moveable personal property to the top of the acropolis, and then set the whole of it on fire. All of the population of the city except for eighty families, which were away at that time, were killed In the battle.
Near the end of the 5th century B.C., Lycia became independent to a degree from Persian control. According to an inscription on a wall of the amphitheater, the Xonthians were compelled to go to war against Athens during the Peloponnesian War to defend this independence. When Alexander the Great moved into the area of Lycia, in 333 B.C., the city submitted to his demands and was, again, allowed a great degree of freedom. Since the people in this region were very similar to the Greeks, the process of Hellenisrr was rapid Xanthos came under the control of the kingdom of Rhodes in 188, in the Treaty of Apamaea. In 167, the citizens of the city put up a fight against Rhodes, in which they received the assistance of the Romans for having once taken the side of Rome in the struggles against Mithridates. After the final Roman conquest of Anatolia, Xanthos was awarded a privileged status. This is very much evident in the ruins at the site. The Romans rebuilt the city and its fortifications, and it enjoyed a high level of prosperity. As the Roman Empire started its decline, so did the city of Xanthos. The decline of the Lycian city continued into Byzantine times.