A Jar from Halicarnassus

Xerxes jar

Xerxes' jar

In the British Museum in London, you can see this calcite jar (almost 30 centimeters high), which was discovered in the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the monumental tomb of the satrap of Caria, Maussolus.

The object was probably made in Egypt and contains a very brief inscription in Egyptian, Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite: The great king Xerxes. The inscription itself is rather stereotypical and not extremely interesting, but the fact that Xerxes’ jar was discovered in the Halicarnassian Mausoleum, is quite sensational.

It is well-known that the Achaemenid king Xerxes, who ruled the Persian empire between 486 and 465, tried to conquer Greece in 480. However, unrest in Babylonia appears to have made it impossible for the Persians to keep their forces concentrated in the west, and Xerxes was forced to break off the war after he had conquered Thessaly and Boeotia, captured Athens, but lost a naval engagement at Salamis.

The Greek war is described in great detail by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who does not mention a visit by Xerxes to his native city. Yet, only the great king can have given this precious object with the almost sacrosanct royal signature to the ruler of Halicarnassus, queen Artemisia, who is also said to have been among the best commanders in the navy of Xerxes. The present passed through the Carian royal line and was eventually given as a funeral gift to Maussolus and his wife, who was also called Artemisia.

It is an intriguing thought that this little jar has been in the hands of king Xerxes, queen Artemisia, satrap Maussolus, and his wife Artemisia. It is also a fascinating object that illustrates the way in which the histories of Persia, Egypt, and Caria were once intertwined.

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