Throughout most of its history, ancient Greece was comprised of city-states
which had limited power beyond their boundary. On the small island of Rhodes
were three of these: Ialysos, Kamiros, and Lindos. In 408 BC, the cities united
to form one territory, with a unified capital, Rhodes. The city thrived
commercially and had strong economic ties with their main ally, Ptolemy I Soter
of Egypt. In 305 BC, the Antigonids of Macedonia who were also rivals of the
Ptolemies, besieged Rhodes in an attempt to break the Rhodo-Egyptian alliance.
They could never penetrate the city. When a peace agreement was reached in 304
BC, the Antagonids lifted the siege, leaving a wealth of military equipment
behind. To celebrate their unity, the Rhodians sold the equipment and used the
money to erect an enormous statue of their sun god, Helios.
The construction of the Colossus took 12 years and was finished in 282 BC.
For years, the statue stood at the harbor entrance, until a strong earthquake
hit Rhodes about 226 BC. The city was badly damaged, and the Colossus was broken
at its weakest point -- the knee. The Rhodians received an immediate offer from
Ptolemy III Eurgetes of Egypt to cover all restoration costs for the toppled
monument. However, an oracle was consulted and forbade the re-erection.
Ptolemy's offer was declined.
For almost a millennium, the statue lay broken in ruins. In AD 654, the Arabs
invaded Rhodes. They disassembled the remains of the broken Colossus and sold
them to a Jew from Syria. It is said that the fragments had to be transported to
Syria on the backs of 900 camels.
Let us first clear a misconception about the appearance of the Colossus. It
has long been believed that the Colossus stood in front of the Mandraki harbor,
one of many in the city of Rhodes, straddling its entrance. Given the height of
the statue and the width of the harbor mouth, this picture is rather impossible
than improbable. Moreover, the fallen Colossus would have blocked the harbor
entrance. Recent studies suggest that it was erected either on the eastern
promontory of the Mandraki harbor, or even further inland. Anyway, it did never
straddle the harbor entrance.
The project was commissioned by the Rhodian sculptor Chares of Lindos. To
build the statue, his workers cast the outer bronze skin parts. The base was
made of white marble, and the feet and ankle of the statue were first fixed. The
structure was gradually erected as the bronze form was fortified with an iron
and stone framework. To reach the higher parts, an earth ramp was built around
the statue and was later removed. When the colossus was finished, it stood about
33 m (110 ft) high. And when it fell, "few people can make their arms meet round
the thumb", wrote Pliny.
Although we do not know the true shape and appearance of the Colossus, modern
reconstructions with the statue standing upright are more accurate than older
drawings. Although it disappeared from existence, the ancient World Wonder
inspired modern artists such as French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi best known by
his famous work: The Statue of Liberty.