The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, long lost to rubble, were imagined and constructed before computer-aided design, machinery, and electricity. But their grandeur and audacity have fascinated the world for over 2,000 years. One of the seven wonders of the world, an enormous statue with military beginnings and a fateful fall, was the Colossus of Rhodes.
Where was it?
Rhodes was a Mediterranean Island made up of three city-states: Lindos; Kameiros; and Ialysos. In 408 B.C., the states pulled together to build a new capital and port. That capital and port were also called Rhodes, and it prospered through trade, commerce, and diplomacy. You’ll find the island along the southeastern rim of the Aegean Islands in the Mediterranean Sea; you’ll find the city at the northern tip of the island.
Why build it?
War broke out between two successors of Alexander the Great at the end of the fourth century B.C. The war was between Egypt’s Ptolemy I and Macedonia’s Antigonus Cyclops. Rhodes refused to give up their loyalty to Egypt, so Antigonus Cyclops sent his son Demetrius Poliocretes to lay siege against Rhodes in 305 B.C. Rhodes was not defeated, and Demetrius and his 40,000 soldiers withdrew after a year-long siege.
To celebrate their victory, the people of Rhodes decided to build a massive statue of the Greek god Helios. Helios was a Titan, a god who had ruled over Greece before the Olympians. Helios was Lord of the Sun. He drove his chariot, the sun, across the sky each day. Rhodes was sacred to Helios. Helios was Rhodes’ patron deity.
What did it look like?
The statue of Helios stood roughly 108 to 110 feet tall (70 cubits in the Greek measure of the time). It was made of bronze scavenged from Demetrius’ siege machine, the Helepolis. But that wasn’t enough. To get the rest of the bronze, the people of Rhodes sold the weapons, armor, and equipment that Demetrius had abandoned in defeat.
It took 12 years, from 294 to 282 B.C., to build the giant statue, designed by the artist Chares of Lindos. How big was it? According to Pliny the Elder, who wrote Natural History in the first century A.D.: “Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms, and its fingers are larger than most statues.” History compares the known dimensions of the Colossus of Rhodes to some of the most prominent statues in the world throughout history and today.
The precise physical location of the Colossus of Rhodes is somewhat of a mystery. But at least one theory is that it stood astride Mandraki Harbour with each foot planted on a 49-foot pedestal.
What happened to it?
The Colossus of Rhodes stood for only 56 years. A massive earthquake struck Rhodes in 226 B.C. The earthquake snapped the Colossus at the ankles, causing it to crash to the ground. Some people of Rhodes wanted it rebuilt; others believed the gods had been angered by its construction in the first place. It never rose again.
The Colossus lay where it fell for nearly 900 years until Rhodes was again invaded, this time by Muslim armies led by caliph Muawiyah I. At that point, it may have been salvaged for scrap, just as salvaged scrap from the Macedonian armies had been used to get it built.
Efforts have been made to imagine exactly what such a tremendous feat – a true wonder of the ancient world – must have looked like. ArchDaily, an architecture website, has produced renderings of each of the seven wonders, including the Colossus of Rhodes standing astride the harbour.
Given its fascinating military background and the breathtaking scale of its construction and its tragic fall, it is no wonder the Colossus of Rhodes has stood the test of time as one of the seven wonders of the world.