HALICARNASSUS, ancient town of Caria, near the present-day city of Bodrum, once seat of a kingdom which was a tributary of Persia. It was located on the Aegean Sea, in southwestern Turkey, in an inlet of the peninsula between the Sinus Iassicus and the Sinus Ceramicus. The famous historians Herodotus and Dionysius were born there. It was a colony of the Dorians of Trezenes and constituted the capital of the Dorian Esapolis, minting coins from the 6th century B.C.E. up to the time of the Emperor Gordianus (238-44 C.E.). Lost by Athens during the Peloponnesian War, the town was taken back by Trasibulus in 389 B.C.E. and then became the seat of the kings, who were tributaries of the Persians, though culturally related to Greece. Excavations have revealed 5000 years of history and many different civilizations.

When the Achaemenids expanded their ancient kingdom to include Mesopotamia, northern India, Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor, like many other provinces, Caria was so far from the capital that it was practically autonomous. From 377 to 353 B.C.E., King Mausolus (Mausollos) reigned and moved his capital to Halicarnassus, which in 333 B.C.E. was besieged, taken, and burned by Alexander; later the town was conquered by Pharnabazus, a general of Darius III, and again by Alexander; from 290 to 200 it was kept by the Tolomeans, again achieving freedom in 197, and from 129 it was included in the Roman province of Asia.

Halicarnassus is mentioned in the Roman republican period (I Mach., xv, 23; Flavius Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae 14.23) and in the “Notitae Episcopatuum” until the 12th or 13th century. Michel Lequien (I, p. 913) mentions three bishops: Calandion, Julian, and Theoctistus and, at the second Council of Nicaea in 787, the deacon Nicetas represented the diocese.

When around 1300 the Turks overran western Asia Minor, the area came under the rule of the Begs of Men-teşe. The Ottoman Sultan Bāyazid I seized the emirate of Menteşe in 1390 but lost it after his defeat at the hands of Timur at the battle of Ankara in 1402. The second and definitive Ottomon conquest of the Menteše emirate in 1424 did not include the old Halicarnassus; the knights of St. John at Rhodes, under their grand master Philibert de Naillac (1396-1421), had meanwhile occupied the site and built the fortress Castellum Sancti Petri. The name Bodrum would derive either from the vault-like arcades present in the ruins of Halicarnassus (cf. Tk. bodrum “a subterranean vault, a cellar”) or from (Sanctum) Petrum, a form of the Latin name of the new fortress.

When the castle was fortified in 1494, the Crusaders, who had occupied the city since the 13th century, recycled the broken stones of the Mausoleum into their own buildings. The Venetian admiral Pietro Mocenigo, during his campaigns in the eastern Mediterranean in 1471-74, ravaged the Ottoman-held hinterland of Bodrum. In 1480, the Ottomans attempted to take the Castle of St. Peter. Bodrum came under Ottoman rule only in 1522, when the knights of St. John, after a long and desperate resistance, surrendered. A naval engagement took place in the harbor of Bodrum during the Ottoman-Venetian war of 1645, and later Bodrum was bombarded by the Russian fleet during the Ottoman-Russian war of 1768. It was again bombarded during the First World War, the fortress sustaining considerable damage, but it was repaired when Italian forces occupied the town in 1919-20. Bodrum, under Ottoman rule, belonged to the sanjaq of Menteşe in the eyālat of Anadolu. It had later the status of a qażā, when it was subordinated, in 1864, to the newly formed welāyat of Aydïn (Smyrna). The town is now included in the Turkish province of Muğla.

The topography of the ancient city is very well known, thanks to the description of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (II, p. 8). According to him, the place was similar to the sloping semicircle of a theater: in the lower part, near the harbour, the Forum was located; in the middle part, a large road as the praecintio; in the center, the Mausoleum; and in the acropolis, an oblong platform (ca. 8.75m x 12.5m) with the remains of the foundation of a watchtower (erroneously considered as the Ares temple). On the top, to the right, the temples of Aphrodites and Hermes were located near the Salmakis, and, to the left, was the royal palace of Mausolus.

Other monuments have been, furthermore, recognized as the Ionic temple of Ares, the Doric columns of a portico, probably the stoa of Apollo from the 3rd century, a Roman mosaic, remains of a gymnasium, foundations of the probable sanctuary of Demetra and Kore, mosaics of the 4th and 5th centuries C.E., and ruins of the Byzantine monastery of Haghia Marina.

Mausoleum. The project of building the Mausoleum was conceived by the wife and sister of Mausolus, Artemisia, and the construction might have started during the king’s lifetime and was completed around 350 B.C.E., that is, three years after his death and one year after Artemisia’s death.

The knights of St. John removed several of the best works and mounted them in the Bodrum castle, where they stayed for three centuries. At that time the British ambassador obtained several of the statues from the castle, which now are kept in the British Museum, including fragments of statues and slabs of the frieze showing the battle of the Centaurs with the Lapiths and that of the Greeks with Amazons. Thirty-six slim columns, nine per side, rose on the top of the mausoleum for another third of its height. Standing in between each column was a 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, according to most scholars, there were the images of Mausolus and Artemisia.

The structure was rectangular in plan, with base dimensions of about 40 x 30 m (120 x 100 ft.). The total height of the Mausoleum was 45 m (140 ft.). The beauty of the Mausoleum was not only in the structure itself, but also in the decorations and statues that adorned the outside at different levels on the podium and the roof. These were tens of life-size, as well as smaller and larger than life-size, free-standing statues of people, lions, horses, and other animals. The statues were carved by four Greek sculptors: Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus, each responsible for one side. Because the statues were of people and animals, the Mausoleum holds a special place in history, as it was not dedicated to the gods of Ancient Greece. The building was so beautiful and unique that it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The current term mausoleum, indicating a stately tomb, derives from the name of King Mausolus for whom that magnificent tomb was built. Since 1846, the British Museum has been conducting archeological excavations at the site. Charles Thomas Newton (1856-57), an archeologist and the curator of the Greek and Roman antiquities of the Museum, excavated the site in 1856-57, disinterring the remains of the Mausoleum.

The theater. The theater is another witness to the great past of Halicarnassus. Situated on the hillside overlooking Bodrum, it was built during the Carian reign in the Hellenistic age (330-30 B.C.E.). The theater, with a capacity of about 13,000 people, consists of three different sections: auditorium, orchestra, and stage. It became an open-air museum after the 1973 excavations.

The Myndos Gate and the town wall. The Myndos Gate, located on the west side of Bodrum, was one of the two entrances of ancient Halicarnassus. It was a part of the town’s wall, and was so named because it faced the ancient Myndos (now Gümüşlük). Only parts of the city walls remain today. Archeologists have undertaken extensive excavation and restoration. It is expected that the restoration of the entire town wall, nearly 4.5 km long, will take four to five years to be completed. According to Arrian (Anabasis, who described this gate and the siege of Alexander in 334, the gate had originally three towers (hence its description as Tripylum, the Triple Gate). It was also mentioned that in front of the gate was a ditch 8 m deep and 15 m long. The middle part of the gate is destroyed now but ruins from the two other parts still exist and consist of huge and heavy square stones. Tombs were found here and opened by Newton in the last century. They were made from burned clay, dating back to Hellenistic and Roman periods.



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(Bruno Genito)

Originally Published: December 15, 2003

Last Updated: March 1, 2012

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Vol. XI, Fasc. 6, pp. 585-587