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The Colossus of Rhodes
It was a common practice in the Ancient world to dedicate a magnificent votive statue from the captured booty of a victorious campaign: the colossal bronze statue of Athena Promachos on the Acropolis in Athens was partly made with bronze captured at the Battle of Marathon. In this same spirit, the proceeds from the sale of the weapons and material left behind when Demetrios Poliorcetes lifted his failed siege of the city of Rhodes in 304/3 bc—estimated at 300 talents by Pliny (Hist. Nat. XXXIV, 18, 41/42)— was put to the making of a bronze statue of Helios, the patron divinity of the island. It was ceremonially dedicated to the god with due pomp at the five-yearly celebration of the pan-Hellenic festival of the Halieia. Though later merged in Greek cult with Apollo, Helios long remained an independent divinity in certain geographic areas, especially in the east of the Greek world, as here on Rhodes . Chares of Lindos, a student of Lysippus (who had already created a colossal bronze figure of Zeus for the city of Tarentum) and who was one of the greatest bronze-working sculptors of Antiquity, was given the commission for the work—a task which led him eventually to bankruptcy and suicide, according Sextus Empiricus.
The hollow statue, cast in many sections and laboriously assembled over an armature of metal rods and masonry, stood to a height of around 32m (105ft) and took 12 years to complete. Gilded sun-rays burst from around the god’s head, and, according to some versions, he may have held a flaming torch in his raised arm which functioned as a beacon to mariners. The figure was nude but for a shoulder-cloak. Less than 60 years after its completion an earth quake in 227 bc sundered it at its most fragile point, namely the lower legs. An oracular pronouncement apparently forbad the citizens to re-erect it. It still lay felled almost 250 years later in the time of Strabo and Pliny—sed iacens quoque miraculo est, ‘still a marvel as it lies on the ground’, according to the latter. Pliny says that it was hardly possible for a man to join arms around the thumb, and in the statue’s carvernous interior could still be seen the material used to steady and support it. He goes on to mention that there were 100 other, smaller colossal statues in Rhodes .
The statue’s bronze was eventually sold as scrap metal in the Levant to Jewish traders in the 7th century ad, and no piece verifiably belonging to it has ever been seen since. Because the writer known as ‘pseudo-Philo of Byzantium’ included the Colossus in his ‘Seven Wonders of the World’, the vanished work excited great curiosity in Mediaeval times and was recreated in popular imagination impressively, but improbably, bestriding the entrance to the harbour. The Colossus of Rhodes may indirectly have been a model for the nude, bronze colossus of almost identical dimensions which Nero erected in Rome on the Velian Hill (until it was moved by Hadrian), and from which the Flavian Amphitheatre later was to take its better-known name, the ‘Colosseum’. Nero’s colossus was a portrait of himself as Helios, similarly crowned with sunrays radiating from the head.
Rhodes Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.