The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the so-called Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was a bronze and iron statue of the sun-god, Helios, that was designed by Chares of Lindos and built between 294/292 and 282/280 BCE. Rhodes’ Colossus was commissioned to celebrates the Rhodesian survival of a blockade carried out by the Macedonian king, Demetrius I Poliorcetes, in 305 BCE. Standing proudly at the Mandrákion harbour, the Colossus was said to have towered up to around 32 meters (or 105 feet) tall. But all good things come to an end, including giant Helios’ balance. Unfortunately for the Rhodesians, the Colossus of Rhodes fell during an earthquake around 226 BCE. The Roman geographer, Strabo (c. 64 BCE-24 CE), wrote of the Colossus’ rise and fall: “most remarkable is the Colossus of the Sun [Helios], which, the author of the iambics says, was ‘seventy cubits in height, the work of Chares of Lindus.’ It now lies on the ground, having been thrown down by an earthquake, and is broken off at the knees” (Strabo, Geography, 14.2.5). Despite the toppling of the Colossus, it remained a great tourist attraction and was still considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Over the next centuries, the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes remained remarkably intact, with great quantities of the statue’s valuable bronze remaining at the original site, undisturbed, despite the rise, change, or fall of Mediterranean civilizations that was occurring around its resting place. Nevertheless, the Colossus’ surprising record of remaining relatively un-looted would end when Muawiyah (Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān)—the Muslim governor of Damascus and Syria—began launching attacks on the Anatolian coast and nearby islands. After successfully taking Cyprus in 649, Muawiyah next turned his attention to Rhodes, which he successfully conquered in 654.
News of the capture of Rhodes piqued the interest of merchants operating in the lands that Muawiyah controlled. As the story goes, some deal was struck in which the bronze metal of the Colossus of Rhodes was purchased by a merchant, and permission was given by Muawiyah for the remains of the statue to be scrapped and shipped off to wherever the buyer wanted the bronze to go. The incident was recorded by a chronicler from Constantinople, named Theophanes (c. 750s-818). For his entry describing Annus Mundi 6145 (aka 653-654 CE), Theophanes wrote, “In this year Muawiyah over ran Rhodes and destroyed the Colossus of Rhodes…[A] merchant from Edessa bought it and carried off its bronze on nine hundred camels” (Theophanes, Chronographia, Annus Mundi 6145). No further precise details about the excavation and gathering of the bronze was preserved, so there is no way to know (besides theoretical estimates) the original down-payment that the statue’s materials were purchased for, or the weight or value of the hauled bronze, itself. Yet, for nine hundred camels to be allegedly involved in transporting the metal, there must have been a great quantity of bronze still left at Rhodes. If the Colossus had been completed in 280 BCE, then its bronze remains would have been on the island of Rhodes for 934 years when the downfallen monument was cut up and hauled away in the year 654.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (cropped scene of the Colossus of Rhodes, created in the 16th century by Maarten van Heemskerck, Hadrianus Junius and Philips Galle, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- Strabo’s Geography, translated by H.C. Hamilton and W. Falconer (1903 edition), republished in The Complete Works of Strabo (Delphi Classics, 2016).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.