Colossus of Rhodes

From Academic Kids

The Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue of the god Helios, erected on the Greek island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos in the 3rd century BC. It was roughly the same size as the Statue of Liberty in New York, although it stood on a lower platform. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Missing image
The Colossus of Rhodes probably did not stand astride the harbour-mouth as shown here

The decision to erect the statue

Alexander the Great died at an early age in 323 BC without having had time to put into place any plans for his succession. Infighting broke out between 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, they formed an alliance which controlled much of the trade in the eastern Mediterranean.

Another of Alexander's generals, Antigonus, was upset by this turn of events. In 305 BC he had his son Demetrius (now a famous general on his own) invade Rhodes with an army of 40,000. However, the city was well defended, and Demetrius 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, and these blew over in a storm before they could be used. He tried again with an even larger land-based tower, but the Rhodian defenders stopped this by flooding the land in front of the walls so the tower could not move. In 304 BC a force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Demetrius's army left in a hurry, leaving most of their equipment. Despite his failure at Rhodes, Demetrius earned the nickname Poliorcetes, "besieger of cities" by his successes elsewhere.1

To celebrate their victory the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios. Construction was left to the direction of Chares, a native of Rhodes, who had been involved with large scale statues before. His teacher, the famed sculptor Lysippus, had constructed a 60-foot high statue of Zeus.

Missing image
The Colossus of Rhodes, imagined in a 16th-century engraving by Martin Heemskerck, part of his series of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Construction and fate

Ancient accounts (which differ to some degree) describe the structure as being built around several stone columns (or towers of blocks) on the interior of the structure, sitting on a 50-foot-high white marble pedestal near the harbour entrance (others claim on a breakwater in the harbour). Iron beams were driven into the stone towers, and bronze plates attached to the bars formed the skinning. Much of the material was melted down from the various weapons Demetrius's army left behind, and the abandoned second siege tower was used for scaffolding around the lower levels. Upper portions were built with the use of a large earthen ramp. The statue itself was over 34 meters (110 feet) tall.

Construction completed in 282 BC after 12 years. The statue stood for only 56 years until Rhodes was hit by an earthquake in 226 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 an oracle made the Rhodians afraid that they had offended Helios, and they declined to rebuild it. The remains lay on the ground 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 AD 654 an Arab force under Muawiyah I captured Rhodes and, according to the chronicler Theophanes, the remains were sold to a travelling salesman from Edessa. The purchaser 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 on the caravan route.

The myth

Many older illustrations (above) show the statue with one foot on either side of the harbour mouth with ships passing under it – ... the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land .... Shakespeare's Cassius in Julius Caesar (II,i,136-8) says of Caesar:

"Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves."

The harbour-straddling Colossus was a figment of later imaginations.

The Colossus in modern times

There has been much debate as to whether to rebuild the Colossus. Those for it say it would boost tourism in Rhodes greatly, but those against say it would cost a large amount (over 100 million euros). This idea has been proposed many times since 1970 but, due to lack of money, work has not yet started. The plans for the Colossus have been in the works since 1998, by the Greek-Cypriot artist Nicolaos Gotziamanis.

Modern constructions resembling to the Colossus of Rhodes

There are some electricity pylons, which stand over little rivers. Interestingly such a pylon stands over the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which is passable by small ships ( ).



ca:Cols de Rodes de:Koloss von Rhodos el:Κολοσσός της Ρόδου es:Coloso de Rodas fr:Colosse de Rhodes gl:Coloso de Rodas it:Colosso di Rodi nl:Kolossus van Rodos pl:Kolos Rodyjski pt:Colosso de Rodes sv:Kolossen p Rhodos


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