Island of Rhodes (Modern Greece)
Between 292 - 280 BC
Commemorate War Victory
226 BC by an earthquake
without 50 foot pedestal was 110 ft. (30m)
| Made of:
Bronze plates attached to iron framework
in the shape of the island's patron god Helios
of the Great Colossus
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.
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.
The Island of
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 coast.
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.
The 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.
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 Ptolemy.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 is true, however.
Collapse of the
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
"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
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.
size of the Colossus was similar to that of the Statue of Liberty,
but the Liberty has a higher pedestal.
Copyright Lee Krystek 2011.