COLOSSUS OF RHODES
Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands, situated in eastern Aegean Sea.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue of the Greek god Helios, erected on the Greek island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos, a student of Lysippos, between 292 and 280 BC.
It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Before its destruction, the Colossus of Rhodes stood 70 cubits tall, over 30 metres (100 feet), making it the tallest statue of the ancient world.
BIRTH OF THE STATUE
Alexander the Great died at an early age in 323 BC without having time to put into place any plans for his succession. Fighting broke out among his generals, the Diadochi, with three of them eventually dividing up much of his empire in the Mediterranean area.
During the fighting Rhodes had sided with Ptolemy, and when Ptolemy eventually took control of Egypt, Rhodes and Ptolemaic Egypt formed an alliance which controlled much of the trade in the eastern Mediterranean.
Another of Alexander's generals, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, was upset by this turn of events. In 305 BC he had his son Demetrius Poliorcetes, also a general, invade Rhodes with an army of 40,000; however, the city was well defended, and Demetrius - whose name "Poliorcetes" signifies the "besieger of cities" - had to start construction of a number of massive siege towers in order to gain access to the walls.
The first was mounted on six ships, but these were capsized in a storm before they could be used. He tried again with a larger, land-based tower named Helepolis, but the Rhodian defenders stopped this by flooding the land in front of the walls so that the rolling tower could not move.
In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Demetrius's army abandoned the siege, leaving 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 an 18-metre high bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum.
GEOGRAPHY OF RHODES
Ancient accounts, which differ to some degree, describe the structure as being built around several stone columns (or towers of blocks) forming the interior of the structure, which stood on a fifteen-meter-high (fifty-foot) white marble pedestal near the Mandraki harbour entrance. Other sources place the Colossus on a breakwater in the harbor.
The statue itself was over 34 meters (110 feet) tall. Iron beams were embedded in the brick towers, and bronze plates attached to the bars formed the visible skin of the sculpture. Much of the iron and bronze was reforged from the various weapons Demetrius's army left behind, and the abandoned second siege tower was used for scaffolding around the lower levels during construction.
Upper portions were built with the use of a large earthen ramp. During the building the builders would pile mounds of dirt on the sides of the colossus. To an observer it may have looked like a volcano-like sculpture. Upon completion all of the dirt was moved and the colossus was left to stand alone. After twelve years, in 280 BC, the statue was completed.
DESTRUCTION OD THE COLOSSUS
The statue stood for only fifty-six years until Rhodes was hit by an earthquake in 224 BC. 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 for over 800 years, and even broken, they were so impressive that many traveled 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 654 an Arab force under Muawiyah I captured Rhodes, and according to the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, the remains were sold to a traveling salesman from Edessa. The buyer had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home. Pieces continued to turn up for sale for years, after being found along the caravan route.
The harbor-straddling Colossus was a figment of later imaginations. Many older illustrations show the statue with one foot on either side of the harbor mouth with ships passing under it. While these fanciful images from poetry feed the misconception, simple reflection on the mechanics of the situation reveal that the Colossus could not have straddled the harbor as described in LempriEre's Classical Dictionary.
If the completed statue straddled the harbor, the entire mouth of the harbor would have been effectively closed during the entirety of the construction, nor would the ancient Rhodian have had the means to dredge and re-open the harbor after construction.
The statue fell in 224 BCE: if it straddled the harbor mouth, it would have entirely blocked the harbor, nor would the ancient have had the ability to remove the entire statue from the harbor so it would be visible on land for the next 800 years, as discussed above.
Even neglecting these objections, the statue was made of bronze, and an engineering analysis proved that it could not have been built with its legs apart without collapsing from its own weight.
- Media reports in 1989 initially suggested that large stones found on the seabed off the coast of Rhodes might have been the remains of the Colossus; however this theory was later shown to be without merit.
- There has been much debate as to whether to rebuild the Colossus. Those in favour say it would boost tourism in Rhodes greatly, but those against construction say it would cost too large an amount (over 100 million euros). This idea has been revived many times since it was first proposed in 1970 but, due to lack of funding, work has not yet started.
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Colossus of Rhodes
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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.
The Colossus of Rhodes, from a Series of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World"
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The Colossus of Rhodes, Second Wonder of the World
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