May 24, 2011

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - Part Seven

The Colossus of Rhodes

The island of Rhodes was an important economic centre in the ancient world. In 357 B.C. it was conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus, fell into Persian hands in 340 B.C., and was finally captured by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.

When Alexander died his vast kingdom was divided between three of his generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigous. The Rhodians supported Ptolemy (who wound up ruling Egypt) in this struggle which angered Antigous. He sent his son Demetrius to capture and punish the city of Rhodes.

The war was long, and ended when a fleet of ships from Egypt arrived to aid the city. To celebrate their victory and freedom, the people of Rhodes decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios. They melted down bronze from the many war machines Demetrius left behind for the exterior of the figure, and the siege tower he left behind became the scaffolding for the project.

The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and stood on a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbour mouth. Although the statue has been popularly depicted with its legs spanning the harbour entrance so that ships could pass beneath, it was actually posed in a more traditional Greek manner: nude, wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising sun with its right hand, while holding a cloak over its left.

The architect of this great construction was Chares of Lindos, a Rhodian sculptor. The statue was constructed of bronze plates over an iron framework. Ancient accounts tell us that inside the statue were several stone columns which acted as the main support. Iron beams were driven into the stone and connected with the bronze outer skin. Each bronze plate had to be carefully cast then hammered into the right shape for its location in the figure, then hoisted into position and riveted to the surrounding plates and the iron frame.

The Colossus stood at the harbour entrance for some fifty-six years. Then an earthquake hit Rhodes and the statue collapsed. Huge pieces of the figure lay along the harbour for centuries.

"Even as it lies," wrote Pliny, "it excites our wonder and admiration. Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms, and its fingers are larger than most statues. Where the limbs are broken asunder, vast caverns are seen yawning in the interior. Within it, too, are to be seen large masses of rock, by the weight of which the artist steadied it while erecting it."

It is said that an Egyptian king offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the Rhodians refused. They feared that somehow the statue had offended the god Helios, who used the earthquake to throw it down.

In the seventh century A.D. the Arabs conquered Rhodes and broke the remains of the Colossus up into smaller pieces and sold it as scrap metal. Legend says it took 900 camels to carry away the statue. A sad end for such a Wonder of the Ancient World.

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