the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
In 377 B.C., the city of Halicarnassus was the capitol of
a small kingdom along the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor. It was in
that year the ruler of this land, Hecatomnus of Mylasa, died and left
control of the kingdom to his son, Mausolus. Hecatomnus, a local satrap
to the Persians, had been ambitious and had taken control of several of
the neighboring cities and districts. Mausolus in his time, extended the
territory even further so that it finally included most of South-western
Mausolus, with his queen Artemisia,
ruled over Halicarnassus and the surrounding territory for 24 years.
Mausolus, though he was descended from the local people, spoke Greek and
admired the Greek way of life and government. He founded many cities of
Greek design along the coast and encouraged Greek democratic traditions.
Then in 353 B.C. Mausolus died, leaving
his queen Artemisia, who was also his sister (It was the custom in Caria
for rulers to marry their own sisters), broken-hearted. As a tribute to
him, she decided to build him the most splendid tomb in the known world.
It became a structure so famous that Mausolus's name is now associated
with all stately tombs through our modern word mausoleum. The building was
also so beautiful and unique it became one of the Seven Wonders of the
Artemisia decided that no expense was to
be spared in the building of the tomb. She sent messengers to Greece to
find the most talented artists of the time. This included Scopas, the man
who had supervised the rebuilding of the Temple to Artemis at Ephesus.
Other famous sculptors such as Bryaxis, Leochares and Timotheus joined him
as well as hundreds of other craftsmen.
The tomb was erected on a hill
overlooking the city. The whole structure sat in an enclosed courtyard. At
the centre of the courtyard was a stone platform on which the tomb itself
sat. A staircase, flanked by stone lions, led to the top of this platform.
Along the outer wall of this were many statues depicting gods and goddess.
At each corner stone warriors, mounted on horseback, guarded the tomb.
At the centre of the platform was the
tomb itself. Made mostly of marble, the structure rose as a square,
tapering block to about one-third of the Mausoleum's 140 foot height. This
section was covered with relief sculpture showing action scenes from Greek
myth/history. One part showed the battle of the Centaurs with the Lapiths.
Another depicted Greeks in combat with the Amazons, a race of warrior
On top of this section of the tomb
thirty-six slim columns, nine per side, rose for another third of the
height. Standing in between each column was another statue. Behind the
columns was a solid block that carried the weight of the tomb's massive
The roof, which comprised most of the
final third of the height, was in the form of a stepped pyramid. Perched
on top was the tomb's penultimate work of sculpture: Four massive horses
pulling a chariot in which images of Mausolus and Artemisia rode.
Soon after construction of the tomb
started Artemisia found herself in a crisis. Rhodes, an island in the
Aegean Sea between Greece and Asia Minor, had been conquered by Mausolus.
When the Rhodians heard of his death they rebelled and sent a fleet of
ships to capture the city of Halicarnassus. Knowing that the Rhodian fleet
was on the way, Artemisa hid her own ships at a secret location at the
east end of the city's harbour. After troops from the Rhodian fleet
disembarked to attack, Artemisia's fleet made a surprise raid, captured
the Rhodian fleet, and towed it out to sea.
Artemisa put her own soldiers on the
invading ships and sailed them back to Rhodes. Fooled into thinking that
the returning ships were their own victorious navy, the Rhodians failed to
put up a defence and the city was easily captured quelling the rebellion.
Artemisa lived for only two years after
the death of her husband. Both would be buried in the yet unfinished tomb.
According to the historian Pliny, the craftsmen decided to stay and finish
the work after their patron died "considering that it was at once a
memorial of their own fame and of the sculptor's art."
The Mausoleum overlooked the city of
Halicarnassus for many centuries. It was untouched when the city fell to
Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. and still undamaged after attacks by
pirates in 62 and 58 B.C.. It stood above the city ruins for some 17
centuries. Then a series of earthquakes shattered the columns and sent the
stone chariot crashing to the ground. By 1404 A.D. only the very base of
the Mausoleum was still recognizable.
Crusaders, who had occupied the city
from the thirteen century onward, recycled the broken stone into their own
buildings. In 1522 rumours of a Turkish invasion caused Crusaders to
strengthen the castle at Halicarnassus (which was by then known as Bodrum)
and much of the remaining portions of the tomb was broken up and used
within the castle walls. Indeed sections of polished marble from the tomb
can still be seen there today.
At this time a party of knights entered
the base of the monument and discovered the room containing a great
coffin. The party, deciding it was too late to open it that day, returned
the next morning to find the tomb, and any treasure it may have contained,
plundered. The bodies of Mausolus and Artemisia were missing too. The
Knights claimed that Moslem villagers were responsible for the theft, but
it is more likely that some of the Crusaders themselves plundered the
Before grounding much of the remaining
sculpture of the Mausoleum into lime for plaster the Knights removed
several of the best works and mounted them in the Bodrum castle. There
they stayed for three centuries. At that time the British ambassador
obtained several of the statutes from the castle, which now reside in the
In 1846 the Museum sent the
archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton to search for more remains of
the Mausoleum. He had a difficult job. He didn't know the exact location
of the tomb and the cost of buying up all the small parcels of land in the
area to look for it would have been astronomical. Instead Newton studied
the accounts of ancient writers like Pliny to obtain the approximate size
and location of the memorial, then bought a plot of land in the most
likely location. Digging down, Newton explored the surrounding area
through tunnels he dug under the surrounding plots. He was able to locate
some walls, a staircase, and finally three of the corners of the
foundation. With this knowledge, Newton was able to figure out which plots
of land he needed to buy.
Newton then excavated the site and found
sections of the reliefs that decorated the wall of the building and
portions of the stepped roof. Also a broken stone chariot wheel, some
seven feet in diameter, from the sculpture on the roof was discovered.
Finally, he found the statues of Mausolus and Artemisia that had stood at
the pinnacle of the building.
Today these works of art stand in the
Mausoleum Room at the British Museum. There the images of Mausolus and his
queen forever watch over the few broken remains of the beautiful tomb she
built for him.