The Colossus of Rhodes

The Colossus of Rhodes

Over 2,000 years before the Statue of Liberty was erected in New York Harbor, the inspiration for the modern monument had been created and destroyed. The original model, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was the colossus of Rhodes.

The island of Rhodes boasted many lofty images of the gods, but by far the greatest was the colossus dedicated to the sun god Helios. It was a hollow bronze statue that stood well over one hundred feet tall. According to legend, ships sailed between the legs of the gigantic statue as it stood astride the harbor.

Prior to the building of the statue, Rhodes had been besieged by Demetrius, a Macedonian king. Although the assault was devastating, he failed to capture the city and finally abandoned the siege. Demetrius left behind huge conglomerations of equipment that, by modern standards, would be worth millions of dollars. It was the sale of this booty that financed the building of the colossus.

Twelve years were spent in completing the statue (292—280 B.C.), and for the next fifty years the colossus served as a beacon for all incoming ships. The gigantic figure must have seemed eternal to the citizens of Rhodes. But the forces that stir the earth had different plans; about fifty years after it was completed, a major earthquake shook the area with such violence that the colossus fell.

So tremendous was the impact that the giant bronze statue shattered as it struck, and there the fragments lay, almost completely undisturbed, for nearly 1,000 years. Even in its dismantled state people continued to marvel at the enormous wreck, which served as an ancient tourist attraction.

Three centuries after it fell, Pliny, the Roman historian, wrote about the colossus, " . . . But even as it lies, it incites our wonder and admiration. Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms. . . . Where the limbs are broken asunder, vast caverns are seen yawning in the interior."

The fragments of the statue were finally sold to the Saracens in the year A.D. 653. According to reports, 900 camel loads of bronze were carried away. Ironically, the materials were put to the same use for which the Macedonians had employed them 1,000 years earlier — making implements of war!

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth