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One of the ancient wonders of the world, the Colossus Of Rhodes stood for only a meager 54 years before falling into the sea. This amazing statue stood at an estimated 105 feet tall and was made of bronze. Here is the history behind the statue and its reason for being built.
The Colossus of Rhodes was built after the year-long siege of Rhodes which lasted from 305-304 BC. After the siege was abandoned the Rhodians sold and melted down the bronze equipment to build a massive 105 foot tall statue to the city’s patron god Helios. The statue would stand for 54 years before collapsing into the Aegean Sea following an earthquake in 226 BC.
The history of the Colossus of Rhodes is fascinating. For thousands of years this massive statue has inspired other statues such as the Colossus of Nero.
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Without further ado, here is an article going over the Colossus of Rhodes’s history and reason for being built.
How The Island Of Rhodes Became Associated With The Greek Sun God Helios
According to legend the island of Rhodes was formed when the sun god Helios married the daughter of Aphrodite, the nymph Rhodes.
From this union the island of Rhodes appeared. Known for its near constant sunlight and pleasing atmosphere the island was believed to have been created by the union of both Helios (sun) and Rhodes (pleasing atmosphere).
Even 2,000 years ago the Island of Rhodes was known for its beauty and amazing weather. A paradise in the Aegean Sea, the Island of Rhodes would attract tourists from all over the world who traveled to take part in the laid back atmosphere of the Island.
(One of the most famous travelers to the Island of Rhodes was the second emperor of Rome, Tiberius.)
As such, the Island of Rhodes would always be associated with the sun god Helios. Today when you travel to the Greek Island you will discover an ancient history carved into the stone of the island. Sun crowns are everywhere and they represent Helios the Greek sun God who watches over the Island of Rhodes.
This is important because the Rhodesians would build the Colossus of Rhodes to represent themselves being protected from attack by Helios.
The Siege Of Rhodes (305-304 BC) Creating The Colossus Of Rhodes
The Island of Rhodes was besieged in 305 BC. The reason for this siege was Rhodes neutrality in an ongoing war between the Macedonian King and the King of Egypt.
Rhodes itself was a maritime republic that focused heavily upon being a naval power that taxed the passage of goods in and out of the Aegean Sea. However, even though Rhodes maintained neutrality they were close friends with the Greek Pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy I.
The fear of the Macedonian King, Antigonus I, was that Rhodes would eventually side with Ptolemy of Egypt. This would prove disastrous for Macedon as they could not defeat Rhodes superior fleet power and the military might of Egypt at the same time.
On top of this Rhodes was one of the most wealthy city-states in all of Greece. Having grown a huge maritime navy and trading empire Rhodes was essentially a jewel in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Along with securing the city Macedon was also interested in plundering the wealthy city.
As such, in 305 BC Macedon launched a surprise invasion of the Island of Rhodes to force Rhodes to support Macedon. This was the start of one of the most popular sieges in the history of the Greek world.
Over 1,000 military and private Macedonian ships made their way to Rhodes. Upon getting to the city Macedon was surprised to find out that Rhodes had been alerted to their advance and had set up their defenses.
For nearly a year both sides would fight each other. Both the Rhodesians and the Macedonians would build amazing machines to help in the siege. The Rhodesians built a series of primitive mines that prevented ladders from being deployed to scale the walls. In response to this the Macedonians built the medieval siege tower, which was called the Helepolis.
However, for a year both sides could not secure a victory in the siege. The city of Rhodes was too well fortified and could easily have its ships escape from a blockade to resupply the city. Macedon could not secure a foothold on the walls of Rhodes and its inventions failed to help.
As such, in 304 BC the Siege of Rhodes was lifted. Both sides signed a peace agreement where Rhodes would remain neutral and Macedon would leave. Macedon would abandon their siege equipment including the massive Helepolis tower made of Bronze.
Sometime around 304-300 BC the abandoned Macedonian siege equipment would be melted down to create enough bronze for the Rhodesians to do something with. This bronze would be used to create a 100 foot tall statue that today we call the Colossus of Rhodes.
The Building Of The Colossus Of Rhodes (292-280 BC)
It took 19 years to build the Colossus of Rhodes. After the abandonment of the siege of Rhodes by Macedon in 304 BC the Rhodesians began to melt down the bronze weapons left by Macedon.
This gave Rhodes a massive supply of Bronze and little to do with it. There were reports of portions of the abandoned Macedonian camp being sold off for around 300 talents of silver. An Attic talent unit of measurement is around 57 lbs of pure silver.
This means that the Island of Rhodes gained around 17,100 lbs of pure silver from the sale of the left over Macedonian equipment from the abandoned Siege of Rhodes. Today that is around $4,531,500 worth of silver from just selling some of the leftover equipment.
This $4.5 million would be used to build the Colossus of Rhodes to celebrate the Rhodesians victory against Macedon. Along with the leftover bronze the Island of Rhodes would commission the sculptor Chares of Lindian to create a massive statue to honor the residents of Rhodes.
Sometime in the winter of 292 BC construction of the Colossus of Rhodes began. The first part of the structure to be built was the marble pedestal on which the colossus would stand. This pedestal was around 15 feet tall and was filled with stones. The perimeter of the pedestal would be covered with solid white marble.
After the pedestal was built two solid rock feet were constructed. Across these rock feet bronze plating would be riveted. This gave the base of the statue a solid copper appearance and would have shown in the sunlight.
The rest of the statue itself was built out of iron bars with a bronze skin overlaid on top of it. Each section of the statue had bronze plates that were riveted together. From the knee down the statue had 1 inch thick bronze plates, at the abdomen the bronze plates became .75 inches thick, and the upper portion of the body had plate thickness ranging from .24-.5 inches.
This allowed the statue to soar to incredible heights. Also the statue had some degree of sway according to Pliny the Elder. This was probably an intended part of the statue to withstand the sea breeze and storms.
In all the construction of the Colossus of Rhodes took around 19 years to do. The statue was built to celebrate the people of Rhodes in their heroic defense of the city. The statue was built to resemble the Greek sun god Helios who according to legend found the city and watched over it.
The Standing And Collapse Of the Statue (280-226 BC)
The Colossus of Rhodes was finally finished in 280 BC. Historians are unsure of the exact image of the Colossus as it only stood for 54 years before falling into the sea after a violent earthquake.
However, for those 54 years the Island of Rhodes would experience a golden age. Not only had they successfully defended their city against Macedon but also they had made a ton of money from selling the abandoned siege equipment.
Historians have ancient accounts of tourists coming to the Island of Rhodes to see the colossus and staying because of the splendor of the city itself. Sometime around the mid 3rd century BC an anonymous poet would visit the city of Rhodes and write a poem dedicated to the grandeur of the people and the city.
The Island of Rhodes itself was a free city-state. On top of this it was a maritime power that controlled a large portion of the Aegean and Mediterranean Sea. While it did not contend with the growing power of Rome it was still a powerful ally to both the east and west.
In 226 BC the Island of Rhodes suffered a massive earthquake. The epicenter of this earthquake was near the city of Rhodes and caused significant damage to the city. Across the city buildings were destroyed and monuments fell. The most important monument, the Colossus of Rhodes, snapped off at the knees and tumbled onto the nearby land.
Greek city-states around the ancient world offered to help repay the damages to Rhodes. We don’t know if the Island of Rhodes took advantage of any of these offers however.
As historians we do know that the city of Rhodes experienced a period of economic hardship. Over the course of only a couple years several forms of new coins were minted in the city of Rhodes to help combat inflation. This more than likely was the result of efforts to help rebuild the city.
As such the Colossus of Rhodes only stood for 54 years before being destroyed in an earthquake near the Island of Rhodes.
The Statue’s Remains Attracting Tourists (226 BC-653 AD)
For 879 years the Colossus of Rhodes laid in pieces surrounding the harbor of Rhodes.
Even destroying the Colossus of Rhodes was a sight to behold. Pliny the Elder talks about how a man could not even stretch his arms around the thumb of the statue and that the colossus’s fingers are larger than most statues. Further, you could walk through the fallen statue where you could marvel at how it was created.
Strabo the ancient Roman Geographer supposedly visited the city of Rhodes and saw the destroyed colossus. While Strabo does not offer nearly as visual of an image he does mention how it was destroyed and broke off at the knees. Even in its destroyed state Strabo states that it is still one of the 7 wonders of the world.
The remains of the Colossus of Rhodes would remain strewn about the Harbor of Rhodes for 800 years before being melted down and sold by an invading Umayyad Caliphate General, Muawiyah I. Even then it was reported that it took over 900 camels to carry out all of the bronze of the statue.
Other reports from the same time period state that the total amount of bronze taken from the destroyed statue was around 3,000 loads of brass. This would have been several tons of bronze taken from the statue.
The Colossus Of Rhodes In Modern Imagination
To this day the world is fascinated with the Colossus of Rhodes. In many ways the statue has gained a larger than life status over 2,000 years after its destruction.
Today when you travel to Rhodes you will see iconography and cultural traditions that stem from the Colossus of Rhodes. Restaurants, bars, parks, and even some government documents are all inspired by the long gone statue.
What is even more impressive is the influence the statue has had upon popular culture. William Shakespeare writes on the influence of the Colossus on Roman culture in his play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
Even during the medieval era ancient sculptors and engineers were writing on how the colossus itself would straddle the harbor of Rhodes. This however, would have been impossible to do for the time period. Not only did Rhodes not have the ability to dredge the harbor but also the bronze casting would have been too heavy and caused the colossus to collapse under its own weight.
In 2008 a team of German engineers and artists attempted to raise funds to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes for $200 million Euros. However, they never received the funds and the project has since stopped development.
There you have it; an entire article dedicated to the history and reason for building the Colossus of Rhodes.
The Colossus of Rhodes is a fascinating subject. Somehow in the 3rd century BC the tiny island of Rhodes successfully defended itself against outside invasion and then decided to build a massive statue. This is by far a more intriguing subject than the statue itself and prospective graduate students of history will find lots of stuff to research here.
Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider subscribing to the free newsletter and sharing around the web.
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