Kaunos was a city of ancient Caria and in Anatolia, a few km west of the modern town of Dalyan, Muğla Province, Turkey.
The Calbys river (now known as the Dalyan river) was the border between Caria and Lycia. Initially Kaunos was a separate state; then it became a part of Caria and later still of Lycia.
Kaunos was an important sea port, the history of which is supposed to date back till the 10th century BC. Because of the formation of İztuzu Beach and the silting of the former Bay of Dalyan (from approx. 200 BC onwards), Kaunos is now located about 8 km from the coast. The city had two ports, the southern port at the southeast of Küçük Kale and the inner port at its northwest (the present Sülüklü Göl, Lake of the Leeches). The southern port was used from the foundation of the city till roughly the end of the Hellenistic era, after which it became inaccessible due to its drying out. The inner or trade port could be closed by chains. The latter was used till the late days of Kaunos,but due to the silting of the delta and the ports, Kaunos had by then long lost its important function as a trade port. After Caria had been captured by Turkish tribes and the serious malaria epidemic of the 15th century AD, Kaunos was completely abandoned.
In 1966 Prof. Baki Öğün started the excavations of ancient Kaunos. These have been continued up to the present day, and are now supervised by Prof. Cengiz Işık.
The archeological research is not limited to Kaunos itself, but is also carried out in locations nearby e.g. near the Sultaniye Spa where there used to be a sanctuary devoted to the goddess Leto.
Kaunos is first referred to by Herodotus in his book Histories. He narrates that the Persian general Harpagus marches against the Lycians, Carians and Kaunians during the Persian invasion of 546 BCE.Herodotus writes that the Kaunians fiercely countered Harpagus' attacks but were ultimately defeated. Despite the fact that the Kaunians themselves said they originated from Crete, Herodotus doubted this. He thought it was far more likely that the Kaunians were the original inhabitants of the area because of the similarity between his own Carian language and that of the Kaunians. He added that there were, however, great differences between the lifestyles of the Kaunians and those of their neighbours, the Carians and Lycians. One of the most conspicuous differences being their social drinking behaviour. It was common practice that the villagers -men, women and children alike- had get-togethers over a good glass of wine.
Herodotus mentions that Kaunos participated in the Ionian Revolt (499–494 BCE).
Some important inscriptions in Carian language were found here, dating to c. 400 BC, including a bilingual inscription in Greek and Carian found in 1996. They helped to decipher the Carian alphabets.
After Alexander's death, Kaunos, due to its strategic location, was disputed among the Diadochi, changing hands between the Antigonids, Ptolemies, and Seleucids.
Because of differences between the Hellenistic kingdoms, the Roman Republic was able to expand its influence in the area and annex a considerable number of Hellenistic kingdoms. In 189 BC the Roman senate put Kaunos under the jurisdiction of Rhodes. At that time it was known as the Rhodian Peraia.
In 167 BC this led to a revolt by Kaunos and a number of other cities in western Anatolia against Rhodes. As a result, Rome discharged Rhodes from its task. In 129 BC the Romans established the Province of Asia, which covered a large part of western Anatolia. Kaunos was near the edge of this province and was assigned to Lycia.
In 88 BC Mithridates invaded the province, trying to curb further expansion by the Romans. The Kaunians teamed up with him and killed all the Roman inhabitants of their city. After the peace of 85 BC they were punished for this action by the Romans, who again put Kaunos under Rhodian administration. During Roman rule Kaunos became a prospering sea port. The amphitheater of the city was enlarged and Roman baths and a palaestra were built. The agora fountain was renovated and new temples arose.