I’m delighted to be diving in to work on the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not only is the list a fascinating and engaging look at tourism in the ancient world, but the Colossus was the answer to a trivia questions at the pub last week, so I consider that particularly auspicious.
As a refresher, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (as listed by Antipater of Sidon around 100 BC) are:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza
- The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
- The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
- The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- The Pharos of Alexandria
- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon; and,
- The Colossus of Rhodes
Great feats of architectural engineering and beauty, these seven wonders (from the Ancient Greek thaumata meaning “wonders”, or perhaps also or instead the Ancient Greek theamata meaning “sights” or “things to be seen”) only existed together for about 50 years. The one still standing is the oldest of the lot – the Great Pyramid of Giza – and the last of them to be built was also the first one to disappear: the Colossus of Rhodes.
Built to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over the invading forces of Antigonus Monopthalmos (Antigonus the One-Eyed), one of Alexander the Great’s generals, it was a statue of Helios, god of the sun and patron deity of Rhodes. Designed and constructed by a local man – Chares of Lindos – in 280 BCE, the Colossus was roughly the size of the Statue of Liberty in New York feet to crown.
In 226 BC/BCE, it toppled during an earthquake and was never rebuilt, perhaps due to the warnings of an oracle. The pieces – it was constructed in bronze – apparently lay about the harbour for the next eight centuries until they were sold off to Jewish merchants in Edessa in 654 AD/CE during the Arab Expansions of the 7th century.
Now, in all likelihood, the pieces were melted down and used in other projects and would be very nearly untraceable today. Nearly all bronze statues from the ancient world were repurposed or otherwise destroyed, particularly after the Roman Empire adopted Christianity and its aversion to false idols. The bronzes that exist today were lost, buried, or sunk and only discovered in the recent past.
What makes the Colossus unique is the engineering feat required to produce it. Even if it didn’t stand astride the harbour entrance, as some have suggested, there certainly wasn’t a mould or even a furnace in the vicinity capable of casting a statue 110 feet high. The copper Lady Liberty, originally conceived in 1870, was an iron truss structure with a secondary skeleton designed to limit stress on the statue, and was built in 350 pieces in France and painstakingly reassembled on arrival in New York. And her skin was added after. She is not a single cast, or even a predominantly single one.
So, either modern engineers saw the difficulty from the start and avoided casting a statue in full, or the ancient engineers knew something we don’t. Not outside the realm of possibility, since Roman concrete and Greek acoustics are two such engineering marvels that continue to baffle modern scholars and experimental archaeologists.
In short, it would be amazing if we ever found even one or two pieces of the Colossus intact to be able to understand how Chares designed and built it at all. In flights of fancy, one can wonder if perhaps the statue still exists somewhere, safely packed away in a dark cave or bunker, waiting. After all, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt found it and much more in one of his many adventures…