As a place where people have lived continuously for thousands of years Bodrum has an incredibly rich past. Its position in or near so many of the great civilization and events of ancient history also makes Halicarnassus (Bodrum’s ancient name) an important site for historians. Finding one source of complete historical information on Bodrum is apparently impossible, so the account that follows is a distillation from several sources.
Herodotus, the “Father of History”, was born in Halicarnassus…
The first settlement in this area which left structural evidence behind was on the rocky little island where the Castle of St. Peter now stands (the castle was once completely surrounded by water). When the Knights of St. John arrived to build their fortress, they found the ruins of an older castle, now known to have been built by the Dorians around 1100 BC.
Herodotus, the “Father of History”, who lived in the Fifth Century BC and was born in Halicarnassus, wrote that the Dorians came from Troezen on the east coast of the Peloponnese. They called their new island Zephyria and the settlement Zephyrium.
Historians have little evidence concerning the foundation of mainland Halicarnassus. The first known mention of it comes form the Seventh Century BC. Halicarnassus was one of six members in 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 the area. They had to fend off the continuous attacks of fierce natives known as Carians. Homer mentioned the Carians in his Iliad, calling them “barbarous of speech,” (as coincidence linguists note that the dialect of the region Bodrum 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 crests on helmets and handles on shields, which were previously slung over the shoulder.
One small alliance between the Dorians and the Carians 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 Dorians and Carians 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.
The waters of the Salmacis fountain were said to have relaxing properties. Rumor hat it that the water, though excellent to drink, had the effect of making men soft and effeminate, sometimes even impotent. These claims resulted in the legend of Hermaphrodite.
The teenaged son of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty, was said to have spent a day swimming in a lake formed by the fountain. Salmacis, the nymph of the lake, fell in love with him and begged the gods to allow them to live together in a single body. They granted her wish, creating the half-man half-woman figure of Hermaphrodite.
Herodotus wrote that Halicarnassus became increasingly aligned with a group of inland inhabitants, the Ionians. This upset the other members of Hexapolis, and the misconduct of a Halicarnassian is considered a pretext for the city’s expulsion from the league. All six cities competed in games celebrated annually at Tropium in honor of Apollo. A. Halicarnassian named Agasides won a bronze trophy one year and refused to follow the custom of dedicating it on the spot to Apollo. He instead hung it on the wall of his house, inciting the wrath of the other Dorian cities and giving them an excuse to cut off ties with Halicarnassus.
By the Fifth Century BC Halicarnassus appeared purely Ionian in character. Both Herodotus and his uncle Panyasis the epic poet, 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 coast, and Halicarnassus fell with the rest. A series of dynasties then ruled in the Persians’ interest, the most famous of these, that of Artemisia I, began in 480 BC.
Herodotus gave this remarkable woman a lot of space in his writings. Of her unnecessary enlistment in the fighting ranks of Xerxes navy 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.”
Artemisia’s son Psyndalis succeeded her as ruler of Halicarnassus (as well as Cos and several other islands). While historians have little to say about the reign of Psyndalis, his son, Lydamis II, is remembered as a cruel and oppressive ruler. Herodotus left his homeland for the island of Samos, 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 total intolerance of opposing political views.
We do not know who succeeded Lydamis II or why the tyrant fell, but great changes are known to have occurred by the Fourth Century BC. Sometime during the previous century the harness of Persian control was thrown off, but soon the “King’s Peace” treaty between Athens and Persia again put the cities of Asia under Persian control. Persia divided the region into ‘satrapes’ and by 377 BC King Mausolus ruled as Satrap or Governor of Caria and Halicarnassus.
Until Mausolus’ rule Halicarnassus was a fairly small city but Mausolus had a flair for ambitious projects and he recognized the area’s natural advantages for fortification and commerce. He transferred his capital there from Mylasa (site of present-day Milas) and built long lines of massive walls around Halicarnassus, parts of which still stand today. To populate the large new area 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 even imposed a levy on hair longer than shoulder length. One of his projects stands as the only surviving structure from Classical Age Bodrum, the Antique Theater. Located on the southern slope of Mt. Goktepe just above the middle of Bodrum, this theater is one of the oldest in Anatolia. A Turkish team restored it in the 1960’s and today the people of Bodrum still use the theater for festivals.
The visitor will find the theater a comfortable place to sit and contemplate Bodrum while watching boats leave and enter the harbor. Interesting features of the theater include a stone altar once used before plays for sacrifices to Dionyus, and several holes cut through some of the seats, probably used for sun shades. Allowing 40 cm of space per person, the theater could seat 13.000. A short climb further up Goktepe brings one to several rock-cut tombs. Dating from the Roman and Hellenistic period, these excavated tombs once carried several sarcophagi, as well as mementos buried with the dead (some which are on display in the Castle Museum).
One type of memento found in several graves were small ‘tearcups’. These thimble-sized cups were to collect tears from mourners, then left in the tomb at burial. The more cups a person had, the more popular he was. Mausolus died in 353 BC, succeeded by his wife-sister, Artemisia II.
She ruled for only three years, but she managed to accomplish two memorable feats. The first was to continue construction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Tomb of King Mausolus (from which we derived our word ‘mausoleum’). The second was a brilliant battle success rivaling that of Artemisia I.
Pliny and other ancient writers 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 20-story building. Visitors to the mausoleum site today will have to use their imagination to recreate its splendor. Although it stood intact for at least 1500 years, an earthquake finally reduced it to ruins. Then the Knights of St. John arrived and used the remains to construct parts of their castle.
The generally agreed upon appearance of the mausoleum has it as oblong shaped and comprised of four parts; first, a solid base, then above this a colonnade of 36 columns, then a pyramid with 24 steps on top of which rested an immense chariot occupied by statues of Mausolus and Artemisia and drawn by four horses. All four sides were full of sculptured friezes by the finest artists of the day, and it was mostly the abundance and magnificence 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 little more than a few blocks and column bases remain (many of which are visible in the Castle’s walls).
Artemisia’s second memorable feat was the capture of Rhodes. The Rhodians considered dealing with a woman Carian ruler an indignity (as well as, perhaps, an opportunity), so they sent a fleet out to overthrow her. Artemisia received word of this plan and hid her own forces in a secret harbor near the main harbor. When the Rhodians landed and went ashore, Artemisia had her own men sail the Rhodian ships back out to sea. The Rhodian soldiers were surrounded and slaughtered in the marketplace while the Carians used their ships to sail to Rhodes. The Rhodians, thinking their men were returning victorious, welcomed the enemy soldiers and soon their city fell into Carian hands. Artemisia was followed by a series of less than noteworthy successors.
Alexander the Great began plundering Anatolia with remarkable speed and by the time he reached Halicarnassus in 334 BC the Queen Orontabatis, Satrap of Caria, was ready for him. This city was the last chance for the Persians to make a stand against Alexander in the Aegean area, so Orontabatis had assembled a large Persian force, bolstered by Greek mercenaries. Historians Diodius and Arrian note that both sides fought fiercely, with the Halicarnassians putting up an obstinate resistance much resented by Alexander. His forces finally penetrated the city’s walls and he ordered it sacked and burned (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 Salmacis and Zephysia on the east and west ends of the main harbor. They maintained these positions for about a year, with the remainder of their navy occupying Cos. When they fell Alexander restored power to Ada, a former Satrap who had previously been overthrown.
Halicarnassus never regained its stature after Alexander’s conquest. The history becomes less detailed for a while, but we know that in the Third Century BC it came under control of Ptolemy II of Egypt, who had warships built there. When Rome conquered it in 190 BC Halicarnassus became a free city. This independence lasted until 129 BC when Rome included Caria in its reorganization of Asia.
By 400 AD, with the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity, Halicarnassus had developed into a Diocese connected to the Archbishopric of Aphrodisias. Meanwhile the Byzantine Empire prospered with its capital, Constantinople, located where Istanbul now stands. This sprawling empire soon included North Africa, Italy and Spain, but the days of global prominence were over for the Bodrum area. Historians make little note of it again until the 11th Century, when the Turks took over the region. The Byzantines captured it during the first Crusade in 1096, but the Turks retook it three years later.
In 1523 the ‘greatest of all the Sultans’, Suleyman the Magnificent, expelled the Knights from Bodrum
Towards the end of the 13th Century the region known as Caria became the Province of Menteshe and was annexed to the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Beyazit in 1392. Meanwhile the Knights of St. John had their castle at Symira (present-day Izmir) destroyed by the Mongol leader Tamerlane in 1402 and demanded land from Turkish Sultan Mehmet Celebi as compensation. They were given Halicarnassus, built a new castle there, and controlled the town (which they called Mesy) for over a Century.
In 1523 the ‘greatest of all the Sultans’, Suleyman the Magnificent, expelled the Knights. The Ottoman Empire flourished during Suleyman’s 40 year reign but a long period of internal crisis and decline followed.
Bodrum itself suffered a shelling by the Russian Navy in 1770 and it was used as a Turkish Naval Base during the Greek revolt of 1824. During the First World War the French battleship “Duplex” fired on Bodrum and tried to make a landing, but the feisty inhabitants prevented this. The Ottoman Empire lost the Bodrum area to Italy, however, and Italian forces occupied the town in 1919. 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 relax and enjoy life.