The Colossus of Rhodes

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The Sixth Wonder of the World

The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue dedicated to the Greek god Helios on the island of Rhodes.

The Colossus of Rhodes was considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum of Mausollos.

The Siege of Rhodes

Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, fighting broke out among his generals over who would control his empire. During this time, Ptolemy took control of Egypt and formed an alliance with Rhodes. Together the two countries were able to quickly establish a virtual monopoly on trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

Perceiving his empire to be under threat, Alexander’s general, Antigonus, and his son Demetrius attacked Rhodes in 304 BC. They found the city of Rhodes to be well defended and began to build siege towers in order to overcome the city’s walls. The Rhodians were able to defeat them by turning the ground in front of the walls into a swamp with large amounts of water.

In 304 BC, Ptolemy sent a relief force to Rhodes, which succeeded in breaking the siege. Demetruis and Antigonus were forced to retreat and abandoned most of their weapons and equipment in the process. The Colossus was built as an offering to Helios, the Rhodians’ patron god. The construction of the Colossus was overseen by a local sculptor named Chares of Lindos. Chares was selected because he was trained by the sculptor Lysippos, who was famous in the ancient world for the construction a 70 foot tall statue of Zeus in Tarentum.

Construction of the Colossus

Primary sources differ in the details, but all agree that the Colossus was constructed using iron bars and bronze plates connected with rivets.

The Colossus is traditionally thought to have stood on a marble pedestal near the entrance to the harbour.

Based on ancient descriptions of the Colossus, modern engineers have put forward the most likely construction technique based on the technology that would have been available at the time and the accounts of Philo and Pliny.

The internal skeleton of the statue is thought to have been composed of forged iron rods connected to a central post. The statue’s outer skin was composed of bronze plates connected to the internal structure with rivets. The interior of the Colossus was hollow, but is believed to have been filled to the knees with stones and rubble to provide extra weight and stability.

The primary sources describe the Colossus as being surrounded by an earthen mound during construction. However, if the Colossus was really built in the harbour, the lack of space would have made this problematic. It is more likely that the siege towers abandoned by Antigonus and Demetrius would have been used as a source of timber for scaffolding.

Destruction of the Colossus

The Colossus only stood for 56 years before it was levelled by an earthquake in 226 BC. The force of the earthquake was such the statue snapped off at the knees and fell over on to the land. Ptolemy III offered to pay for the reconstruction of the Colossus, but the Rhodians refused, believing that they had offended Helios.

Computer simulations have since revealed that the earthquake caused a cascade failure in the rivets holding the Colossus together, causing the arms to separate at the shoulder and the knees to buckle.

In 1989, the media reported that large stones thought to be the foundation stones for the Colossus had been discovered. This theory has since been proven false. It is now theorized that the statue was actually built on a hill overlooking the harbour. The temple on top of the hill was believed to have been dedicated to Apollo, but it is now speculated that this was a temple to Helios.

Works CitedPliny the Elder. Natural History. xxxiv. 18

 

D. E. L. Haynes, “Philo of Byzantium and the Colossus of Rhodes” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 77.2 (1957), pp. 311-312.

Pliny the Elder. Natural History, book 34, xviii, 41.Lonker, Simone. The Colossus of Rhodes Pressemappe Magazine. Retrived Mar.23/09

 

 

The copyright of the article The Colossus of Rhodes in Greek History is owned by Terry Long. Permission to republish The Colossus of Rhodes in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.
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