The tomb of King Mausolos, known as the Mausoleum, was a structure impressive enough to merit inclusion among the seven wonders of the ancient world, and its name has passed into many European languages to describe any imposing funereal structure. It was designed by the Greek architect Pythios (some sources credit Satyros also) and decorated with works by the sculptors Scopas, Bryaxis, Timotheus, and Leochares. Because it survived for sixteen centuries, descriptions abound; combined with archeological evidence, they provide a good idea of the monument’s appearance.
Mausolos (reigned ca. 377–353 b.c.) was a Persian satrap (governor) of Caria in southwestern Anatolia—a region so remote from the Persian capital that it was virtually independent. With a view to extending his power, Mausolos moved his capital from Mylasa in the interior to the coastal site of Halicarnassos, with its key position on the sea routes and large safe harbor, on the Gulf of Cerameicus. In 362 b.c. he joined the ill-starred rebellion of the Anatolian satraps against Artaxerxes II, but anticipating defeat, withdrew from the alliance in time. From then on he became the almost autonomous king of a large domain including Lycia and several Ionian cities northwest of Caria, later forming coalitions with the island city-states of Rhodes and Cos.
Mausolos undertook major urban design projects in Halicarnassos: a defense system, civic buildings, and a secret dockyard and canal. But the most interesting of all his public works was the planning of his great tomb. Conceived during his lifetime, it was initiated probably after his death by Artemisia II, who was at once his sister and his widow, and who for three years was sole ruler of Caria. She died in 350 b.c. and was buried with Mausolos in the uncompleted tomb. According to Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79), the craftsmen, realizing that the tomb was a monument to their own creativity, elected to finish the work after their patroness died.
Sited on a hill above Halicarnassos, the tomb rose 140 feet (43 meters) into the air from the center of a stone podium in an enclosed courtyard. A stair flanked by lions led to the top of this platform, whose outer walls were arrayed with statues, including an equestrian warrior at each corner. Its rectangular, tapered pedestal of white marble, with base dimensions of about 120 by 100 feet (37 by 30 meters), was 60 feet (18.3 meters) high. Its faces were carved with reliefs of Greek legends, including battles between centaurs and Lapiths, and Greeks and Amazons. The pedestal supported a colonnade of thirty-six 38-foot-high (11.6-meter) Ionic columns that housed a sarcophagus of white alabaster decorated with gold in a burial chamber. The tomb was roofed with a 22-foot-high (6-meter) stone pyramid of 24 steep steps, crowned with a 20-foot (6-meter) marble chariot bearing statues of Mausolos and Artemisia. Sculptured friezes of people, lions, horses, and other animals adorned every level of the Mausoleum; tradition has it that each of the famous sculptors was responsible for a side.
Under Memnon of Rhodes, Halicarnassos resisted Alexander the Great in 334 b.c. But it successively fell to Antigonus I (311 b.c.), Lysimachus (after 301 b.c.), and the Ptolemies (281–197 b.c.), after that retaining its independence until the Roman conquest in 129 b.c. Throughout all this conflict and for 1,600 years, the Mausoleum remained intact until a series of earthquakes shattered the columns and damaged the roof, bringing down the stone chariot. By the fifteenth century a.d. only the base remained. When the Crusader Knights of St. John of Malta invaded the region, they built a castle on the site and in 1494 used the stones of the Mausoleum to fortify it against an expected Turkish invasion.
Within twenty-five years almost every block of stone had been placed in the walls of their Castle of St. Peter the Liberator. Before grinding much of the Mausoleum’s surviving sculpture into lime for plaster, the knights selected many of the pieces to adorn their castle. They renamed the city Mesy; today the ancient site is occupied by the town of Bodrum.In 1846 Charles Newton of the British Museum began a search for vestiges of the Mausoleum. By 1857 he had uncovered sections of the reliefs and pieces of the roof. He also found a broken wheel from the stone chariot and, finally, the statues of Mausolos and Artemisia that had ridden in it for twenty-one centuries. All that remains of this wonder of the ancient world can now be found in the Mausoleum Room of the British Museum.