The Colossus of Rhodes

Rhodes, one of the Greek Isles, straddled the trade routes between the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Its capital, with the highly original name Rhodes, was build in 408BC around the best natural harbour on the island.

Some fifty years later the island was conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus, yes, him of the Mausoleum. He lost the little kingdom to the Persian how again lost it to Alexander the Great in 322BC. At his death it was divided among three of his generals, including Ptolemy.

The Rhodians preferred Ptolemy, who ended up ruling Egypt after Alexander’s death, which did not make Antigous, one of the other generals very happy. The general sent his son Demetrius with 40,000 men to conquer the city.

Due to the large walls around the city, the attackers were forced to use wooden siege towers to try and get into the city. Demetrius first attempt, using a floating tower, failed as did the second using an even bigger tower. A year after the siege started Ptolemy’s relief force arrived and Demetrius fled.

As a sign of their victory the Rhodians melted down Demetrios’ war machines and used the metal to construct a huge statue of their patron god, Helios. According to Pliny it took them twelve years to finish the 40 meter high statue.

Popular myth depicts the statue as standing with its legs spread on either side of the harbour mouth. This doesn’t seem very likely as it’s a strange pose for a Greek statue.

The statue was created by Chares of Lindos, a local sculptor, who had fought in the defense of the city. Built around stone pillars, with iron rods for stability, the wooden framework was covered in bronze plates, that were carefully hammered in place.

Sadly enough Helios’ glory lasted for only fifty-six years when an earthquake shook the city and tumbled the statue. For centuries it lay beside the harbour entrance a memory of its old glory.

Pliny writes:

“Even as it lies, it excites our wonder and admiration. Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms, and its fingers are larger than most statues. Where the limbs are broken asunder, vast caverns are seen yawning in the interior. Within it, too, are to be seen large masses of rock, by the weight of which the artist steadied it while erecting it.”

Sadly enough when the Arabs conquered Rhodes they broke up the remains and sold the pieces off as scrap. Somehow I have this picture in my mind of crafty peddlers selling bits of bronze to unwary tourists even centuries later telling them they used to be part of the statue.