History of Bodrum

As far as we know, there have always been people living along the coasts of Turkey since the Stone Age and the history of Bodrum starts with their stories.

Archaeologists found caves with remains stretching back over 100,000 years. Asia Minor, where we call Anatolia today, is also where the humanity learned agriculture and domesticated animals like sheep and goats. West and south-west coasts of Turkey were the hubs where new technologies spread through the western world via the Mediterranean.

Foggy Times in The Aegean World

Archaeological excavations show that there were various settlements along the southern and western coasts during Stone and Bronze Ages. Advances in technologies like farming, city building and copper smelting to produce bronze had made Asia Minor a leader in innovations. The City of Troy which was founded approximately 5000 years ago at the north Aegean coast of Turkey is cited as a significant example for the rapid development of the region.

With the Hittites who built a mighty empire around 17th century BC, archaeological discoveries let us take a closer look at the past and the fog over the western coasts and Anatolia becomes thinner.

Hattusa, the capital of Hittites
Lion gate of Hattusa, the capital of Hittites
(Image taken from kulturportali.gov.tr / Photo credit: Umut Ozdemir, 2012)

The capital of Hittites was Hattusa in central Turkey to the east of Ankara. In 13th century BC, the powerful ruler of the empire, Suppiluliumas, had expanded its borders to Syria to the southeast, Egypt to the south and conquered all the western coastlands of Turkey including some Aegean islands.

In around 1200 BC, Aegean world went into a period called “dark age”. It was dark because we do not know what exactly happened for almost six hundred years. At the time of writing, we had not found enough evidences to clarify this period yet.

Many historians believe that Dorians invaded the region and redefined the Aegean world during dark age. When Persians took the stage around 600 BC, history of Bodrum started to be written again by ancient historians.

Halicarnassus Story: History of Bodrum

Homer was the first important source who mentioned Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum, in his well-known work Odyssey. However, we owe the comprehensive information to an ancient Bodrumian, Herodotus who is known as the Father of History.

Map of ancient Caria
Map of ancient Caria

As he describes the nations in Asia Minor, the power struggles to gain total control over the Aegean and the political relations between the kingdoms in his masterpiece – and the only work – The Histories, he also provides lot of details about his hometown.

According to Herodotus, indigenous population was Lelegians. Around 1200 BC, Dorians of the Balkans passed through the Aegean islands to invade Anatolia. In the beginning of the 7th century, a Dorian Confederation composed of 6 important Aegean cities – Halicarnassus, Kos, Cnidos, Ialysos, Kamerios and Lindos – was ruling the whole region.

Somehow Halicarnassus was expelled from the confederation. Being alone was also difficult back on those days. The city fell under the control of the Lydian Kings and remained as a part of Lydia Kingdom until Persians came and took over the throne in 546 BC.

The Persian Period and Satrap Mausolus

Persian strategy over the conquered lands was simple and effective: assigning a local governor – a satrap – and giving him freedom in decisions related to interior affairs. When Persians declare a war on a nation, satrap should answer the emperor’s call to join the battle in his side. Of course, he also had to pay tax.

Halicarnassus had always been loyal to its mighty conquerors and followed every order including fighting on the Persian side during the invasion of Greece in 480 BC in the reign of Xerxes.

Artemisia by Francesco Furini
Artemisia Prepares to Drink the Ashes of her Husband, Mausolus by Francesco Furini (1630)

The most famous and successful satrap – also a tyrant – was Mausolus who filled the post between 377 BC and 353 BC. One of the first moves of this accomplished politician was to transfer the capital from Mylasa – today’s Milas – to Halicarnassus. He was aware of the tactical value of having a port city as the capital.

Mausolus had also some aesthetic concerns and started another big project: rebuilding Halicarnassus by inviting architects from Greece. He was shaping the history of Bodrum.

A famous Roman Architect and the author of the well-known “De Architectura” Marcus Vitruvius Pollio wrote the below lines, describing Halicarnassus in the 1st century BC;

As for Mausolus’ skill and ingenuity as a builder, they may be seen from what follows. He was born at Mylasa but recognising the natural advantages of Halicarnassus as a fortress and seeing that it was suitable as a trading centre and that it had a good harbour, he fixed his residence there. The place had a curvature like that of the seats in a theatre. On the lowest tier, along the harbour, was built the forum. About half-way up the curving slope, at the point where the curved cross-aisle is in a theatre, a broad wide street was laid out, in the middle of which was built the mausoleum, a work so remarkable that it is classed among the Seven Wonders of the World. At the top of the hill, in the centre, is the Temple of Mars, containing a colossal acrolithic statue by the famous hand of Leochares. At the extreme right of the summit is the Temple of Venus and Mercury, close to the spring of Salmakis

As city was changing appearance, Mausolus was after new achievements. He militarily captured the island of Rhodes and developed the whole area from Myndos (the western end of Bodrum peninsula) to Kaunos (west of Dalyan).

After his death, he was succeeded by his wife – and sister – Artemisia II whose fame came from fighting against the Rhodian fleet. She also undertook the building of a tomb for her dead husband – Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It was the satrap’s dream to reach eternity with a monumental tomb after leaving the material world. His resting place was going to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

I do not know about his soul but obviously his name has reached the eternity. The story behind the Mausoleum have been carried over thousands years. Today, this word is still used for monuments that have interment spaces or burial chambers in many languages, including Turkish – Mozole.

Later on Halicarnassus…

Well, it is history, and nothing lasts long. In the beginning of the 4th century BC, another famous character appeared in the history of Bodrum: Alexander the Great. I am pretty sure you would not be surprised if I told you that he was not on vacation.

He demolished all the new buildings but left Mausoleum intact and Hellenised the city in 333 BC. Alexander’s heirs remained in control during the 3rd and the 2nd centuries BC.

Myndos Gate in Bodrum
Myndos Gate near Bodrum

Then the Romans came in 189 BC. In 129 BC, they founded the first Anatolian state and the Carian region became a part of Asian territory of the Roman Empire just before the power struggles shook the world’s largest nation.

In 43 BC, Brutus, and Cassius assassinated Emperor Cesar in Rome. Sadly, the assassins’ headquarter was in Myndos (today’s Gumusluk, north-east of Bodrum Peninsula). It was bad news. Being known as the base of Cesar’s killers highly damaged the reputation of Halicarnassus and the region went under a constant humiliation and exploitation later.

In 395 (Christ was born 400 years ago, and I will not use “BC” anymore), when the empire was divided into two, the Byzantine Empire – or the East Roman Empire – was the new city owner. It was not as powerful as it was before the separation so the Arabian raids to the old Carian lands had started. Carian civilization was fading away like other 45 Anatolian civilizations in the history of Turkey and the Romans had no intention or power to avoid that from happening.

The Ottoman and The Knights of St. John

In the 13th century, indigenous population was mainly Turks. A member of Anatolian Union, the Beylic of Mentes, was ruling the south west of Turkey including Halicarnassus.

In 1402, the Ottoman Sultan Yildirim Beyazid was defeated by Timur the Lame at the battle of Ankara. Timur had also attacked Smyrna – today’s Izmir – and destroyed a castle owned by Knights of St. John, an order from the island of Rhodes.

Bodrum Castle's south walls
South walls of the Bodrum castle

The knights were going through hard times. They had just lost a strategic castle that should be replaced with a new one as soon as possible. They were so desperate that they went to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet I – son of Yildirim Beyazid – to ask permission to build a new castle. Despite the objections of Beylic of Mentes, the Sultan gave them Halicarnassus. History of Bodrum had changed direction once again.

Knight Hospitaller started to build a new castle over an existing fortress built by the Beylic of Mentes. The construction of one of the most important symbols of today’s Bodrum – yes, I mean the Bodrum Castle – took about 120 years with various interruptions.

Another Turkish Sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent, sieged Island of Rhodes where the headquarters of the Knights was located in 1523. Rhodes fell and all the knights had to retreat to Malta leaving Halicarnassus back to Ottomans.

Evliya Celebi was an Ottoman Turk who travelled the empire and its surroundings for over 40 years. In his famous travelogue called “Seyahatname”, he says that the Bodrum harbour had a capacity for 200 large battleships. It was 1675 and 100 years later, this capacity had to be put to use.

In 1775, Russians set Ottoman the fleet on fire in Cesme harbour which is to the north of Bodrum. The Empire could not afford a weak navy and the Admiral Mustafa Pasha had to do something.

The Ottoman Shipyard in Bodrum
The Ottoman Shipyard at the city centre

To replace the ships lost in fire, admiral ordered the building of a new shipyard in Bodrum. The fleet should have been more powerful than ever. The Ottoman Shipyard which is located next to the marina today built several galleons varying from 38 metres to 47 metres between 1784 and 1831.

We have finally reached to modern ages but the action in history of Bodrum was not over. During WWI, the French and the British warships fired their cannons towards the city at every opportunity, but it resisted and did not give up.

When the war ended in 1918, the Ottoman Empire was in big trouble and about to be broken into pieces. My personal hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had organized a resistance and his army was fighting for freedom in the Turkish War of Independence against mighty nations. During this mess, the Italians invaded Bodrum in 1919.

The War of Independence was in many fronts from east to the west. Turkish independence armies were moving slowly to the western coast where the final stages of the war took place. Bodrum was taken back in 1921.

In 1923, Ataturk has founded a modern, secular democracy and called it the Turkish Republic. Since then, Bodrum have been living in peace with millions of domestic and international visitors each year.


The history is a tough hobby. Although I’ve read books, searched various internet sites, visited museums and asked questions to put proper information together for this and other history sections of Enjoy-Bodrum.com, all credit should go to historians and authors who invested great amount of time to understand the past events.

Some of them are;

Mavi Yolculuk by Azra Erhat
Ege’de Bir Anadolu Uygarligi, Karia by Canan Kucukeren
The Archaeological Sites of Western Caria & Ionia by David Price Williams
Bodrum Castle by Oguz Alpozen

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