A Wonder of the Ancient World

By Avery, Ginny, & Kristy

The Colossus of Rhodes. Hand-coloured engraving by Martin Heemskerck via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Colossus of Rhodes. Hand-coloured engraving by Martin Heemskerck via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Colossus of Rhodes was a bronze statue personifying Helios, the Greek sun god, which had been built by the sculptor Chares of Lindos to honor the god as well as to commemorate the victory of Rhodians against the invasion of the Macedonian. It is recorded by Pliny the Elder that the Colossus was started in 292 BCE and completed in 280 BCE, an awfully long 12-year construction. It took three hundred talents (about 375 million USD!) to totally finish this enormous structure.

According to most accounts, the Colossus of Rhodes stood approximately at 105 feet (32 meters), but in more recent studies, it is pointed out that the statue is in fact 120 feet tall (36.5 meters), making it one of the tallest statues of the ancient world. Being one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient time, however, the statue only celebrated its existence for less than 60 years before being partially destroyed in 226 BC by an earthquake (p. 129). It laid prostrate for several hundred years until after the Saracens conquered the island in 653 CE, when it was completely broken down and its bronze was sold to a Jewish dealer.

The Birth of Colossus

The Colossus of Rhodes Straddling over the Harbor (1886). Painting by Ferdinand Knab (cropped) via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Colossus of Rhodes Straddling over the Harbor (1886). Painting by Ferdinand Knab (cropped) via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

The Island of Rhodes was a very important economic center, mainly because of its noble works of art, healthy climate and its fertile soil. In 332 BC, it was conquered by Alexander the Great. However, Alexander died at an early age in 323 BC. This led to a conflict for power among the generals. Eventually, three of them managed to divide the kingdom into their three parts. However, the Rhodians sided with only one of the generals, Ptolemy of Egypt. In 307 BC, one of the other generals, Antigonus called the Rhodians to join him in a war against Ptolemy, but they refused as they had a good trading relationship with Egypt. This led to the siege of Rhodes in 305 BC by Antigonus’ son Demetrius, but his army was no match for the Rhodians. After the defeat, Antigonus ordered Demetrius to make terms with them and even left behind all his siege engines (pg. 125-127).

To celebrate their victory and freedom, the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios. The siege tower became the basic frame of the statue and the bronze in the war machines left behind by Demetrius was melted to be used for the exterior of it (pg. 125- 127).

Helios - The Inspiration

Apollo on Chariot. Photo reproduction by Louis Grell via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Apollo on Chariot. Photo reproduction by Louis Grell via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

As aforementioned, the Colossus was depicted based on the model of the Greek Titan god, Helios. He plays the role of the Sun god, along with his sisters, Selene - the Moon, and Eos - the Dawn. It is believed that everyday, he drives his chariot across the sky bringing light and warmth to the mortal world.

In Greek mythology, Helios did not play a major part, as later in time, he was replaced by and considered as Apollo, who most of us think of when we hear of “the sun god.” However, Helios sometimes is thought of being a different deity from Apollo, as the former is a Titan with the only function of the Sun, while the latter is an Olympian assigned with many more duties, concerned with prophecy, medicine, archery, music and poetry, and various arts. In the eyes of Homer, they are definitely two different figures, as Apollo was mentioned in The Iliad during the Trojan War, while Helios was depicted in The Odyssey.

In the ancient world, the worshipping of Apollo and Helios were also quite distinct across regions, since Apollo was praised by the Trojans, as we already know from our first blog post (Troy: Film Review), and Helios was considered the patron god for the Island of Rhodes.

Sculptor - Chares of Lindos

Chares of Lindos was the favorite student of the famous artist Lysippos, the architect behind the construction of a statue of Zeus which stood 60 feet high. Chares was celebrated as one of the greatest artists of Rhodes as well as the “chief founder of the Rhodian school of sculpture.”

Not much is recorded about his life after the statue was built. His death is also a mystery. According to The Island of Rhodes and Its Great Statue, after knowing that the amount of money used to build the statue was already used up when the construction was half-completed, Chares was so discouraged that he committed suicide. It is quite sad that he did not live to see its successful completion, his masterpiece.

 

The Statue of Liberty - The Modern Colossus?

Left: Colossus of Rhodes. 1880. Wood engraving by Sidney Barclay via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain. Right: Statue of Liberty. On Liberty Island, Upper New York Bay (August 2004). Unknown Author via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons.

It is apparent that the Colossus of Rhodes and the Statue of Liberty have considerable similarities. Both of them were built after the people of the cities gained freedom, and they are, or were, the symbols of the two prosperous cities, Rhodes and New York. The body, from heel to head, of Colossus of Rhodes (105-120 feet) was of similar height as that of the Statue of Liberty (111 feet), otherwise the latter seems to be much taller because of a higher pedestal and the raised torch.

It is also said that the widely known version of the Colossus of Rhodes was the inspiration for the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, upon designing his most famous work, the Statue of Liberty (p. 130). It can be seen in several artworks that the Colossus of Rhodes wears a sun-rayed crown, and holds a torch in his right hand.

The Posture of the Statue

The Colossus of Rhodes. By Patrimonios Del Mundo via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons.

The Colossus of Rhodes. By Patrimonios Del Mundo via Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons.

Because of the destruction of the Colossus, and the various depictions of it, the real configuration of the statue is basically unclear. No one is exactly sure how it looked or what its posture was. There are various versions of the statue presented by several sources. According to The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it is possible that the statue represented “a naked young man standing stiffly erect, with legs together holding a torch in one hand and a spear in the other” (p. 130). In The Island of Rhodes and Its Statue, it is stated that the statue held a bow in his left hand and hung a lyre (a musical instrument) at his back, as an accurate representation of the god Apollo (another confusion about the identities of the two gods).

Nevertheless, the most common depiction of the statue that we can find is the posture that we called “the split” *wink wink*. We are quite intrigued by this posture of the Colossus that was shown in many drawings, as it stood before the Mandraki harbor and spilt its legs over the entrance. However, that is highly unlikely the true posture of the statue. As pointed out in an old source, The Colossus of Rhodes in The Catholic World, “the statue was said to be 105 feet in height, and the harbor entrance, according to modern researchers, was 350 feet wide; it could not, therefore, possibly reach across this space.” Furthermore, most of the fragments of the statue would fall into the sea because of the earthquake that shattered it, while it was documented that the fragments of the Colossus “remained for a considerable time imbedded in the earth.” It is also impossible for the statue to straddle the harbor entrance since the traffic would be halted for the whole 12 years of construction. Despite the numerous speculations and controversies, what the statue actually looked like is still a mystery to this day. One thing for certain is that the statue of Colossus was standing upright and probably naked (p. 129).

We wonder why the statue is drawn that way, though? What is that pose trying to convey? From our perspective, this epic pose overall makes the statue look quite strong, tough, and free (Does anyone get that? Haha). But still, to us a modern viewers, it seems kinda lewd, to be honest. Imagine how awkward it was to cross under that… But hey, the ancient arts are full of wonderful human physiques, so we have tried our best to not be so critical here. Perhaps at that time, it was socially acceptable and maybe even valued to have nude statues so that the beauty of the human/ god body could be marveled at by the public.

The Rebirth of Colossus

It is said that after its destruction in the earthquake of 226 BC, Rhodians were against rebuilding the Colossus of Rhodes because the Oracle of Delphi suggested that its destruction meant they had angered Helios by building it in the first place. However, plans to rebuild it have been discussed a number of times in the last fifty years. The most recent proposal came in 2015. A company of architects in Greece has plans to rebuild it but this time five times higher, at 150 meters, taller than the Statue of Liberty. The new Colossus will be a tourist attraction, with shops, cafes, a museum and a library, and will also act as a lighthouse. One of the project's goals is to ease the economic hardships that have plagued Greece lately by both employing construction workers and attracting tourists to the island of Rhodes. The planned statue is intended to “put Rhodes again on the world map.”

Here is a video of the upcoming project!

Significance to History

The Colossus was the pride of the city, of the people of Rhodes. After the war, the Rhodians decided to express their pride by building the grand statue as a praise to their god, Helios, who protect and guide them to their victory.

The Colossus of Rhodes was not only a colossal figure in the ancient time but also a symbol of the people of the island. Although it was destroyed, this ancient wonder still has a great impact on the modern world. Its enormous size and flawless structure inspired the modern artists to create more incredible artworks, such as the French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi’s famous work, the Statue of Liberty, as mentioned above (p. 130). Not only that, Pliny the Elder said that even when the statue laid on the ground after being destroyed by the earthquake, it “excites our wonder and admiration.”

The Colossus has been an important topic of discussion even after being completely destructed, and it must have been of a major significance that Greece still wants to rebuild it even today as a tourist attraction. It is worth commemorating the statue as a grand achievement in architecture of the past, the symbol of the glory ancient days of the Island of Rhodes.

Sources:

Due to the lack of newer studies on this subject, some of the sources we have used in this blog posts may be outdated. We are sorry for the inconvenience.

The Colossus of Rhodes (1956). By Herbert Maryon. The Journal of Hellenic Studies. Retrieved from JSTOR

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1988). By Peter A. Clayton, Martin Price. Psychology Press. Retrieved from Google Books.
The Colossus of Rhodes (1855). Home Magazine (1852-1856). Retrieved from Proquest (Login Required).
Miscellaneous.: The Island of Rhodes and Its Great Statue (1874, Apr 15). Reformed Church Messenger (1867-1874). Retrieved from Proquest (Login Required).
Helios. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright The Columbia University Press. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com
Apollo. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright The Columbia University Press. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com
Iliad, The. Myths and Legends of the World. COPYRIGHT 2001 Macmillan Reference, USA. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com
Odyssey, The. Myths and Legends of the World. COPYRIGHT 2001 Macmillan Reference, USA. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com
Biography: Chares of Lindos. Retrieved from Greek Travel Pages.
Statue of Liberty: Statistics. Retrieved from National Park Service.
The Colossus of Rhodes (1866). The Catholic World, A Monthly Magazine of General Literature and Science (1865-1906). Retrieved from Proquest (Login Required).
Rhodes Reconstruction Project Will Be a Colossal Gamble for Greece – But It Might Well Pay off (2015, Dec 27). By Kate Williams. Retrieved from The Guardian.
There's a Plan To Rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes (2016, Jan 7). By Jay Bennett. Retrieved from Popular Mechanics.
Colossus of Rhodes (video). Retrieved from YouTube.