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Learn About The Colossus of Rhodes

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Colossus of Rhodes

Colossus of Rhodes. Image ID: 1625151

NYPL Digital Library

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes lived up to its name. Built in tribute to Greek god Helios and in celebration of the end of a long siege, the one hundred and ten foot high Colossus was mounted on a pedestal about 50 feet high—dimensions that are not far off from another famous statue, the Colossus-inspired Statue of Liberty in New York. 

As its name suggests, the Colossus was located in the city of Rhodes on the island of the same name. Located near Asia Minor, Rhodes [See Bd on map of Asia Minor] was an ancient trading center. As such, it was highly coveted and repeatedly conquered. That tumultuous history helped give rise to this artistic and engineering wonder.

It was conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassusking of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus famein 357 B.C., then by the Persians, and then by Alexander the Great in 332.

Following the death of Alexander, the people of Rhodes sided with Ptolemy Soter (367-282 B.C.). Antigonus (382-301 B.C.), one of the other two successors to Alexander, thought he should control Rhodes, so he sent his son Demetrius (known as the Besieger "Polorketes" 337-283) with an army larger than the entire population of Rhodes.

The Rhodians were resourceful and lucky. They flooded the area outside the walls of the capital city (also Rhodes) and kept the invaders at bay for a year until Ptolemy's ships came from Egypt to help. The invaders then left, abandoning much of their military equipment.

In about 304, the Rhodians took advantage of this abandoned material to build a great statue in honor of their patron god Helios—the Greek god of the sunand to commemorate their victory.

The statue, thought to have taken 12 years to complete, was designed by Chares, an architect who studied with Lysippus, creator of a 60-foot statue of Zeus. Chare’s creation was built by erecting an iron framework to support the bronze plates sculpture of Helios. According one ancient text, the work used 15 tons of bronze and 9 tons of iron, although that number seems small compared to Lady Liberty who weighs in at 225 tons. 

While many artists have depicted the Colossus as straddling the harbor of Rhodes, scholars believe the statue was positioned on one side of the water, standing is a more classical pose.  It remained in place, shimmering in the sun and greeting harbor visitors for 56 years, until in 226 B.C. an earthquake struck Rhodes and the Colossus collapsed, laying in pieces by the harbor. Centuries later, when Rhodes was conquered by Arabs, the remaining pieces were sold off as scrap metal, a sad and tragic ending to one of the ancient world’s most legendary works of art.

 

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