The Colossus of Rhodes – Gone, But Not Completely

Although the physical evidence from the past is often altered or destroyed by nature, ideas have a way of surviving through time. Example: The Colossus of Rhodes.

More than 2000 years ago, a giant bronze statue of the Green sun god Helios towered 37 metres about the harbour at Rhodes, a small island situated where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Aegean. Standing on a pedestal, one hand clutching a sword, the other holding a torch, the warrior-like figure guided ships into the harbour.

Hollow on the inside

Construction of the Colossus, as the statue was called, started in 292 B.C. Because of its size and weight, the Colossus could not be built of solid metal. Chares of Lindos, the Rhodian sculptor overseeing the project, used a revolutionary new method. Stone columns acted as the main support. Crisscrossing Iron struts fastened to the columns created a frame. Bronze plates cast on site were hammered into shape, then hoisted into position on the frame where they were secured using iron bolts.

Colossus of RhodesIt took 12 years to complete the statue. According to ancient records, 15 tons of bronze and 9 tons of iron were used, but modern experts estimate that the figures were likely higher.

For 50 more years, the Colossus of Rhodes towered over the harbour, a tribute to the ingenuity of its builders, a beacon to wayward ships. Then in 226 B.C. an earthquake rocked the island, weakening the bolts holding the bronze plates together. The Colossus toppled, snapping into house-size pieces into the harbor.

For hundreds of years the broken statue lay where it had fallen, attracting visitors who came to stare at the once-great wonder of the ancient world. In A.D. 653, the metal supports were dismantled. Bit by bit the colossus was sold for scrap and shipped to neighbouring countries around the Mediterranean. Legend says that 900 camels carried away the pieces.

A new colossus

Although the original Colossus of Rhodes has long since disappeared, in a curious way it may still survive. The scrap metal was melted and recast into new tools, weapons and ornaments. It is possible that some of these objects may exist even today.

But the statue at Rhodes survives in a different way, too. Another colossus, modeled after the ancient one, was erected in 1886, this time in New York harbour. Built of metal sheathing supported by iron struts, standing on a stone pedestal, one hand clutching a book, the other holding a torch, the Statue of Liberty welcomes visitors to America today. It reminds us that great ideas can be used over and over again.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons
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