The word mausoleum is nowadays defined as “a special building made to hold the dead body of an important person or the deceased bodies of a family”. This word is derived from the name Mausolus, for whom the original ‘Mausoleum’ was built. Located in modern day Bodrum, Turkey, the Mausoleum is one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’. Due to this status, the Mausoleum is one of the most well-known structures in the ancient world. After the Great Pyramid of Giza, this is the longest surviving Wonder, having stood for more than a millennium and a half.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was built for Mausolus, the second ruler of Caria from the Hecatomnid dynasty (and nominally a Persian satrap) who died in 353 BC. As the man who refounded Halicarnassus, Mausolus was entitled to receive cultic honours and a tomb on the central square of his city, in accordance with Greek custom. The person in charge of this project was Mausolus’ grieving widow, Artemisia II, who, incidentally, was also his sister.
The design of the Mausoleum is said to have taken its inspiration from the early 4 th century BC Nereid Monument of Lycian Xanthos, albeit on a much grander scale. The Greek architects Satyros and Pytheos were said to have been invited by Artemisia from Greece to design the overall shape of the Mausoleum, whilst the sculptors Byraxis, Leocharis, Timotheus, and Scopas of Paros were in charge of the decorations of the monument. Working under them were hundreds of other workmen and craftsmen. The end result was a wonder built in the styles of three different cultures – Greek, Lycian and Egyptian.
Perhaps for maximum visibility, the Mausoleum was built on top of a hill overlooking the city. A stone platform was first built, and was enclosed with a courtyard. The top of this platform was reached by a flight of stairs flanked by stone lions. Along the outer walls of the courtyard were statues of various gods and goddesses, whilst mounted stone warriors were stationed at each corner. At the center of the platform was the Mausoleum itself. Whilst the building was constructed of bricks, it was covered with white Proconnesian marble, giving it a splendid look.
The first 1/3 of the Mausoleum was a square, tapering block covered with relief sculptures. These reliefs included standard images from the Greek repertoire, including the Centauromachy (the battle between the Lapiths and centaurs) and the Amazonomachy (the battle between the Greeks and Amazons). The next 1/3 of the monument consisted of a set of 36 Ionic columns. Between each column was a statue, and a solid block was constructed behind the columns to bear the bear the weight of the structure’s roof. This roof, which covered the final 1/3 of the building, was a step pyramid with 24 levels, topped with a sculpture of Mausolus and Artemisia riding a four-horsed chariot.
Whilst the conquest of Alexander the Great several decades later brought the Hecatomnid dynasty to an end, the Mausoleum outlived the dynasty for over a millennium. During the 13 th century, a series of earthquakes destroyed the columns, and brought the stone chariot crashing to the ground. By the early 15 th century, only the base of the structure was recognisable. By the end of the same century, and again in 1522, following rumors of a Turkish invasion, the Knights of St. John used the stones from the Mausoleum to fortify the walls of their castle in Bodrum. Additionally, much of the remaining sculptures were ground into lime for plaster, though some of the best works were salvaged and mounted in Bodrum castle. Several of these statues were later acquired by the British ambassador for the British Museum.
The location of the Mausoleum was subsequently lost, and was only rediscovered during the 19 th century by Charles Thomas Newton, who was working for the British Museum. Newton was successful in his quest, and managed to locate some walls, a staircase, and three of the corners of the foundation. In addition, Newton also discovered sections of reliefs that decorated the wall of the building, portions of the stepped roof, a broken chariot wheel from the sculpture on the roof, and two statues believed to have been in that chariot. These objects were then taken to London, where they are still on display in the British Museum, though the Turkish authorities are seeking to have them repatriated. They are the last remnants of a once spectacular monument that had the ancient world in awe.
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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. Then Mausolus during his reign extended the territory even further so that it eventually included most of southwestern Asia Minor.
Mausolus, with his queen Artemisia, ruled over Halicarnassus and the surrounding territory for 24 years. Though he was descended from the local people, Mausolus 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.
Seven Quick Facts
Location: Halicarnassus (Modern Bodrum, Turkey)
Built: Around 350 B.C.
Function: Tomb for the City King, Mausolus
Destroyed: Damaged by earthquakes in 13th century A.D. . Final destruction by Crusaders in 1522 A.D.
Size: 140 feet (43m) high.
Made of: White Marble
Other: Built in a mixture of Egyptian, Greek and Lycian styles
Then in 353 B.C. Mausolus died, leaving his queen Artemisia, who was also his sister, broken-hearted (It was the custom in Caria for rulers to marry their own sisters). 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 throughout the world through the word mausoleum. The building, rich with statuary and carvings in relief, was so beautiful and unique it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
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. These included architects Satyros and Pytheos who designed the overall shape of the tomb. Other famous sculptors invited to contribute to the project were Bryaxis, Leochares, Timotheus and Scopas of Paros (who was responsible for rebuilding the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, another of the wonders). According to the historian Pliny Bryaxis, Leochares, Timotheus and Scopas each took one side of the tomb to decorate. Joining these sculptors were also hundreds of other workmen and craftsmen. Together they finished the building in the styles of three different cultures: Egyptian, Greek and Lycian.
The tomb was erected on a hill overlooking the city. The whole structure sat in the center of an enclosed courtyard on a stone platform. A staircase, flanked by stone lions, led to the top of this platform. Along the outer wall of the courtyard were many statues depicting gods and goddesses. At each corner stone warriors, mounted on horseback, guarded the tomb.
A map of the city of Halicarnassus drawn by the archeologist J D Barbié du Bocage in 1802 showing the tomb in the middle of the city.
At the center 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 women. On top of this section of the tomb thirty-six slim columns 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 roof.
The roof, which comprised most of the final third of the height, was in the form of a stepped pyramid with 24 levels. Perched on top was the tomb's penultimate work of sculpture craved by Pytheos: Four massive horses pulling a chariot in which images of Mausolus and Artemisia rode.
The City in Crisis
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 harbor. 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.
Video: In Honor of the King: The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
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 defense 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 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 was 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 in the 13th century 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.
Destruction by the Crusaders
Crusaders, who had little respect for ancient culture, occupied the city from the thirteen century onward and recycled much of the building stone into their own structures. In 1522 rumors of a Turkish invasion caused Crusaders to strengthen the castle at Halicarnassus (which was by then known as Bodrum) and some of the remaining portions of the tomb were broken up and used within the castle walls. Indeed, sections of polished marble from the tomb can still be seen there today.
Another interpretation of the Mausoleum. Copyright Lee Krystek, 1998
At this time a party of knights entered the base of the monument and discovered the room containing a great coffin. Deciding it was too late to open it that day, the party 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 graves.
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 British Museum.
Remains Located by Charles Newton
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 additional plots of land he needed to buy.
Marble from the tomb can still be seen in Bodrum Castle even today. (Released into public domain by Horvat)
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 from the sculpture on the roof, some seven feet in diameter, was discovered. Finally, he found two statues which he believed were the ones of Mausolus and Artemisia which had stood at the pinnacle of the building. Ironically, the earthquake the toppled them to the ground saved them. They were hidden under sediment and thus avoided the fate of being pulverized into mortar for the Crusaders castle.
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.