The Seven Wonders


published on 02 September 2009
The Pyramids of Giza (dungodung)

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

  1. the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt
  2. the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  3. the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
  4. the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  5. the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  6. the Colossus of Rhodes
  7. the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt

The Seven Wonders were first defined as “themata” (Greek for 'things to be seen’ which, in today’s common English, we would phrase as 'must sees’) by Philo of Byzantium in 225 BCE, in his work 'On The Seven Wonders’. Other writers on the Seven Wonders include Herodotus, Callimachus of Cyrene and Antipater of Sidon. Of the original seven, only the Great Pyramid exists today.

The Seven Wonders were hardly an objective agreed-upon list of the greatest structures of the day but were, rather, very like a modern-day tourist pamphlet informing travelers on what to see on their trip. Herodotus disagreed with Philo’s original list and felt the Egyptian Labyrinth was greater than them all. Antipater replaced the Lighthouse with Babylon's walls and Callimachus, among others, listed the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Philo’s list, however, has long been accepted as the 'official’ definition of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Great Pyramid at Giza was constructed between 2584 and 2561 BCE for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (known in Greek as `Cheops') and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for almost 4,000 years. Excavations of the interior of the pyramid were only initiated in earnest in the late 18th and early 19th centuries CE and so the intricacies of the interior which so intrigue modern people were unknown to the ancient writers. It was the structure itself with its perfect symmetry and imposing height which impressed ancient visitors.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, if they existed as described, were built by Nebuchadnezzar II between 605-562 BCE as a gift to his wife. They are described by the ancient writer Diodorus Siculus as being self-watering planes of exotic flora and fauna reaching a height of over 75 feet (23 metres) through a series of climbing terraces. Diodorus wrote that Nebuchadnezzar's wife, Amtis of Media, missed the mountains and flowers of her homeland and so the king commanded that a mountain be created for her in Babylon. The contoversy over whether the gardens existed comes from the fact that they are nowhere mentioned in Babylonian history and that Herodotus, `the Father of History', makes no mention of them in his descriptions of Babylon. There are many other ancient facts, figures, and places Herodotus fails to mention, however, or has been shown to be wrong about. Diodorus, Philo, and the historian Strabo all claim the gardens existed. They were destroyed by an earthquake sometime after the 1st century CE.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was 40 feet (12 metres) high and presented the great god seated on a throne with skin of ivory and robes of hammered gold. The statue was created by the sculptor Phidias, who also worked on the Parthenon of Athens. Visitors to the site were dwarfed by the immense statue which was situated, and probably lighted, to produce great feelings of awe, wonder, and humility. After the rise of Christianity, the Temple at Olympia was increadingly neglected and fell into ruin and the Olympic Games, then considered `pagan rites' were banned by the church. The statue was carried off to Constantinople where it was destroyed at some point in an earthquake in the 5th or 6th centuries CE.

Model of the Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesos was completed in 550 BCE and was 425 feet (129 metres) high, 225 feet (69 metres) wide, and supported by 127 60 foot (18 metres) columns. The temple is described by every ancient writer who mentions it with awe and reverence for its beauty. It was destroyed 21 July 356 by a man named Herostratus who set fire to the temple in order that his name be remembered. Because of this, the Ephesians executed him and prohibited his name from being spoken or written down. The historian Theopompus, however, wishing to write a complete history of the temple, recorded his name for posterity. The temple was re-built twice, on a more modest scale, and the first building was later destroyed by the Goths while the second was completely laid to waste by a Christian mob led by Saint John Chrysostom in 401 CE.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was built in 351 BCE as the tomb for the Persian Satrap Mauslos.It was 135 feet (41 metres) tall and ornamented with intricate sculpture. Mauslos and his wife, Artemisia, chose Halicarnassus as their capital and devoted themselves to making it the most beautiful and impressive city in the world. When Mauslos died in 353 BCE, Artemisia commissioned the tomb be built to match the splendor of the city the two of them had created. She died two years after him and her ashes were entombed with him in the building. It was destroyed by a series of earthquakes and lay in ruin until it was completely dismantled by the Knights of St. John of Malta in 1494 CE who used the stones in building their castle at Bodrum. It is from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus that the English word `mausoleum' is derived.

Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus at Rhodes is frequently imagined by those in the modern day as an enormous figure who stradled the harbor of the island city of Rhodes. This is due to 19th and early 20th century CE depictions of the statue but, actually, it was much closer to the Statue of Liberty in the Manhattan harbor of the United States of America. It was built between 292 and 280 BCE and stood over 110 feet (33 metres) high. The statue was commissioned to commemorate the defeat of the invading army of Demetrius in 304 BCE and stood for 56 years until it was brought down by an earthquake. According to the historian Strabo, it remained a popular tourist attraction even in ruin. Theophanes, another historian, recounts how these ruins were carted away in 654 CE to be melted down.

The Lighthouse at Alexandria was completed c. 280 BCE and stood 440 feet (134 metres) high. It was the tallest man-made structure after the pyramids of Giza and its light could be seen 35 miles out to sea. Ancient writers agree that the lighthouse was so beautiful they could not find words adequate to describe it. It was severely damaged in an earthquake in 956 CE and, by 1480 CE after further damage by earthquakes, it was gone.

About the Author

Joshua J. Mark
A freelance writer and part-time Professor of Philosophy at Marist College, New York, Joshua J. Mark has lived in Greece and Germany and traveled through Egypt. He teaches ancient history, writing, literature, and philosophy.

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