Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes was a massive statue that is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Built between 292 and 280 B.C., it once stood over 100 feet tall. The statue depicted the Greek god Helios.

In 304 B.C., Rhodes was under siege. Since the death of Alexander the great 20 years before, civil war and anarchy had ruled. Demetrius now had the city under siege, and it was desperate. Just when things seemed most bleak, ships sent by Ptolemy arrived. The army of Demetrius abandoned them, leaving their equipment behind.

To celebrate, the Rhodians sold the equipment. They used the money to build a colossal statue of Helios, their patron god. Chares was chosen to be the sculptor, mainly because he had helped construct large statues before. He aided his teacher in constructing a 100 foot high statue of Zeus at Tarentum, and was fully qualified to take on this task.

The statue stood on a 50 foot tall marble pedestal near the entrance to the Harper. Iron beams and bronze plates were used, recycling these leftovers of war. The abandoned siege engines were used as scaffolding. After 12 years, the statue was complete.

In 226 B.C., Rhodes was hit by an earthquake. The statue was broken at the knees and toppled onto the land. Although Ptolemy the third offered to pay to rebuild the statue, the Oracle of Delphi suggested that Helios was offended. The people of Rhodes refused to rebuild it, and the statute lay in pieces for over 800 years. Despite being on the ground, people came from far and wide to view the massive statue.

In 654, Arab forces captured Rhodes. The statue was sold and broken down for scrap. The buyer needed 900 camels to transport the scrap bronze back to his land, and fragments were found for years afterwards.

Over time, the Colossus took on legendary proportions. Later imaginative illustrations show the Colossus straddling the harbor. Today, this is considered unlikely. The harbor would have been completely closed during construction, and after the statue fell, the harbor mouth would have been blocked. Further, the statue attracted visitors to see it on land – an impossible feat if it had fallen in the water.

This drawing of Colossus of Rhodes, which illustrated The Grolier Society’s 1911 Book of Knowledge, is probably fanciful, as it is unlikely that the statue stood astride the harbour mouth. Courtesy Wikipedia.