The Colossus of Rhodes
The island of Rhodes was an
important economic centre in the ancient world. It is located off the
southwestern tip of Asia Minor where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean.
The capitol city, also named Rhodes, was built in 408 B.C. and was designed to
take advantage of the island's best natural harbour on the northern coast. In
357 B.C. the island was conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus (whose
tomb is one of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), fell into
Persian hands in 340 B.C., and was finally captured by Alexander the
Great in 332 B.C..
When Alexander died of a fever at an
early age, his generals fought bitterly among themselves for control of
Alexander's vast kingdom. Three of them, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and
Antigous, succeeded in dividing the kingdom among themselves. The
Rhodians supported Ptolemy (who wound up ruling Egypt) in this struggle.
This angered Antigous who sent his son Demetrius to capture and
punish the city of Rhodes. The war was long and painful. Demetrius
brought an army of 40,000 men. This was more than the entire population of
When Demetrius attacked the city,
the defenders stopped the war machine by flooding a ditch outside the walls and
mining the heavy monster in the mud. By then almost a year had gone by and a
fleet of ships from Egypt arrived to assist the city. Demetrius withdrew
quickly leaving the great siege tower where it was. To celebrate their victory
and freedom, the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god
They melted down bronze from the many
war machines Demetrius left behind for the exterior of the figure and
the super siege tower became the scaffolding for the project. According to
Pliny, a historian who lived several centuries after the Colossus
was built, construction took 12 years. Other historians place the start of the
work in 304 B.C..
The statue was one hundred and ten feet
high and stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbour mole. Although the
statue has been popularly depicted with its legs spanning the harbour entrance
so that ships could pass beneath, it was actually posed in a more traditional
Greek manner: nude, wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising
sun with its right hand, while holding a cloak over its left.
The architect of this great construction
was Chares of Lindos, a Rhodian sculptor who was a patriot and fought in
defence of the city. Chares had been involved with large scale statues before.
His teacher, Lysippus, had constructed a 60-foot high likeness of
Zeus. Chares probably started by making smaller versions of the statue,
maybe three feet high, then used these as a guide to shaping each of the bronze
plates of the skin.
The Colossus stood proudly at the
harbour entrance for some fifty-six years. Each morning the sun must have
caught its polished bronze surface and made the god's figure shine. Then an
earthquake hit Rhodes and the statue collapsed. Huge pieces of the
figure lay along the harbour for centuries.
It is said that an Egyptian king offered
to pay for its reconstruction, but the Rhodians refused. They feared
that somehow the statue had offended the god Helios, who used the
earthquake to throw it down.
In the seventh century A.D. the Arabs
conquered Rhodes and broke the remains of the Colossus up into
smaller pieces and sold it as scrap metal. Legend says it took 900 camels to
carry away the statue. A sad end for what must have been a majestic work of