Monumental Tombs: the Mausoleum again

While the poor were buried straight in the ground, the middle classes favoured plainish sarcophagi or rock cut tombs and the great more-or-less sumptuous sarcophagi, the very great were buried in imposing architectural structures, the finest of which were decorated with sculptures and bas-reliefs. Foremost of these in size was the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Despite its prominence the Mausoleum was far from being the first monumental tomb in Hellenized Turkey. Indeed, the basic design of a great podium and sculptural decoration surely stems from the Lycaean pillar tombs such as are to be seen at Xanthos.

Probably begun by Mausolus before his death in 353 BC, this structure incorporated the work of the most famous sculptors of the day and, with its square base, colonnade, pyramidal roof and rich sculptures set a fashion, the most enduring element of which was the adoption of Mausolus' name as that of any splendid tomb. Long destroyed, a smaller monument probably inspired by it survives in what was once part of Caria, and the capital of Mausolus' family, in Milas (SB1.2). This surely preserves the basic elements of many grand tombs, namely the tomb chamber at ground level, a peristyle of columns above, and a spectacular summit, in this case a small stepped pyramid representing the tall one on the Mausoleum itself, surmounted by a quadriga of which some elements have been preserved in the British Museum.

By far the tallest monument in Halicarnassus, the Mausoleum must have dominated the ancient city and been visible from far out to sea. Excavation has confirmed that there were prior burials on the site, which was probably once outside the city, according to ancient custom: but its siting in the very middle of the city can scarcely be accidental. A tomb within the city (a practice normally shunned by the Greeks), it was perhaps associated with a ruler or ancestor cult, as a deification of the late and great dead of the Hekatomnid family. In this case the Mausoleum is not just a tomb, but a heroon: a monument to a human being who, through his virtue and his deeds, has become a god.

The concept of the heroon was derived from further East. Elaborated architecturally by Hellenistic rulers, it was to be enthusiastically adopted by the Roman Emperors. Suitably transformed, it contributes toward the ethos of Christian sainthood. Both pagan and Christian versions generated some spectacular buildings. The buildings erected in honour of such heroes are perhaps part-temples, part-tombs; and because of the importance of the individual venerated, they are often splendidly decorated. Such was the case with the heroon (dated 370-350 BC) of the Lycian King Perikles on a spur overlooking the city of Limyra, and on the steep hairpin path between the city and the acropolis. Conceived as a temple, this structure stood on a high podium and its roof was supported at either short end not by columns but by caryatids, in the Greek manner. The body of the building was decorated by warlike friezes, and the roof capped by free-standing sculptures - again, very Greek in influence. Sufficient remains for a convincing reconstruction of this monument to have been made (details in Borchhardt 1976).

More impressive because its friezes and sculptures are in a better state (in the British Museum, not on site), is the Nereid Monument at Xanthos. Like the heroon at Limyra, this work (dated perhaps slightly after 400 BC) demonstrates the continuing prestige of classical Greek art and motifs. If the Nereid Monument is an heroon, then perhaps this is a clue to the fact that the Romans took good care to leave it intact, and to build their theatre and agora around it. Much the same happened at Limyra, where the Heroon of Perikles could not be avoided on the track from city to acropolis. In both cases, in other words, the tomb was also a temple, where veneration was regularly to take place.

Little of the Mausoleum remains at Bodrum, and the Milas tomb is tiny in comparison with its source. However, the tomb at Belevi (between Izmir and Ephesus) underlines the popularity of the structural type (SB7.4)^. And although the majority of rock-cut tombs are too small to count as monumental, Belevi, at about 25m in height (as against 45m for the Mausoleum itself), is a conspicuous exception, and gives the visitor a good idea of how impressive such large white marble structures would have been. The mausoleum stands on a bluff overlooking a valley, where once was a spur of solid rock. It is square, with a side of about 30 metres and a height of about 11 metres, and had protecting griffons on the roof. At first, it seems perverse for the builders to have excavated a passage of about three metres on three sides out of the living rock, and consequently dressed the rock face over at least 1,000 square metres, including a stepped podium. However, they must have calculated that this, together with the excavation of the burial chamber itself, was less work than providing cut blocks for the entire structure. The dressed rock, cut back to give a stepped podium, was then provided with a complete cladding, not in the grey-blue quartz of the core, but in gleaming white, crystalline marble. This was then graced with a colossal Order. While most blocks (on which the shifting bosses have been left in place - conceivably as decoration, or was it never finished?) are now covered with lichen, and so dark and dull, those which still clad the inside of the burial chamber are bright and precise. What is more, some clean sculpted blocks from the order lie around (10). The sarcophagus, with a reclining figure of the defunct on top, is now in the museum at Ephesus. This imposing structure, of gleaming marble, probably painted and even gilded, and framed by the green of its protecting hillside, must have been visible from miles away.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey