Halicarnassos

Definition

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published on 02 September 2009
Lion from Mausoleum at Halicarnassos (Bigdaddy1204)

Halicarnassos (modern Bodrum, Turkey) was an ancient Ionian Greek city of Caria, located on the Gulf of Cerameicus in Anatolia. According to tradition it was founded by Dorian Greeks of the Peloponnese. The most famous of her sons, the historian Herodotus, wrote that in early times the city participated in the Dorian festival of Apollo at Triopion, but the city’s literature and culture appear completely Ionic and Herodotus’ own Histories were written in Ionic Greek. Halicarnassos has become linked with the birth of written history as it was the native city of Herodotus, `The Father of History' but, in its time, it was better known as one of the great urban trade centers of Asia Minor. In the modern day the association of Halicarnassos and history is the most common, however. The historian Will Durant notes:

The great achievement of Periclean prose was history. In a sense it was the fifty century that discovered the past, and consciously sought for a perspective of man in time. In Herodotus, historiography has all the charm and vigor of youth (430).

The city, with its large sheltered harbor and key position on the sea routes, became the capital of the small kingdom, the most famous ruler of which was King Mausolus. His wife Artemisia built the great Tomb of Mausolus after his death, the so-called Mausoleum of Halicarnassos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Will Durant writes:

The sculptural masterpiece of the period [4th century BCE] was the great mausoleum dedicated to king Mausolus of Halicarnassus. Nominally a satrap of Persia, Mausolus had extended his personal sway over Caria and parts of Ionia and Lycia, and had used his rich revenues to build a fleet and beautify his capital (494).

Under the rule of Artemisia and Mausolus, the city underwent a great renewal in architecture and infrastructure as the monarchs wished their city to be the jewel of Anatolia.

Under the rule of Artemisia and Mausolus, the city underwent a great renewal in architecture and infrastructure as the monarchs wished their city to be the jewel of Anatolia. A great wall circuit, public buildings, and a secret dockyard and canal were built as well as many well-ordered roads and temples to the gods.

The city was besieged by Alexander the Great in 334 BCE (the famous Siege of Halicarnassos) where he almost suffered defeat (it would have been his only one) but, at the last minute, his infantry broke the walls and burned the Persian ships. The Persian commander, Memnon of Rhodes, realizing the city was lost, set fire to it and fled. The fire consumed most of the city. Alexander set his ally, Ada of Caria, to rule Halcarnassos and she, in turn, formally adopted him as her son so that his blood-line would always reign in the city he had taken from the Persians.

After Alexander’s death, however, rule of the city passed to Antigonus I (311 BCE), Lysimachus (after 301 BCE) and the Ptolemies (281–197 BCE) and was briefly an independent kingdom until 129 BCE when it came under Roman rule. A series of earthquakes destroyed much of the city as well as the great Mausoleum while repeated pirate attacks from the Mediterranean wreaked further havoc on the area.

By the time of the early Christian era, when Halicarnassos was an important Bishopric, there was little left of the shining city of Mausollos. In 1404 CE the Christian Knights of St. John used the ruins of the Mausoleum to build their castle in Bodrum (which still exists today and where one may still see the stones which once were part of a Wonder of the ancient world). The ruins of the city were extensively excavated in 1856–57 CE and again in 1865 CE and much of its great wall, the gymnasium, a late colonnade, a temple platform, rock-cut tombs and the site of the Mausoleum (littered with those stones not used by the knights) may still be seen today.



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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • c. 484 BCE - c. 413 BCE
    Life of the Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassos.
  • c. 415 BCE
    The Histories of Herodotus is published. The work is divided into nine chapters, each dedicated to one of the Muses.

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