Seven Wonders of the World Part 6 – The Colossus of Rhodes – Quest Magazine

The Colossus of Rhodes /rdz/ (Ancient Greekὁ Κολοσσὸς Ῥόδιοςtranslit. ho Kolossòs Rhódios) was a statue of the Greek titan-god of the sun Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name, by Chares of Lindos in 280 BC. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it was constructed to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over the ruler of Cyprus, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, whose son unsuccessfully besieged Rhodes in 305 BC. According to most contemporary descriptions, the Colossus stood approximately 70 cubits, or 33 metres (108 feet) high—the approximate height of the modern Statue of Liberty from feet to crown—making it the tallest statue of the ancient world. It collapsed during the earthquake of 226 BC; although parts of it were preserved, it was never rebuilt.

In the late 4th century BC, Rhodes, allied with Ptolemy I of Egypt, prevented a mass invasion staged by their common enemy, Antigonus I Monophthalmus. In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Demetrius (son of Antigonus) and his army abandoned the siege, leaving behind most of their siege equipment. To celebrate their victory, the Rhodians sold the equipment left behind for 300 talents and decided to use the money to build a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios. Construction was left to the direction of Chares, a native of Lindos in Rhodes, who had been involved with large-scale statues before. His teacher, the sculptor Lysippos, had constructed a 22-metre-high (72-foot) bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum.

Construction began in 292 BC. Ancient accounts, which differ to some degree, describe the structure as being built with iron tie bars to which brass plates were fixed to form the skin. The interior of the structure, which stood on a 15-metre-high (49-foot) white marble pedestal near the Mandraki harbour entrance, was then filled with stone blocks as construction progressed. Other sources place the Colossus on a breakwater in the harbour. According to most contemporary descriptions, the statue itself was about 70 cubits, or 33 metres (108 feet) tall. Much of the iron and bronze was reforged from the various weapons Demetrius’s army left behind, and the abandoned second siege tower may have been used for scaffolding around the lower levels during construction. Upper portions were built with the use of a large earthen ramp. During the building, workers would pile mounds of earth on the sides of the colossus. Upon completion all of the earth was removed and the colossus was left to stand alone. After twelve years, in 280 BC, the statue was completed. Preserved in Greek anthologies of poetry is what is believed to be the genuine dedication text for the Colossus.

To you, O Sun, the people of Dorian Rhodes set up this bronze statue reaching to Olympus, when they had pacified the waves of war and crowned their city with the spoils taken from the enemy. Not only over the seas but also on land did they kindle the lovely torch of freedom and independence. For to the descendants of Herakles belongs dominion over sea and land.

Modern engineers have put forward a plausible hypothesis for the statue’s construction, based on the technology of the time (which was not based on the modern principles of earthquake engineering), and the accounts of Philo and Pliny, who saw and described the ruins. The base pedestal was said to be at least 18 metres (59 feet) in diameter, and either circular or octagonal. The feet were carved in stone and covered with thin bronze plates riveted together. Eight forged iron bars set in a radiating horizontal position formed the ankles and turned up to follow the lines of the legs while becoming progressively smaller. Individually cast curved bronze plates 60 inches (1,500 mm) square with turned-in edges were joined together by rivets through holes formed during casting to form a series of rings. The lower plates were one inch (25 mm) in thickness to the knee and 34-inch (20 mm) thick from knee to abdomen, while the upper plates were 1412-inch (6.5–12.5 mm) thick except where additional strength was required at joints such as the shoulder, neck, etc.

The statue stood for 54 years until Rhodes was hit by the 226 BC earthquake, when significant damage was also done to large portions of the city, including the harbour and commercial buildings, which were destroyed. The statue snapped at the knees and fell over onto the land. Ptolemy III offered to pay for the reconstruction of the statue, but the oracle of Delphi made the Rhodians afraid that they had offended Helios, and they declined to rebuild it. The remains lay on the ground as described by Strabo (xiv.2.5) for over 800 years, and even broken, they were so impressive that many travelled to see them. Pliny the Elder remarked that few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues. In 653, an Arab force under Muslim caliph Muawiyah I captured Rhodes, and according to The Chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, the statue was melted down and sold to a Jewish merchant of Edessa who loaded the bronze on 900 camels. The Arab destruction and the purported sale to a Jew possibly originated as a powerful metaphor for Nebuchadnezzar‘s dream of the destruction of a great statue.The same story is recorded by Bar Hebraeus, writing in Syriac in the 13th century in Edessa: (after the Arab pillage of Rhodes) “And a great number of men hauled on strong ropes which were tied round the brass Colossus which was in the city and pulled it down. And they weighed from it three thousand loads of Corinthian brass, and they sold it to a certain Jew from Emesa” (the Syrian city of Homs). Theophanes is the sole source of this account and all other sources can be traced to him.

As of 2015, tentative plans were presented to build a new Colossus at Rhodes Harbour, although the actual location of the original remains in dispute.

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