In 377 B.C., the city of Hallicarnassos 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 southwestern Asia Minor.
Mausolus, with his queen Artemisia, ruled over Hallicarnassos 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 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. 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 center 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 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, 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 roof.
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 Hallicarnassos. 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.
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 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 Hallicarnassos 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 rumors of a Turkish invasion caused Crusaders to strengthen the castle at Hallicarnassos (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 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.
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.