The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of the Greek Titan Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name, by Chares of Lindos between 292 and 280 BC. It is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was constructed to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over the ruler of Cyprus, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, whose son unsuccessfully besieged Rhodes in 305 BC. Before its destruction in the earthquake of 226 BC, the Colossus of Rhodes stood over 30 meters (98.4 ft) high, making it one of the tallest statues of the ancient world.
Siege of Rhodes
In the late 4th century BC, Rhodes, allied with Ptolemy I of Egypt, prevented a massive invasion staged by their common enemy, Antigonus I Monophthalmus.
In 304 BC a relief force of ships sent by Ptolemy arrived, and Antigonus’s army abandoned the siege, leaving most of their siege equipment. To celebrate their victory, the Rhodians sold the equipment left behind for 300 talents and decided to use the money to build a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios. Construction was left to the direction of Chares, a native of Lindos in Rhodes, who had been involved with large-scale statues before. His teacher, the sculptor Lysippos, had constructed a 22 meter (70 ft) high bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum.
Ancient accounts, which differ to some degree, describe the structure as being built with iron tie bars to which brass plates were fixed to form the skin. The interior of the structure, which stood on a 15 meter (50 foot) high white marble pedestal near the Mandraki harbor entrance, was then filled with stone blocks as construction progressed. Other sources place the Colossus on a breakwater in the harbor. The statue itself was over 30 meters (98.4 ft) tall. Much of the iron and bronze was reforged from the various weapons Demetrius’s army left behind, and the abandoned second siege tower may have been used for scaffolding around the lower levels during construction. Upper portions were built with the use of a large earthen ramp. During the building, workers would pile mounds of dirt on the sides of the colossus. Upon completion all of the dirt was removed and the colossus was left to stand alone. After twelve years, in 280 BC, the statue was completed.
Modern engineers have put forward a plausible hypothesis for the statue construction, based on the technology of those days (which was not based on the modern principles of earthquake engineering), and the accounts of Philo and Pliny who both saw and described the remains. The base pedestal was at least 60 feet (18 m) in diameter and either circular or octagonal. The feet were carved in stone and covered with thin bronze plates riveted together. Eight forged iron bars set in a radiating horizontal position formed the ankles and turned up to follow the lines of the legs while becoming progressively smaller. Individually cast curved bronze plates 60 inches (1,500 mm) square with turned in edges were joined together by rivets through holes formed during casting to form a series of rings. The lower plates were 1 inch (25 mm) in thickness to the knee and 3/4 inch thick from knee to abdomen, while the upper plates were 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick except where additional strength was required at joints such as the shoulder, neck, etc. The legs would need to be filled at least to the knees with stones for stability. Accounts described earthen mounds used to aid construction but, to reach the top of the statue would have required a mound 300 feet (91 m) in diameter, which exceeded the available land area, so modern engineers have proposed that the abandoned siege towers stripped down would have made efficient scaffolding.
The statue stood for 56 years until Rhodes was hit by the 226 BC Rhodes earthquake, when significant damage was also done to large portions of the city, including the harbor and commercial buildings, which were destroyed. The statue snapped at the knees and fell over on to the land. Ptolemy III offered to pay for the reconstruction of the statue, but the oracle of Delphi made the Rhodians afraid that they had offended Helios, and they declined to rebuild it.
The remains lay on the ground as described by Strabo (xiv.2.5) for over 800 years, and even broken, they were so impressive that many traveled to see them. Pliny the Elder remarked that few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and that each of its fingers was larger than most statues.
In 653, an Arab force under Muslim caliph Muawiyah I captured Rhodes, and according to the chronicler Theophanes the Confessor, the remains were sold to a “Jewish merchant of Edessa”. The buyer had the statue broken down, and transported the bronze scrap on the backs of 900 camels to his home. There is compelling evidence that long before the Arab invasion all traces of the Colossus had already disappeared. The stereotypical Arab destruction and the purported sale to a Jew possibly originated as a powerful metaphor for Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the destruction of a great statue, and would have been understood by any 7th century monk as evidence for the coming apocalypse.
The harbor-straddling Colossus was a figment of medieval imaginations based on the dedication text’s mention of “over land and sea” twice. Many older illustrations (above) show the statue with one foot on either side of the harbor mouth with ships passing under it: “…the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land…” (“The New Colossus”, a poem engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the Statue of Liberty in 1903). Shakespeare’s Cassius in Julius Caesar (I,ii,136–38) says of Caesar:
Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we petty men Walk under his huge legs and peep about To find ourselves dishonorable graves
While these fanciful images feed the misconception, the mechanics of the situation reveal that the Colossus could not have straddled the harbor as described in Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary. If the completed statue had straddled the harbor, the entire mouth of the harbor would have been effectively closed during the entirety of the construction; nor would the ancient Rhodians have had the means to dredge and re-open the harbor after construction. The statue fell in 224 BC: if it had straddled the harbor mouth, it would have entirely blocked the harbor. Also, since the ancients would not have had the ability to remove the entire statue from the harbor, it would not have remained visible on land for the next 800 years, as discussed above. Even neglecting these objections, the statue was made of bronze, and an engineering analysis proved that it could not have been built with its legs apart without collapsing from its own weight. Many researchers have considered alternative positions for the statue which would have made it more feasible for actual construction by the ancients.
Location of the ruins.
Media reports in 1989 initially suggested that large stones found on the seabed off the coast of Rhodes might have been the remains of the Colossus; however this theory was later shown to be without merit.
Another theory published in an article in 2008 by Ursula Vedder suggests that the Colossus was never in the port, but rather was part of the Acropolis of Rhodes, on a hill today named Monte Smith, which overlooks the port area. The temple on top of Monte Smith has traditionally thought to have been devoted to Apollo, but according to Vedder, it would have been a Helios sanctuary. The enormous stone foundations at the temple site, the function of which is not definitively known by modern scholars, are proposed by Vedder to have been the supporting platform of the Colossus.
Statue of Liberty
The design, posture and dimensions of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor are based on what the Colossus was thought by engineers in the late 19th century to have looked like. There is a famous reference to the Colossus in the sonnet “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883 and inscribed on a plaque located inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.