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Colossus of Rhodes

The island of Rhodes was an important economic center in the ancient world. It is located off the southwestern tip of Asia Minor where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean. The capitol city, also named Rhodes, was built in 408 BC and was designed to take advantage of the island's best natural harbor on the northern coast.

The island of Rhodes, in the Eastern Mediterranean, was frequently attacked by navies of rival islands, and one siege by the Greeks in the end of the fourth century BC dragged on for a year before the Greeks finally abandoned their attack and left the citizens of Rhodes in peace.

Wishing to celebrate this victory, the citizens of Rhodes chose to build a giant statue of Helos, their God of the Sun and protector. Using in part the bronze from weapons and hardware left by the Greeks, they commissioned a huge bronze sculpture, with a wooden structural support inside, that would stand over a hundred feet high. It was completed in 280 BC. The Statue, which was about 32 meters high was considered one of the seven wonders of the world stood for only a little more than 50 years before it was destroyed in an earthquake and laid with his face in the sand for centuries after.

"Even as it lies," wrote Pliny, "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." It is said that an Egyptian king offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the Rhodians refused. They feared that somehow the statue had offended the god Helios, who used the earthquake to throw it down. In the seventh century AD the Arabs conquered Rhodes and broke the remains of the Colossus up into smaller pieces and sold it as scrap metal. Legend says it took 900 camels to carry away the statue. A sad end for what must have been a majestic work of art. (reference)

Historical Notes

In 357 BC the island was conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus (whose tomb is one of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), fell into Persian hands in 340 BC, and was finally captured by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. When Alexander died of a fever at an early age, his generals fought bitterly among themselves for control of Alexander's vast kingdom. Three of them, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigous, succeeded in dividing the kingdom among themselves. The Rhodians supported Ptolemy (who wound up ruling Egypt) in this struggle. This angered Antigous who sent his son Demetrius to capture and punish the city of Rhodes. The war was long and painful. Demetrius brought an army of 40,000 men. This was more than the entire population of Rhodes. He also augmented his force by using Aegean pirates.

The city was protected by a strong, tall, wall and the attackers were forced to use siege towers to try and climb over it. Siege towers were wooden structures often armed with catapults that could be moved up to a defender's walls to allow the attackers to scale them. While some were designed to be rolled up on land, Demetrius used a giant tower mounted on top of six ships lashed together to make his attack. This tower, though, was turned over and smashed when a storm suddenly approached. The battle was won by the Rhodians.

Demetrius had a second supertower built. This one stood almost 150 feet high and some 75 feet square at the base. It was equipped with many catapults and skinned with wood and leather to protect the troops inside from archers. It even carried water tanks that could be used to fight fires started by flaming arrows. This tower was mounted on iron wheels and could be rolled up to the walls.

When Demetrius attacked the city, the defenders stopped the war machine by flooding a ditch outside the walls and miring the heavy monster in the mud. By then almost a year had gone by and a fleet of ships from Egypt arrived to assist the city. Demetrius withdrew quickly leaving the great siege tower where it was. To celebrate their victory and freedom, the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios. They melted down bronze from the many war machines Demetrius left behind for the exterior of the figure and the super siege tower became the scaffolding for the project.

The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbor mole. Although the statue has been popularly depicted with its legs spanning the harbor entrance so that ships could pass beneath, it was actually posed in a more traditional Greek manner: nude, wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising sun with its right hand, while holding a cloak over its left. No ancient account mentions the harbor-spanning pose and it seems unlikely the Greeks would have depicted one of their gods in such an awkward manner. In addition, such a pose would mean shutting down the harbor during the construction, something not economically feasible.

Comparing the Statue of Liberty with the Colossus

Though the bodies are the same size the Statue stands higher because of the taller pedestal and upraised torch. The statue was constructed of bronze plates over an iron framework (very similar to the Statue of Liberty which is copper over a steel frame).

According to the book of Philon of Byzantium, 15 tons of bronze were used and 9 tons of iron, though these numbers seem low. The Statue of Liberty, roughly of the same size, weighs 225 tons. The Colossus, which relied on weaker materials, must have weighed at least as much and probably more.According to Pliny, a historian who lived several centuries after the Colossus was built, construction took 12 years. Other historians place the start of the work in 304 BC.

Ancient accounts tell us that inside the statue were several stone columns which acted as the main support. Iron beams were driven into the stone and connected with the bronze outer skin. Each bronze plate had to be carefully cast then hammered into the right shape for its location in the figure, then hoisted into position and riveted to the surrounding plates and the iron frame.

The Colossus Architect

The architect of this great construction was Chares of Lindos, a Rhodian sculptor who was a patriot and fought in defense of the city. Chares had been involved with large scale statues before. His teacher, Lysippus, had constructed a 60-foot high likeness of Zeus. Chares probably started by making smaller versions of the statue, maybe three feet high, then used these as a guide to shaping each of the bronze plates of the skin.

It is believed Chares did not live to see his project finished. There are several legends that he committed suicide. In one tale he has almost finished the statue when someone points out a small flaw in the construction. The sculptor is so ashamed of it he kills himself. In another version the city fathers decide to double the height of the statue. Chares only doubles his fee, forgetting that doubling the height will mean an eightfold increase in the amount of materials needed. This drives him into bankruptcy and suicide. There is no evidence that either of these tales are true. The Colossus stood proudly at the harbor entrance for some fifty-six years. Each morning the sun must have caught its polished bronze surface and made the god's figure shine. Then an earthquake hit Rhodes and the statue collapsed. Huge pieces of the figure lay along the harbor for centuries.

Other landmarks: Christ the Redeemer, Colossus, Colossus, Delhi pillar,Eiffel tower, Golden Gate bridge, Great Buddha, Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), Guggenheim Museum (NYC), Normandy bridge, Oresund crossing, Quebec Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Thames Barrier, Titanic, Tower of the Orologio, Washington Monument