published on 18 January 2012
The term mausoleum, since the Roman era, has meant any large-scale tomb. It is what we think of today as a big marble building that houses the remains of the deceased. The term mausoleum, though, has very specific origins that can be traced back to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. This monument was the grandiose tomb of Maussollos, the king of Caria (a province in the Persian Empire) and a Governor for the king of Persia in the mid fourth century B.C. Completed in 350 BC, it was likely built by Maussollos' wife/sister Artemisia on the coast of Halicarnassus, the capital city of his territory. Hailed for its opulence and architectural splendor, the tomb was a dedication from a grieving widow to her beloved husband.
The enormity of its size and the degree of the magnificence of the sculptural decoration on the Mausoleum were the key reasons that it was named an ancient wonder by Antipater of Sidon. Designed by Greek architects Satyrus and Pythius, the tomb was a testament to the Classical Greek architectural and artistic tradition.
Being admirers of all things Greek, Maussollos and Artemisia planned for their capital city to be an homage to Classical Greek art and architecture, with columned buildings constructed of marble, and showcasing Greek sculptural styles. Their city of Halicarnassus featured a Greek theatre and temples to the Greek gods.
When Maussollos died in 353 BC, a devastated Artemisia made sure that the construction of her husband/brother's Greek-inspired tomb (which was likely begun while he was still alive) was completed with no expense spared. She commissioned famous Greek sculptors such as Bryaxis and Timotheus to create fantastic reliefs, enlisted Greek architect and sculptor Scopas to oversee construction, and hired hundreds of workers to complete it. When completed, the colossal structure measured over 130 feet high.
The Mausoleum was built on a hill that kept watch over Maussollos' beloved city, surrounded by a courtyard. Statues of the Greek gods lined the walls of the courtyard, and stone warriors guarded the building (centered in the courtyard) at the four corners. The marble tomb was centered on the platform, and was a square, narrowing block that rose into the air. Relief sculpture depicting historical and mythical Greek battles covered this area.
Atop the tomb sat 36 marble columns that encased a solid block that distributed the weight of the roof. The roof was a stepped pyramid upon which four horses pulling Maussollos and Artemisia in a chariot sat. The sight of the tomb would have been impressive and imposing.
The tomb remained relatively undamaged until the 13th century AD when the upper portions were damaged by an earthquake. In 1494, the Knights of St. John used the remainder of it in order to fortify their castle at Bodrum.
With virtually no physical evidence of the tomb left in situ, several sources have been used to aid in reconstructing the Mausoleum faithfully. Accounts of ancient writers, surviving sculptures and stones used in other structures (such as at Bodrum), and excavations of the area where the Mausoleum sat have all contributed to the reconstruction (on paper) of this massive achievement in ancient history.