Bodrum was called Halicarnassus of Caria in ancient times. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, The Mausoleum of Mausolus, was here.
As a place where people have lived continuously for thousands of years, Bodrum has an incredibly deep history. Its position in or near so many of the great civilizations and events of ancient history also makes Bodrum (Bodrum’s ancient name was Halicarnassus) an important site for historians. Finding one source of complete historical information on Halicarnassus is apparently impossible, so the account that follows is a distillation from several sources.

The Father of History, “Herodotus “, was born in Halicarnassus...

The first settlement in Bodrum which left structural evidence behind was on the rocky little island where the Castle of St. Peter now stands (the castle was once surrounded by sea). When the Knights of St. John arrived to build their fortress, they found the ruins of an old castle, now known to have been built by the Dorians roughly around 1100 BC.

The Father of History, “Herodotus “, who lived in the 5th Century BC and was born in Halicarnassus, wrote that the Dorians came from the east coast of the Peloponnese (Troezen). They called their new island Zephyria and the settlement Zephyrium.

Historians have little evidence concerning the foundation of mainland Bodrum. The first known mention of it comes from the 7th Century BC. Halicarnassus was one of the six members of the Dorian Confederation of Hexapolis, along with the mainland city of Cnidos, the island of Cos, and three cities on Rhodes.

Establishing these cities was no easy task, as the Dorians were not the first people to inhabit this area. They had to fend off the continuous attacks of fierce Carians natives. Homer mentioned the Carians in his Iliad, calling them “barbarous of speech,” (as coincidence linguists note that the dialect of the region Halicarnassus is now part of has the harshest dialect in the West of Turkey). Early historians credit the Carians with having taught the Greeks the use of handles on shields and crests on helmets, which were previously slung over the shoulder.

One small alliance between the Carians and the Dorians came about when a Greek opened a tavern around the spring at Salmacis (now submerged in the western end of Bodrum harbor, in present-day Bardakci). Both Carians and Dorians became regular patrons, and the Carians eventually adopted a more orderly way of life from the colonists. Trade relations were established, and for a while the two races coexisted in peace.

Salmacis fountain water was said to have relaxing properties. Although excellent to drink, the water had the effect of making men effeminate and soft. These claims resulted in the Hermaphrodite legend.

The teenage son of the Goddess of Beauty (Aphrodite) was said to have spent a day swimming in a lake formed by the fountain. The nymph of the lake Salmacis, fell in love with him and begged the gods and goddesses to allow them to live together in a single body. They granted her wish, creating the half-woman – half-man figure of Hermaphrodite.

Herodotus wrote that Halicarnassus became increasingly aligned with a group of the Ionians (inland inhabitants). The misconduct of a Halicarnassian and this upset the other members of Hexapolis are considered a pretext for the city’s expulsion from the league. All six cities competed in games celebrated annually at Tropium in honor of God Apollo.

Halicarnassian named Agasides won a bronze trophy one year and refused to follow the custom of dedicating it on the spot to God Apollo.

He instead hung it on the wall of his own house, inciting the wrath of all other Dorian cities and giving them an excuse to cut off ties with Halicarnassus.

By the Fifth Century, BC Halicarnassus appeared purely Ionian as a character. Both Herodotus and the epic poet (his uncle Panyasis), wrote in Ionian, and no inscriptions from this period show any trace of the Doric dialect.

In 546 BC the Persians overran the Greek cities of the Aegean coast, and Halicarnassus fell with the rest. A series of dynasties then ruled in the Persians’ interest, Artemisia I, the most famous of these, began in 480 BC.

Herodotus in his writings gave this remarkable woman a lot of space. Of her unnecessary enlistment in the Xerxes navy fighting ranks when he was invading Greece, he wrote, “…. her manly daring sent her forth to the war ……..(her) participation in the attack upon Greece, notwithstanding that she was a woman, moves my special wonder.” She commandeered a battleship with such prowess that Xerxes was said to have remarked, “My men have shown themselves women and my women, men.”

Psyndalis (Artemisia’s son) succeeded her as ruler of Halicarnassus. While historians have little to say about the reign of Psyndalis, his son, Lydamis II, is remembered as an oppressive ruler and cruel. Herodotus left his homeland for the Samos Island, unable to tolerate the whims of this tyrant. In 1856 the archaeologist Sir Charles Newton found an inscription of a law enforced by Lydamis II which details his all intolerance of opposing political views.

We do not know why the tyrant fell or who succeeded Lydamis II, but great changes are known to have occurred by the 4th Century BC. Sometime during the previous century, the harness of Persian control was thrown off, but soon the “King’s Peace” treaty between Persia and Athens again put all Asia cities under Persian control. Persia divided the region into satraps and by 377 BC King Mausolus ruled as Governor of Caria or Satrap and Halicarnassus.

Until the rule of Mausolus Halicarnassus was a small city but Mausolus had a flair for ambitious projects, and he recognized the area’s natural advantages for commerce and fortification. He transferred his capital there from Mylasa (today site of Milas) and built long lines of massive walls all around Halicarnassus, parts of which still stand also today.

To populate the large new land, he forcibly transplanted the residents of six other nearby cities. Mausolus taxed his subjects heavily to pay for these and other grand-scale projects, and also imposed a levy on hair longer than shoulder length. the Antique Theater, one of his projects stands as the only surviving structure from Classical Age Bodrum.

Located on the southern slope of Mount Goktepe just above the middle of Bodrum, this theater is one of the oldest theatres in Anatolia. A Turkish team restored it in the 1960s and today the people of Bodrum still use the theater for concerts and festivals.

The visitor will find the theater a comfortable place to sit and contemplate Bodrum while watching boats enter the harbor and leave.

Interesting features of the theater include a stone altar once used before plays for sacrifices to the God of wine (Dionysus), and several holes cut through some of the seats, probably used for sunshades.

Allowing 40 cm of space per person, the theater could seat roughly 13.000. A short climb further up Goktepe brings one to several rock-cut and decorated tombs. Dating from the Hellenistic and Roman period, these excavated tombs once carried several sarcophagi, as well as mementos buried with the dead (some of which are on display in the Castle Museum).

One type of memento found in several graves was small tear jars. These thimble-sized cups were to collect tears from mourners and then left in the sarcophagi at the burial. The more cups a person had, the more popular he or she was. Mausolus passed away in 353 BC, succeeded by his wife-sister, Artemisia II.

She ruled for just 3 years, but she managed to accomplish two memorable feats. The 1st was to continue construction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Tomb of King Mausolus (mausoleum), the 2nd was a brilliant battle success rivaling that of Artemisia I. Many ancient writers and Pliny agreed that the mausoleum was a true wonder to behold. Easily visible from a good distance at sea, it stood about as high as a roughly 20 story building. Today, visitors to the mausoleum site will have to use their imagination to recreate its splendor. Although it stood intact for at least 1500 years, an earthquake finally reduced the mausoleum to ruins. And then the Knights of St. John arrived here and used the remains to construct parts of their castle. The generally agreed upon appearance of the mausoleum comprised of four parts and has it as oblong shaped; first, a solid base, then above a solid base a colonnade of 36 columns, then a pyramid with totally 24 steps on top of which rested an immense chariot occupied by statues of Artemisia and Mausolus and drawn by 4 horses. All four sides were full of sculptured friezes by the finest artists of today, and it was mostly the magnificence and abundance of these works which made the mausoleum such a spectacular sight. Fragments of them were shipped to the British Museum in the Castle’s Museum, but otherwise, column bases and little more than a few blocks remain (many of which are visible in the Castle’s walls).

Artemisia’s 2nd memorable feat was the capture of Rhodes. The Rhodians considered dealing with a woman Carian ruler an indignity, so they sent a fleet out to overthrow Artemisia. She received word of this plan and hid her own forces in a secret harbor near the main harbor. When the Rhodians landed and then went ashore, Artemisia had her own men sail the Rhodian ships back out to sea.

The Rhodian soldiers were slaughtered and surrounded in the marketplace while the Carians used their ships to sail to Rhodes Island.

The Rhodians, thinking their men were returning victorious and welcomed the enemy soldiers then soon their city fell into Carian hands.

Artemisia was followed by a couple of series of less than noteworthy successors. Alexander the Great began plundering Anatolia with remarkable speed and by the time he also reached Halicarnassus in 334 BC the Queen Orontabatis, Satrap of Caria, was already ready for him. This city was the last chance for the Persians to make a stand against Alexander in the Aegean region, so Orontabatis had assembled a very large Persian force, bolstered by Greek mercenaries.

Historians Arrian and Diodius note that both sides fought fiercely, with the Halicarnassians putting up an obstinate resistance much resented by Alexander the Great.

His forces finally penetrated the city walls and he ordered it burned and sacked (though he spared the inhabitants) as punishment for such bothersome resistance.

The imported citizens of the six inland cities were sent back to their original homes, while Orontabatis and her Persian partner, Memnon, held on in castles at Zephysia and Salmacis on the west and the east ends of the main harbor. They maintained these positions for about 1 year, with the remainder of their navy occupying Cos. When they fell Alexander the Great restored power to Ada, a former Satrap who had previously been overthrown.

Halicarnassus (Bodrum) never regained its stature after Alexander’s conquest. The history becomes less detailed for a while, but we know that in the 3rd Century BC it came under the control of Ptolemy II of Egypt, who had many warships built there. When Rome conquered it in 190 BC Halicarnassus became a real free city. This independence lasted until 129 BC when Rome included Caria land in its reorganization of Asia.

By 400 AD, with the rise of Christianity and the fall of Rome, Halicarnassus had developed into a Diocese connected to the Archbishopric of Aphrodisias. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Empire prospered with Constantinople (it’s capital), located where Istanbul now stands. This sprawling empire soon included North Africa, Spain, and Italy, but the days of global prominence were over for the Bodrum area. Historians make little note of it again until the 11th AD when the Turks took over this region. The Byzantines captured it during the First Crusade in 1096, but the Turks retook it in 3 years.

In 1523 the Suleyman the Magnificent (greatest of all the Sultans), expelled the Knights from Bodrum.

The region known as Caria towards the end of the 13th Century became the Province of Menteshe dynasty and was annexed to the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Beyazit in 1392. Meanwhile, the Knights of St. John had their castle at Smyrna (present-day Izmir) in 1402 destroyed by the Mongol leader Tamerlane and demanded land from Turkish Sultan Mehmet Celebi as compensation. They were given Halicarnassus, built a new castle there, and controlled the town for over a century.

In 1523 the Suleyman the Magnificent ‘greatest of all the Sultans’, expelled the Knights. The Ottoman Empire flourished during Suleyman’s 40 years reign, but a long period of decline and internal crisis followed.

In 1770, Bodrum itself suffered shelling by the Russian Navy and it was used as a Turkish Naval Base during the Greek revolt of 1824. During the 1st World War, the French battleship “Duplex” tried to make a landing and fired on Bodrum, but the feisty inhabitants prevented this. The Ottoman Empire lost the Bodrum area to Italy, however, and in 1919 Italian forces occupied the town.

The imminent success of the Turkish war of independence drove the Italians out by 1922 and Bodrum finally became what its beautiful surroundings seem meant for, a place to enjoy life and relax.

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