The death of King Alexander the Great in c. 323BC was an unexpected one which meant that no plans had been set in stone for a successor. Arguments over who should rule the Greek Empire broke out between Antigonus and the two other generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, with whom he had previously divided Rhodes. Many attempts were made by Antigonus’ son Demetrius to invade Rhodes, but these attempts were defended and Demetrius’ army had to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weaponry and siege equipment at the city’s walls. Ptolemy and the people of Rhodes sold the equipment and celebrated by using the money to build a great statue of their God, Helios (God of the Sun).
The statue was known as the Colossus of Rhodes and it stood well over 100 feet high, making it one of the tallest man made structures in the world. It was this height and the intense story behind it that earned the Colossus of Rhodes its title as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Construction began in c. 304BC once the materials and how it should be built had been decided upon. Sadly, just 56 years after its completion a strong earthquake hit Rhodes and cause the Colossus to break at the knees and after an Oracle to the city claimed reparation of the statue would be catastrophic, it was never to be seen standing in Rhodes again.
Of course, the Colossus of Rhodes cannot be seen today and remnants of the statue cannot be found anywhere in the world, but the story of its existence lives on.
The Greek architect Chares is possibly one of the most important people in this legend as he was the man who led the project to construction and completion. He also fought for Rhodes before the sculpture was even a concept and indeed before Demetrius lost his equipment. In turn, Chares is the man who inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the architect who worked on the Statue of Liberty that we know today as the ‘modern Colossus’.
Another important name for the Colossus of Rhodes was the historian Pliny, who lived hundreds of years after Colossus was built. He reported on the statue, saying that even after its destruction it would still have been a marvel and also told of its construction taking around 12 years. Without this information from Pliny (who was also known as Pliny the Elder) we would know considerably less about this wonder of the ancient world than we do today.
Where it is Today:
It wasn’t until AD654 that the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes were removed from the place where it fell. The broken pieces were bought by a Jewish man and were transported all the way to Syria by camel. These remnants are now nowhere to be found, which is not surprising considering they would be thousands of years old by now.
What stands in place is hard to comment on, because there are conflicting views over where the Colossus of Rhodes stood in the first place. Some believe Helios’ legs straddled the breakwater at the harbor entrance, whereas others believe it was located further inland and away from the water. Either way, those who are interested in the Colossus can still visit the Greek Island of Rhodes (which is also now a World Heritage Site) and picture how it would have felt to be around when the Colossus was still there.
As we’ve already said, we owe much of what we know about the Colossus of Rhodes to Pliny the Elder; a historian who lived centuries after the statue had fallen. Without Pliny writing this information down and having it passed on through subsequent generations, we may have lost a great deal of the important details that keep this spectacular story together.
Of course, there is also a lot of information documented on the Internet about Chares’ sculpture, but the Greek Island of Rhodes is the place to visit if you want to learn about the ancient traditions and lifestyle of that era, and also the details of the war that brought its construction about.