The Colossus of Rhodes – One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Anyone who’s ever had knee trouble can sympathize with the Colossus of Rhodes.

Built of bronze and standing 110 feet tall, the Colossus of Rhodes statue depicting Helios, the Greek God of the Sun, towered over Rhodes’ Mandraki Harbor 2,000 years ago. It symbolized Rhodes’ victory over Cyprus.

Vintage illustration of what the Colossus of Rhodes may have looked like
Vintage illustration of what the Colossus of Rhodes may have looked like

Architect Chares of Lindos designed the statue which would have been the tallest structure in those times. Construction began in 292 B.C. and finished 12 years later in 280 B.C.  Internal supports were made of stone pillars with iron beams. Iron and bronze from Greek swords left behind from a previous war were melted and forged. The bronze was cast into thin plating and iron into rods and beams.  Once the swords were used up, the Rhodians turned to Cypriot copper chips and melted them with iron.

The statue was a male figure, naked but with a crown of solar rays on his head, perhaps holding a torch. It stood on a marble pedestal. The desire to build the statue was twofold – to please Helios, the protector of Rhodes, and increase the prestige of the island with a titanic statue following their victory in the year long siege by Macedonian invaders. Rhodes was already known for its statues, and other nations had built large ones; It was Rhodes’ turn.

The cost at the time was 500 bronze talents and 300 iron talents – more than $1 billion dollars today. And in essence, the Colossus was made of stone with a thin covering of bronze, polished so the sun made it shine bright.  

On the base of the statue was inscribed:

To you, Helios, yes to you the people of Dorian Rhodes raised this colossus high up to the heavens, after they had calmed the bronze wave of war, and crowned their country with spoils won from the enemy. Not only over the sea but also on land they set up the bright light of unfettered freedom. 

(quoted in Romer, 40)

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, much about it remains shrouded in mystery.  No one knows its exact stance or whether it held a torch. The exact location is not known though it’s thought to be near the harbor. And sadly, it only stood for around 54 years, the shortest time of any of the seven wonders.

Coastline of Rhodes
Location in Rhodes where it is believed the Colossus stood

One myth suggests it was knee trouble that brought the great statue down in an earthquake. This myth says that immediately after completion of the project, an error was pointed out about the statue’s knees. They weren’t built right. The statue buckled at the knees in the earthquake and toppled over; the architect took his own life in humiliation. Whether there was an error in the structure has not been confirmed, but we do know it fell in an earthquake in 226 B.C. – snapped at the knees. 

The ruins of Colossus lay untouched, broken apart and left in place for 800 years. It’s said the Rhodian people didn’t restore it because an oracle instructed them not to do so for fear of causing more damage by offending Helios.  In 654, invading Arabs found the bronze and sold it to Jewish merchants who transported it on the backs of camels to the East to melt down and reuse. The ancient art of recycling.

Colossal lesson: If anyone says you are weak at the knees, don’t take offense knowing a titanic statue made of stone and metals was too.

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