The Colossus of Rhodes: Enigmatic Wonder of the Ancient World

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published on 18 January 2012

The Colossus of Rhodes was an enormous statue depicting the city's patron god, Helios (the god of the sun), and stood in Mandraki Harbour. Though it stood for little more than 50 years fully intact, its grand size and imposing presence at the coastal entrance of Rhodes made it an undeniable candidate as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is also the wonder about which the least is entirely known.

Rhodes by Frantisek Kupka

Rhodes was a Greek island that was situated at an intersection of two ancient sea-trade routes, southwest of Asia Minor and near Egypt. When Alexander the Great died unexpectedly in 323 BC, the administration of his empire and its future were uncertain. Eventually, three of his generals took control and, as a result of several wars, divided the empire into three regions. Rhodes sided with one general, Ptolemy, who eventually controlled Egypt. Together, they forged a fruitful relationship, as well as control of trade in the eastern Mediterranean. One of the other generals, Antigonus, became riled at this, and tried to convince Rhodes to side with him. Rhodes, of course, balked at this. Antigonus then called on his son Demetrius to invade Rhodes in 305 BC. Despite an army of 40,000 men and 200 warships, Demetrius was unable to break through Rhodes' impressive defenses and the relief troops that Ptolemy had sent in.

As a result of this decisive victory, it was determined that a commemorative statue be erected to honor Helios, the patron god of Rhodes. This would prove rather uncomplicated for Rhodes, as Demetrius had left behind all of the equipment he and his army had used in his invasion attempts, and thus the Rhodians were able to finance the construction of the statue with the sale of the goods.

The people of Rhodes called on Greek sculptor Chares of Lindos in 294 BC to cast a giant bronze sculptural depiction of Helios. Over the course of 12 years, Chares and his men worked to complete the monument. It is generally agreed that it was forged around towers of stone blocks, standing 110 feet high. Helios stood on a 50-foot tall marble base, positioned at the entrance to Rhodes' harbour. Using materials that had been melted down from the weapons left by Demetrius, the stone towers were reinforced with iron beams and the bronze was attached to the shell. The finished statue would have likely depicted Helios standing with his legs together (though this theory differs from others), holding a torch in his right hand, and a spear in his left hand (very evocative of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour). The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280 BC.

When Rhodes suffered an earthquake in 224 BC, the Colossus broke at the knees, the top portion toppling to the ground. Though Ptolemy III offered to reconstruct it, an oracle advised the Rhodians against it. Therefore, for the next 900 years the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes lay on the ground, attracting visitors from all over the world to witness its massive scale. When the Arabs conquered Rhodes in 654 AD, the remains were broken down and transported to Syria, and likely sold piece by piece. And thus ends the story of the short-lived wonder of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes. It was arguably one of the most formidable statues of ancient history, and one of the least appreciated.



Bibliography

  • Anonymous. Past Worlds: Atlas of Archaeology. Harper Collins Publishers, 1988.
  • P. Clayton and M. Price. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Barnes and Noble Books, New York, 1988.

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