The Colossus of Rhodes earned its place among the original 7 Wonders of the World for representing the pinnacle of ancient Greek sculptural engineering during its brief existence. Standing at a height of 98.4 feet, this grand metallic effigy of the sun god Helios towered over ships entering and leaving Mandraki Harbor in Rhodes. The masterpiece was designed by Chares of Lindos and completed in 280 B.C. to commemorate Rhodes’s successful repelling of a massive invasion from Cyprus led by Demetrius I. Its legacy includes references by Shakespeare, allusions in a poem by Sylvia Plath, and the design sensibilities applied to the Statue of Liberty.
How It Was Constructed
The Rhodians needed a source of quality metals and stone as well as substantial funding to finish the Colossus, and they found these necessities in the spoils of the abandoned Cypriot war fleet. Demetrius’s siege engines were sold for 300 talents according to Pliny the Elder’s research; smelted and reforged combat equipment accounted for much of the raw materials; and at least one siege tower was likely repurposed as scaffolding. While their description of the processes involved isn’t unanimous, ancient writings generally state that the Colossus was assembled with a skeleton of iron tie bars which the builders then covered with thin, riveted plates of brass, creating Helios’ outer skin. As construction progressed, stone blocks were cast into the statue’s interior to provide stabilizing weight. The builders likely reached the upper levels of the statue both by piling enormous soil mounds that were removed upon completion and climbing the abandoned siege towers to reach the highest points. The finished product stood upon a 50-foot-tall marble pedestal with a diameter of at least 60 feet.
Many earlier artistic depictions of the Colossus set it astride Mandraki Harbor, its feet outstretched onto separate pedestals. The likelihood of this straddling position has been solidly debunked due to multiple logistical and engineering factors: the harbor’s mouth would have required a shutdown spanning the entire 12-year construction; the legs could not support the rest of the statue’s weight in this position; and its eventual destruction would have left its enormous ruin blocking the mouth of the harbor, contrary to the historically accurate positioning of the broken pieces on land. The consensus holds that Helios stood upon a single pedestal in a stance that was structurally viable.
How It Disappeared
Unfortunately, time has been unkind to the 7 Wonders of the World, with only the Great Pyramid remaining intact as the other six fell to ruin over time. The completed Colossus was the shortest-lived wonder of all, only standing tall for 54 years before a devastating earthquake in 226 B.C. broke its knees and sent it crashing to the earth. Convinced by the Oracle of Delphi that Helios was offended at their depiction of him, the Rhodians declined to rebuild it out of fear of inviting further natural disaster. The Colossus’s remains lay on the ground where they fell for over eight centuries after the statue’s collapse, and Pliny the Elder indicated in his writings that the massive pieces drew many visitors to Rhodes. In A.D. 653, an invading Arab army conquered Rhodes and took the fragments of the Colossus as spoils. The army sold the pieces to a Jewish merchant who either hailed from either Edessa, Mesopotamia, or Emesa, Syria, depending on the account. Regardless, the merchant had the pieces broken down and carted back to his home, supposedly requiring 900 camels to finish the job.
In 1989, news outlets reported that a set of large stones found in the Aegean Sea off the Rhodian shore were possibly part of the Colossus’s remains; however, the discovery failed to gain traction with the archaeological community. Today, a pair of marble pedestals topped with deer statues stand opposite one another in Mandraki Harbor, quietly paying homage to the popular image of the gigantic Colossus straddling the port.