What was the Colossus of Rhodes? - Part 2 of the 'Seven Wonderful Wonders' series
Updated: Feb 10
There were seven wonders of the ancient world. Seven wondrous buildings that blew the socks off (Okay, probably not socks back then. Let's say sandals were getting blown off instead) anyone who saw them. In our ‘Seven Wonderful Wonders’ series, here on the Imagining History Blog, we’ll be checking out each of these marvels of human engineering and ingenuity. There’ll be a new article in the series every fortnight, so be sure to check back here regularly for your next history fun time fix.
In our first series entry, we investigated the Lighthouse of Alexandria, now, let’s take a look at the Colossus of Rhodes.
What was it?
The Colossus was an enormous bronze statue of the Greek god Helios.
Right then, first question, who was Helios?
Helios was the Ancient Greek sun god. He would travel across the sky on a sparkling golden chariot pulled by four flying horses, named Bronte, Sterope, Eous, and Aethiops. Helios was (and is, I guess) the Sun, and the flight path he took each and every day saw him rise in the East and set in the West, bringing warm rays of light to everyone he met on his way. Despite the Sun’s importance in there even being any life on Earth, Helios was a pretty minor god in Greek Mythology. He certainly wasn't as mainstream popular as Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite.
He would mostly turn up in other people’s stories and watch them make oaths to each other. Whilst he might have been a C+ mythological player, he was still much loved by the people of the Greek city-state of Rhodes.
Well, Helios was believed to rule over the island of Rhodes. It was said that he even married a nymph who lived there, named Rhodos. What are the odds of someone called Rhodos living in Rhodes, huh? It’s like someone called Londin living in London. Or someone called Shlough living in Slough. Or someone called Tivernool living in -
I get it. We’re going off on an epic tangent here, let’s get back on track. Why did the people of Rhodes love Helios so much?
Oh right, back in 304 BC, the citizens of Rhodes had just survived being sieged from a fella called Demetrius I of Macedon. I should point out Demetrius didn’t lay siege to Rhodes on his own, that would just be impractical and a bit silly. Instead, he did the sieging with a fleet of around 350 ships and a big ‘ole army too.
Ooer, what happened next?
Demetrius spent an entire year laying siege to Rhodes. He tried to blockade Rhodes harbour with a massive floating boom and built siege towers to send Hoplites scampering over the city walls, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t conquer Rhodes. In the end, a peace treaty was signed and everyone decided to be friends. Okay, maybe not friends, perhaps occasionally acknowledged acquaintances. You know, a bit like Facebook friends.
Anyway, the people of Rhodes put down their good fortune to the divine aid of Helios. To show their gratitude, they decided to build a massive bronze statue of the sun god. They paid for the statue by selling off all the siege towers Demetrius had left behind, cunning, huh?
What did the Colossus look like?
This is the fun bit, no one has the foggiest idea!
Wha – how come?
It wasn’t around for very long. The Colossus took twelve years to build but only stood for fifty. It was destroyed when a nasty Earthquake sent it tumbling to the ground.
Oh come on, we must know something about what it looked like!
A little. We know that it was made from bronze and we know it stood around thirty meters tall. That would make the Colossus close to the same height as the Statue of Liberty, which, considering the Colossus was built almost two thousand years earlier, is pretty impressive!
We’re also not even certain what pose the statue stood in. Some illustrations depict the Colossus to be stood astride the harbour of Rhodes, straddling the dock, so that Triremes would sail under him to enter the city (just don’t look up!). We now know this pose wouldn’t have been buildable though, the Colossus would have likely ended up doing the splits.
Check out the images below and decide for yourself what pose the Colossus stood in!
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