Greek Acquisitions (Summer 2002)

by Peter Van Alfen

A Mausolus Tetradrachm

Best known to the modern world for his enormous tomb, the original “Mausoleum,” Mausolus son of Hecatomnus was ruler of Caria in southwestern Turkey from 377-53 B.C. Construction of the tomb, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was initiated by Mausolus shortly after his refoundation of Halicarnassus in 367, and was not completed until after his death, in 353, and the death of his wife/sister, Artemisia, in 351. Nothing today remains of the grandeur of the Mausoleum; earlier British and more recent Danish excavations at the site, in the center of modern Bodrum, have uncovered little more than the foundations and fragmentary columns and statues. The more important sculptural fragments, including those from the Amazon frieze and the chariot group from the apex of the roof, now reside in the British Museum. However, equally important remains of Mausolus’ cultural syncretism, mixing elements of his native Carian culture with Greek, can be seen in his series of coinages, especially the facing head of Apollo types.

Once again the ANS Greek department is grateful for a gift from Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss, this time for an exceptional facing-head Mausolus tetradrachm. To date, no scholar has completed a much needed study of this rather large coinage, including the similar issues of Mausolus’ successors Hidreus (351-44), Pixodarus (340-34) and Ornotobates (334-33), which continued the series replacing only Mausolus’ name on the reverse with their own. This series of coins, struck as tetradrachms, didrachms and drachms on the Chian standard, with the facing Apollo on the obverse and Zeus Labrandeus standing on the reverse, was likely initiated in 367 when Mausolus moved his capital from Mysala to Halicarnassus. With the move came an opportunity to actively pursue the Hellenization of Caria, a program for which the Hecatomnid dynasty, and Mausolus particularly, was famed.

Tetradrachm of Mausolus (ANS 2002.20.1)

Didrachm of Pixodarus (ANS 1944.100.48434)

On his father Hecatomnus’ (395-77) staters, the standing Zeus Labrandeus, a native Carian diety, appears as an obverse type; the lion, long a symbol of authority in Caria, appears on the reverse. Mausolus’ earliest coins repeat the traditional types of lions and stellar-type patterns, retaining an indigenous Carian flavor until the advent of the facing head type. Clearly tracing its lineage back to the facing head types produced by the celebrity artist Cimon for the Syracusan mint in the late 5th c., the facing head obverse experienced a vogue in the 4th c. when similar types were produced by nearly a dozen mints in the Aegean and even farther east. There is no need to wonder why; the extreme high relief of the type, its dramatic affinities to contemporary sculpture, not to mention the high degree of skill required to engrave the dies, made these types an artistic tour de force. No other coin type of the period bespoke of Hellenism to the extent that this one did; a perfect choice, in other words, for Mausolus’ programmatic artistic and cultural syncretism. By reviving one of his father’s coin types for the reverse, Mausolus’ new series embodied simultaneously the vanguard of the Greek world’s artistic spirit, and Carian (religious) tradition. The tension of this syncretism, which was also successfully manifested in his Mausoleum, no doubt contributed to the (artistic) success of this series, which was minted continuously over the next four decades until the gates of Halicarnassus were opened for Alexander the Great in 334.

Stater of Hecatomnus (ANS 1944.100.48419)

For Further Reading:

P.A. Clayton and M.J. Price, eds., The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (London: Routledge, 1988).

S. Hornblower, Mausolus (Oxford 1982).