The Colossus Of Rhodes Rhodes Island
The Colossus of Rhodes was, of course, in its time one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”. There has been much discussion of its “colossal” size and the issue of where exactly it must have stood, but these questions cannot be answered with certainty, given that not a single fragment of it has survived. The only evidence of its existence is the descriptions of travellers who came to Rhodes to see it.
The Rhodians put up the Colossus to honour their protector Helios, the sun-god, after the unsuccessful attempt of Demetrius the Besieger to take their city in 305/4 BC. The cost was met from the sale of the siege engines which Demetrius had left behind on the island and which realized the sum of 300 talents, the equivalent of approximately three billion present-day drachmas.
The statue was commissioned from the sculptor Chares of Lindos and took some 12 years to complete. According to the ancient sources, the statue’s limbs were constructed in sections. Construction started off from a marble base, to which the feet and ankles were fixed. The remaining parts of the body were gradually added, those already in place having earth piled up against them, so that work could be continued at ground level. It seems, then, that a hill of earth must gradually have been built up round the statue, which by the time it was finished must have had a height of some 30 metres. The head of the Colossus was in all probability ringed with rays, in the manner of an earthenware head of Helios, which is in the Rhodes Museum. In his right hand the god held a torch, used as a landmark by mariners. Most of the information that we have about the stance of the statue is derived from writers and representations dating from the Byzantine age and is, of course, adapted to Byzantine ideas of aesthetics.
Various hypotheses have been put forward about where the statue stood. According to one view, it was sited at the entrance to the harbour, so that ships passed beneath its parted legs. According to others, it stood in the precinct of the Temple of Helios, which is to be identified with the site on which the Palace of the Grand Master stands today.
There are also many theories as to the size pf the Colossus. Travellers who visited Rhodes inform us that it that it had a height of 31 – 32 meters. According to their descriptions, there was room for 12 men on its chest, a man could stand upright in its head, its nose was 30 cm long, and a fingernail 15 cm. The Roman writer Pliny, who saw the statue on Rhodes in 77 BC, tells us that one could just put one’s arms round his thumb. The impression which the statue made upon the ancient world is reflected in one of the dialogues of Lucian, he tells us that Menippus, on his way up into the sky, could make out the earth only because the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria were visible up to cloud level.
The Colossus stood in its original position for a total of 56 years, until, in 227/6 BC it was demolished by an earthquake. Although the Rhodians actually got together the funds necessary for re-erecting it, in the end they did not put it back in position, heeding an oracle that warned them that this would cause many disasters for the people of the island. Thus it remained for some 800 years exactly as it had fallen, a sight to be seen for visitors to Rhodes.
The fact that the statue remained fallen but untouched for so many centuries, even though the bronze of which it was made was valuable, shows the pride of the Rhodians in their island’s creation. In 653 AD, the Moabite Arabs, who had conquered the island, sold its bronze members to a Jewish merchant, who is said to have needed 900 camels to carry it off.