Colossus of Rhodes
Written for the KidsKnowIt Network by:
The Colossus of Rhodes has it roots in war. The people of Rhodes built the Colossus to celebrate their victory over a General named Demetrius. Historians of the time recorded that the statue stood over 30 meters (107ft) tall. The statue was an image of the Greek God Helios who was the Patron of the City of Rhodes. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. People would travel from all over just to see the statue. It was an early example of the tourist trap.
The whole thing started with a Macedonian ruler and General named Alexander the Great. Alexander set out to conquer pretty much everyone and anyone that he came in contact with. He was pretty successful at it, too. Unfortunately for his empire, Alexander had no interest in governing and leading, he seemed only interested in war and taking people over. When Alexander died at the age of 32, some historians claim he said, “I leave my empire to whoever is strong enough to take it.” No one is really sure if this is true, but it may as well have been since all of his generals acted like he did, carving their own kingdoms out of Alexander’s empire. The two generals that have a part in the story of the Colossus of Rhodes are Ptolemy and Antigonus the One-Eyed. (Seriously, that is what the Macedonians named him. They used the long Greek word but his last name was “the one-eyed.”)
The City of Rhodes was an important port in the Mediterranean Sea. The City of Rhodes was not exactly allied with Ptolemy but was very friendly with him. Ptolemy controlled Egypt. Antigonus wanted Egypt and all the food that could be produced in Egypt. Antigonus was afraid that the City of Rhodes would give Ptolemy ships and men to use against him. Antigonus had his son, Demetrius, attack the City of Rhodes. Demetrius surrounded the City of Rhodes with an army of 40,000 men. Because Rhodes was a port, Demetrius also had to block the port with a navy. Demetrius was unable to completely block the harbor, so ships were able to bring supplies to Rhodes. The Siege of Rhodes lasted for over a year. In the end, Demetrius left Rhodes in a hurry, leaving behind a lot of weapons and other equipment.
One of the things Demetrius left behind was a giant siege engine known as the Helepolis. The Helepolis was a giant armored tower bristling with weapons. The idea behind the Helepolis was: Demetrius’ men would push the Helepolis up to the wall of the city, clear the wall with catapults and other weapons, then they would charge across a bridge and take over the city. It didn’t work. In fact, it didn’t even come close to working.
There are two different stories of why it didn’t work. The first one was: The people of Rhodes knocked some of the iron plates off of the tower. Because of the gaps in the tower’s armor, it was no longer fireproof. Demetrius stopped using the tower because he was afraid it would burn. The second version is: The people of Rhodes flooded the land where the tower was supposed to be used. The tower was so big and heavy it sank into the mud. Demetrius' men were not able to pull it out of the mud. In the end, it doesn’t matter how the Helepolis failed. It, along with other weapons, was taken by the people of Rhodes and either melted down or sold to pay for the Colossus.
No one knows exactly where the Colossus of Rhodes stood. There are some people who think the Colossus stood at the mouth of Rhodes’ harbor, kind of like the Statue of Liberty in modern New York Harbor. Some people believe that the Colossus stood straddling the entrance to the harbor. There are even some who think that the statue stood inside the city near a temple complex also dedicated to Helios. People don’t know where the statue stood because the statue was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 BCE, just 56 years after it was built. Even though the Colossus fell down, for hundreds of years people would still travel from all over just to see it. Rhodes was conquered in 654 CE and the pieces of the Colossus were sold, so modern historians have no real idea where the statue stood.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue celebrating victory in war and freedom for the people of Rhodes. In its day it was the largest statue in the world standing over 30 meters (98ft) tall. People would travel for miles just to see the statue that was so impressive. It was one of the original tourist traps.