Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/The tomb of Mausolus




While Greek ruins excite our attention as well as admiration, few people are aware of the rich works of art which have been lately deposited in the British Museum, and which have not yet been exhibited to the public. We allude to those Greek marbles, a portion of a building which has been called—and, from what now remains of it, probably most justly—one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This is the famous Mausoleum erected by Queen Artemisia to the memory of her husband, Mausolus, King of Caria, or rather of Halicarnassus. She loved him with such tender affection, and was so greatly afflicted at his death, that, according to the custom in those days, after his body had been burnt to ashes, historians tell us that she daily eat a portion of those ashes, and died soon after she had finished them.

However this may be, it is certain that she determined to erect a monument to his memory, sufficient at the same time to prove her own affection for one she so tenderly loved, and to show the world the estimation in which he was held by his subjects. Mausolus is said to have died immensely rich; and with his wealth his queen began to erect a monument, which she called a Mausoleum, after the name of her husband, and from which afterwards all magnificent sepulchres and tombs have received the same appellation. This celebrated Mausoleum was erected three hundred and fifty-three years before the birth of our blessed Saviour; and on reading the following account of the interesting marbles now in the British Museum, this date should not be lost sight of. In fact, their antiquity, and the exquisite beauty of their workmanship, cannot fail of filling the mind with admiration.

Four different architects are stated to have been employed upon this noble monument of affection. Scopas erected the side which faced the east, Timotheus had the south, Leochares had the west, and Bryaxis the north. Over this stately Mausoleum a pyramid was raised, executed by Pitheus, who adorned the top of it with a chariot drawn by four horses. The expenses of this edifice must have been enormous, and this gave occasion to the philosopher Anaxagoras to exclaim when he saw it, “How much money is changed into stones.” Artemisia died before it was finished, as supposed of grief, but not until after she had expended her husband’s wealth in the building. But so great was the admiration it occasioned, that her subjects united together to complete it.

The site of this vast monument of antiquity was for a great number of years unknown, although the interest felt for the discovery had never ceased. Many persons thought, and it now appears not without reason, that it must have been swallowed up by an earthquake. It is certain that the French Government sent men of science to endeavour to discover these interesting ruins. Russia, Prussia, and Austria did the same, all with the hopes of enriching their several countries with these ancient marbles, but altogether without success. It remained for an Englishman to make the discovery, and that Englishman’s name was Newton.

Mr. Newton was employed for twelve or thirteen years in the British Museum, where he not only acquired a great love of ancient marbles and a considerable knowledge of their history, but also had his curiosity much excited in order to ascertain the site of the tomb of Mausolus. Fortunately for antiquarians, and also for his country, Mr. Newton was appointed Vice-Consul at Mitylene, and from thence he had the best opportunities of prosecuting his inquiries respecting the tomb of Mausolus. Having at length ascertained the spot, and means being placed at his disposal by the British Government, he procured some sappers and miners from Malta, and began his excavations. It is not intended to particularise the discoveries he made. It will be sufficient to mention a few of them. Amongst others, he has brought to light a noble statue of Mausolus, nearly perfect . It is impossible to view it without feelings of wonder and admiration. The whole character of the head much resembles the ideal portraits of Alexander the Great on the coins of Lysimachus and in several extant marble busts. The face is slightly bearded, the features massive but finely formed, and with a most noble expression. Indeed, where shall we find in classical art any head in which such majesty is combined with the traits of individual likeness?

A fine colossal female statue was also found, supposed to be that of Artemisia; but, unfortunately, it wants the head, which has not yet been recovered. The figure and drapery are very finely executed.

Portions of colossal horses have also been discovered; and these no doubt formed a portion of the marble Quadriga by which the Mausoleum was surmounted. Nothing can be finer than these marbles, especially the head of one of the horses, which may vie with the celebrated one in the Elgin Marbles.

Finely sculptured lions and a leopard have also been brought to light, and many other remains of the greatest interest, amongst which are some friezes, beautifully executed, and which have been preserved and deposited in the British Museum, the whole of them extending to a length of eighty feet: and Mr. Newton is of opinion that no museum in Europe can show so magnificent a series of high reliefs. These marbles will no doubt form a fine study for artists, and it is to be hoped that drawings of them will be published.

As to the Mausoleum itself, we learn from Pliny that it was surrounded by thirty-six columns, and that the whole height was a hundred and forty feet, and the length on each side sixty-three feet, making two hundred and fifty-two feet in all, and that the whole was adorned with appropriate sculpture.

Mr. Newton has the credit of having conducted the excavations of these magnificent remains, and also for having satisfactorily set at rest the question of the locality of the Mausoleum. His success can only be properly appreciated by viewing the vast quantity of interesting relics he has sent to this country, and which must form only a small portion of the original building, the materials of which, through a long succession of ages, have been used for various erections and the burning of the marbles to procure lime.

Mr. Newton is now the English Consul at Rome, where it is to be hoped that his scientific knowledge and thirst for new discoveries may enable him to enrich his country with further objects of interest and antiquity.

Edward Jesse.