At the entrance of the harbor of the Mediterranean island of Rhodes in Greece.
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 laid 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
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.