The island of Rhodes was an important economic and commercial center in the ancient world. It is located off the southwestern tip of Asia Minor where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea. The capital city, also named Rhodes, was built in 408 BC and was designed to take advantage of the island’s best natural harbor on its northern coast (The Colossus of Rhodes 2). In this city one of the most famous statues of all time was built. It was called the Colossus of Rhodes. This statue, an amazing feat of engineering as well as a beauty of it’s time, is what made the island of Rhodes as well known as it is today.
In 408 BC the three sections of the island united together to form one territory. The city of Rhodes was made the capital. Rhodes thrived commercially and economically. In 305 BC the Macedonians attacked the island. The Rhodians won the war and the Macedonians left the following year. To celebrate their victory over the Macedonians, the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god of the sun, Helios (The Colossus of Rhodes 3). The construction started in 304 BC and ended twelve years later in 292 BC.
When the Macedonians left Rhodes, they left almost all of their weapons, war machines, and towers on the island. The Rhodians melted down the bronze from all these remaining war machines for the exterior of the figure. They used the Macedonian supersiege tower that had been left behind as the scaffolding for the project (The Colossus of Rhodes 2). The construction was described as follows:
The plates they used to make the skin were made on the ground, then lifted and attached to the framework. They built earth ramps around and up the statue just as the workers did to make the Great Pyramids. They used the ramps so they could carry the bronze plates to the higher levels of the Colossus. After the levels were finished, they made the ramps as high as the head, and the rest of the Colossus was covered with packed dirt. When the head was finished and the dirt was removed, the bronze was polished. (The Colossus of Rhodes 1)
Since the statue no longer exists we are not quite sure of its location. For many years it was believed that the statue straddled the harbor entrance with boats sailing between its legs as it is depicted in many pictures. Today we can be sure that it stood on land apart from everything else. The way in which it was constructed would have dictated that. It was built on a pedestal with its legs together, not on two pedestals with its legs spanning the harbor.(The Seven Wonders: Colossus of Rhodes 1). Also, if it was built across the harbor, the harbor would have had to have been closed for twelve years, which would have made the economy plummet.
The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal. The Colossus stood proudly at the harbor entrance for many years. Each morning, as the sun rose, it caught the statue’s polished bronze surface and made the god’s figure shine (The Colossus of Rhodes 3). It was a symbol of freedom for all Rhodians.
Chares Lindos, the architect of the statue, is believed not to have lived to see his project finished. One tale states that he had almost finished the statue when someone pointed out a small flaw in the construction. The architect was so ashamed he killed himself (The Colossus of Rhodes 3). In the other story, the city decided to double the height of the statue. Chares only doubled his fee, forgetting that doubling the height would mean that he would need eight times as many materials. This drove him into bankruptcy and suicide. However, there is no evidence that either of these tales is true.
Only sixty-six years after the giant Colossus was built, in 226 BC, an earthquake struck the island of Rhodes, snapping the Colossus at its weakest point, the knees (Cox and Morris 24). When the statue fell and broke, an Egyptian king offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the Rhodians refused. They feared that the statue had somehow offended the god Helios (The Colossus of Rhodes 2). He had used the earthquake to throw the first statue down and building another one would just cause more grief.
After the earthquake brought the statue to the ground huge pieces of the figure lay by the harbor for centuries. After its collapse, people came to gaze at the ruins of the fallen sun god. "But even lying on the ground, it is a marvel", said Pliny the Elder. "And when it fell, few people could make their arms meet round its thumb" (The Seven Wonders: The Colossus of Rhodes 2). Finally, almost 1,000 years after it had fallen, when the Arabs conquered Rhodes, they took away the remains of the statue to be used as scrap metal. Legend says it took 900 camels to carry away the pieces of the statue.
The word colossus was originally a pre-Greek, Western Asiatic word for a statue or statuette. After the creation of the Colossus of Rhodes, however, and its inclusion amongst the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the word came to be restricted to gigantic statues. The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the greatest statues of all time. The statue was gigantic not only when it was erected, but also when it was lying in pieces on the ground. It is generally agreed that the statue was seventy cubits, however, it was once said to be as much as eighty including the base. Even though measuring in cubits was not very specific, it is a fact that the statue was at least 110 feet high.
There were a few large statues of around thirty feet or so in Greece at the time, but there never had been or never would be again a statue as large as the Colossus of Rhodes in the ancient world. That is why the Colossus of Rhodes was chosen as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It made a very large impact not only upon Rhodes but also upon surrounding areas. For many centuries after the statue had fallen, the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians referred to the Rhodians simply as the "Colossians". The great Roman, Greek, and Egyptian civilizations used the Colossus as a guide for building. They used the same construction methods and materials for many of their great structures that helped make their civilizations as great as they were.
Not only was the Colossus of Rhodes the most famous statue of ancient times, it was also the inspiration to French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, best known by his most noted work: The Statue of Liberty, the most famous statue of modern times (The Seven Wonders: The Colossus of Rhodes 2). The shape of the Statue of Liberty is almost identical to that of the Colossus of Rhodes, a person on a pedestal holding up a torch with the right arm. Lady Liberty wears a crown, just as Helios had rays of sun coming from his head. The Statue of Liberty and the Colossus of Rhodes were both symbols of freedom to their respective countries.
There has been a petition circulating among the citizens of Rhodes to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes for the new millennium. This may or may not happen.
The Colossus of Rhodes was very deserving of its great award, to be counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not only did it represent the country of Rhodes, it was also one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. From the Romans to the Americans, it has influenced many people throughout the centuries. Even though it no longer stands, it will always be remembered as the one of the greatest statues of all time.