believe the Colossus of Rhodes stood at the harbor entrance
of the ancient port city. (Copyright LeeKrystek,
Travelers to the New York City harbor see a marvelous
sight. Standing on a small island in the harbor is an immense
statue of a robed woman, holding a book and lifting a torch to
the sky. The statue measures almost one-hundred and twenty feet
from foot to crown. It is sometimes referred to as the "Modern
Colossus," but more often called the Statue of Liberty.
This awe-inspiring statue was a gift from France
to America and is easily recognized by people around the world.
What many visitors to this shrine to freedom don't know is that
the statue, the "Modern Colossus," is the echo of another statue,
the original colossus, that stood over two thousand years ago
at the entrance to another busy harbor on the Island of Rhodes.
Like the Statue of Liberty, this colossus was also built as a
celebration of freedom. This amazing statue, standing the same
height from toe to head as the modern colossus, was one of the
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Island 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 B.C. and was designed
to take advantage of the island's best natural harbor on the northern
Island of Rhodes (Modern Greece)
Between 292 - 280 BC
Commemorate War Victory
226 BC by an earthquake
Height without 50 foot pedestal was 110 ft. (30m)
of: Bronze plates attached to iron framework
Made in the shape of the island's patron god Helios
In 357 B.C. the island was conquered by Mausolus
of Halicarnassus (whose tomb is one of the other Seven Wonders
of the Ancient World) but 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 in 305 BC sent his son Demetrius to capture and punish the
city of Rhodes.
War with Demetrius
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.
engraving by Martin Heemskerck in 16th-century helped to
establish the inaccurate harbor spanning pose in people's
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 that could be moved
up to a defender's walls to allow the attackers to climb over
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, causing the battle to be won
by the Rhodians.
Demetrius had a second super tower built and called
it the Helepolis which translates to "Taker of Cities."
This massive structure stood almost 150 feet high and some 75
feet square at the base and weight 160 tons. 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 it could be rolled up to the walls
under the power of 200 soldiers turning a large capstan.
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
Rhodes. Demetrius withdrew quickly, leaving the great siege tower
where it was. He signed a peace treaty and called his siege a
victory as Rhodes agreed to remain neutral in his war against
artist's conception of the statue with a slightly different
Lee Krystek, 1998)
The people of Rhodes saw the end of conflict differently,
however. To celebrate their victory and freedom, the people of
Rhodes 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. Although some reportedly
place the start of construction as early as 304 BC it is more
likely the work started in 292 BC. According to Pliny, a historian
who lived several centuries after the Colossus was built, construction
took 12 years.
The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and
stood upon a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbor entrance perhaps
on a breakwater. Although the statue has sometimes 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. Historians believe the figure was nude or semi-nude
with a cloak over its left arm or shoulder. Some think it was
wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising sun with
its right hand, or possibly using that hand to hold a torch aloft
in a pose similar to one later given to the Statue of Liberty.
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.
When the statue was finished it was dedicated with
a poem: To you, o Sun, the people of Dorian Rhodes set up this
bronze statue reaching to Olympus, when they had pacified the
waves of war and crowned their city with the spoils taken from
the enemy. Not only over the seas but also on land did they kindle
the lovely torch of freedom and independence. For to the descendants
of Herakles belongs dominion over sea and land.
To Be Rebuilt?
to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes has been discussed a number
of times in the last fifty years. The most recent proposal
came in 2008. East German artist Gert Hof hopes to construct
a new version of the statue to Helios. However, he does
not wish to make it an exact replica. Instead it will stand
up to three times as tall as the original and allow people
to enter it. At night it will tell "stories" using an innovative
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 Pilon
of Byzantium, 15 tons of bronze were used and 9 tons of iron,
though these numbers seem low to modern architects. 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.
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
Some stories say that a massive earthen ramp was
used to access the statue during construction. Modern engineers,
however, calculate that such a ramp running all the way to the
top of the statue would have been too massive to be practical.
This lends credence to stories that the wood from the Helepolis
seige engine was reused to build a scaffolding around the statue
while it was being assembled.
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.
the Statue of Liberty with the Colossus:
Though the bodies are the same size, Liberty stands higher
because of the taller pedestal.
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
There is no evidence that either of these tales
is true, however.
of the Colossus
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 in 226 BC and the statue collapsed. Huge
pieces of the figure lay along the harbor for centuries.
A computer simulation suggests that the shaking
of the earthquake made the rivets holding the bronze plates together
break. At first only a few weak ones gave way, but when they failed
the remaining stress was transferred to the surviving rivets,
which then also failed in with a cascading effect. Though some
accounts related that the statue fell over and broke apart when
it hit the ground, it is more likely pieces, starting with the
arms, dropped away. The legs and ankles might have even remained
in position following the quake.
"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 the Egyptian king, Ptolemy III,
offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the people of Rhodes
refused his help. They had consulted the oracle of Delphi and
feared that somehow the statue had offended the god Helios, who
used the earthquake to throw it down.
In the seventh century A.D., 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 pieces. A sad end for what must have been a majestic
work of art.