Artemisia and the Authorship of The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Kirsten Day

University of Arkansas

According to Strabo (14.2.16-17), Pliny (36.4.30), Lucian (29 (24)), and Aulus Gellius (10.18.4), the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was constructed by the Hecatomnid queen Artemisia to commemorate the memory of her brother-husband Mausolus.  Modern sources, however, regularly strip Artemisia of credit for this monument through omission (OCD 2003: 939), implication (Jongkees 1948: 32; Cook 2005: 1-2), or active argumentation (Hornblower 1982: 238-44, 267; Ruzicka 1992: 51, 102-03). This paper reexamines the ancient evidence and argues that the ancient writers' attribution of the tomb's construction should not be dismissed so summarily.

Modern scholars who dispute Artemisia's responsibility for the Mausoleum base their arguments primarily on two points: that Artemisia's sole regency lasted only two years, a period insufficient for the tomb's completion, and that the location of the monument seems to have been taken into account in the city plan, a project generally attributed to Mausolus. Before her independent rule, however, Artemisia acted as co-regent with her husband for over twenty years.  Even if Mausolus' city plan took the tomb's construction into account and work commenced before Mausolus' death, Artemisia, as co-regent, might well have been responsible for the project, a supposition that derives circumstantial support from a passage in Pliny (36.4.31) which suggests that her role in the project was considerable.

Moreover, the physical evidence supports the ancient writers' attribution as well.  A number of modern scholars have suggested that the large-scale female statuary on the Mausoleum is intended to represent past and present members of the Hecatomnid family (Higgs 1997: 32-33; Waywell 1997: 60), and indeed, there are indications that these statues were constructed as individualized portraits (Smith 1916: 69; Higgs 1997: 32).  If so, these statues would have served a double function, honoring Mausolus through their mourning gestures, and anchoring Artemisia in a long and illustrious ancestral line reaching back to the more famous Artemisia of Halicarnassus who fought for Xerxes at the Battle of Salamis. The sculptural program, therefore, would have served to legitimize Artemisia's claim to sole power in much the same way as the statuary of the exedrae of the Temple of Mars Ultor in Rome and the parade of heroes in Book VI of Virgil's Aeneid did for Augustus (Zanker 1988: 211-15).  Anecdotes preserved in Pliny (25.36.73) and Vitruvius (2.8.15) support this idea by demonstrating that Artemisia elsewhere exhibited this same sort of flair for self-promotion. 

Artemisia is represented in ancient sources as a passionate, ambitious woman with a head for political matters, military strategy, and self-advertisement. The tendency of modern scholars to dismiss the ancient accounts of her responsibility for the Mausoleum without sufficient justification denigrates both Artemisia and the ancient tradition.  This issue deserves a further look in order to restore to Artemisia the credit and respect afforded her in the ancient world.


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