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A Colossal Idea: The Colossus of Rhodes

It is certainly natural that a city would want to construct a public monument to commemorate a victory in a long and painful battle with a bitter enemy. But the people of the ancient city of Rhodes went about it in a really big way, building what is known today as The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The island of Rhodes, located where the Aegean Sea meets the Mediterranean Sea, was an important trading center in the ancient world. Rhodes was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 BC but when he died unexpectedly from a fever, Rhodes was divided among three of his generals. Because the people of Rhodes supported General Ptolemy more than the other generals, General Antigous became angered and sent his son Demetrius to punish the city, waging a long and bitter war in which Rhodes eventually triumphed.

Although the Colossus of Rhodes is no longer standing, we know a bit about it from ancient writings, in particular those of Pliny, a Roman historian who lived several centuries after the Colossus was erected. It stood over one hundred and ten feet high and rested upon a fifty-foot white marble pedestal that was located near the harbor entrance. The statue itself was composed of iron beams driven into several stone towers to which were attached a skin of bronze plates, each of which was hammered to the appropriate shape to form the sculpture. The bronze was supposedly composed of the melted-down weapons the enemy left behind. Pliny tells us that the statue was so big that most men could not wrap their arms around a thumb of the statue. He describes the hollow broken pieces of the statue as vast caverns.

The statue was made in the likeness of the city’s patron god, Helios. The Colossus was supposedly nude and wore a spiked crown, and posed so that its eyes were shaded with its right hand and it held a cloak over its left arm. It is popularly believed that the legs of the colossus spanned the entrance of the harbor and that ships passed beneath it. It has been determined, however, that this image of the statue was highly improbable since it would have required a disruption of essential harbor traffic during its construction. It is believed that the Colossus of Rhodes was designed by Chares of Lindos, a sculptor of the city who had fought in its defense. Historians believe that construction of the Colossus began around the 300 BC and took twelve years to complete. The great statue proudly guarded the harbor for nearly sixty years until an earthquake hit Rhodes and it collapsed, destroying houses and people in its wake. Huge segments of the statue remained in the harbor for centuries. It is said that the Rhodians chose not to rebuild the statue, believing that they had somehow offended Helios and brought about the earthquake that caused its destruction.

According to the ancient writer Theophanes, the scattered pieces of the Colossus were sold by invading Arabs to a Syrian merchant as scrap metal around the year 650 AD. Although this majestic sculpture met a tragic end and nothing remains of it today, it significantly inspired more modern artists, such as the architect of the Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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