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The Colossus of Rhodes was a huge statue representing the patron god of the city, Helios (the sun god), and stood in the port of Mandraki on the island of Rhodes in Greece. Although it has remained intact and in all its splendour for just over 50 years, its large size and imposing presence at the Rhodes coastal entrance have made it an undeniable candidate as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

"Rhodes Colossus’ Closest Representation. Credit: Technical Artist Te Hu

Rhodes is a Greek island located at the intersection of two ancient sea trade routes, in southwest Asia Minor and near Egypt. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, the administration of his empire and its future were uncertain. Finally, three of his generals took control and, following several wars, divided the empire into three regions. Rhodes sided with a general, Ptolemy, who eventually controlled Egypt. Together, they forged a fruitful relationship, as well as control of trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. One of the other generals, Antigonus, got angry about it and tried to convince the island of Rhodes to side with him. Rhodes, of course, opposed it. Antigonus then called upon his son Demetrios (1st Poliorcète) to invade Rhodes in 305 BC. Despite an army of 40,000 men and 200 warships, Demetrios failed to break through the impressive defences of Rhodes and the relief troops that Ptolemy had sent.

Following this decisive victory, it was decided that a commemorative statue would be erected in honour of Helios, the patron god of Rhodes. This would prove rather simple for Rhodes, since Demetrios had left behind all the equipment he and his army had used in his invasion attempts, and so the Rhodians were able to finance the construction of the statue with the sale of the goods.

Other representation of the Colossus of Rhodes. Credits : Artist Anonymous, 1760 / Photo: Alamy

The inhabitants of Rhodes called upon the Greek sculptor Chares de Lindos in 294 BC to cast a giant bronze sculpture representing Helios. For 12 years, Chares and his men worked to complete the monument. It is generally accepted that it was forged around stone block towers, 33 meters high. Helios stood on a marble base 15 metres high, positioned at the entrance to the port of Rhodes. Using the materials that had been cast from the weapons left by Demetrios, the stone towers were reinforced with iron and bronze beams. The finished statue would probably have depicted Helios standing, legs joined or spread on two towers according to the theories, holding a torch in his right hand and a spear in his left hand which is very evocative of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour. The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280 BC.

Unfortunately, when Rhodes suffered an earthquake in 224 BC, the Colossus broke from its knees, the upper part falling to the ground. Although Ptolemy III proposed to rebuild it, an oracle advised the Rhodians not to do so. Therefore, for the next 900 years, the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes remained on the ground, attracting visitors from all over the world to see its massive scale. Then, when the Arabs conquered Rhodes in 654 AD, the remains were broken and transported to Syria, probably sold piece by piece. Thus ends the story of the ephemeral wonder of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes.

It was without doubt one of the most formidable statues in ancient history.

Top Picture Credit: Tony Hisgett

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Pière J. Robin
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