Engineering the 7 Wonders of the World: Colossus of Rhodes

Before modern technology existed, civilizations built incredible structures and sculptures that would live on in infamy. This is the Colossus of Rhodes.

The massive statue of the greek god Helios was erected in Rhodes in 280 B.C. It stood as a symbol of Rhode’s victory over Cyprus, placed right at the entrance to Rhode’s harbor. Much like the Statue of liberty that stands as a prolific symbol of American freedom, so too did the Colossus of Rhodes over 2000 years ago. Built with a bright facade of bronze and standing at 110 feet tall, it would have been one of the tallest vertical structures in ancient times.

Engineering such a tall and freestanding structure, given the technology of the time, was no easy task. To acquire the raw materials needed for both the bronze facade and iron framework, the people of Rhodes dismantled many captured war machines from previous wars. Given that the structure was built so long ago, historians have to piece together various accounts of the construction of the project. The Book of Pilon of Byzantium accounts that 15 tons of bronze and 9 tons of iron were used to build the structure, although these accounts are slightly disputed.

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At the core of the dispute over these material quantities is the construction of the Statue of liberty, which is commonly referred to as the modern day Colossus. This structure weighs in at 225 tons, and was built from stronger materials than the people of Rhode’s would have had access to. This means that the Colossus of Rhodes either was much smaller than originally documented or more likely, the account of its needed material was far understated.

In terms of design of the structure, an architect named Chares of Lindos developed the plan to construct this 110-foot sculpture. He would have developed many small sculptures of the structure to which the full-scale bronze panels were scaled off of. It is speculated that this brilliant architect never lived to see the project completed.

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According to various accounts, the internal support of the structure was much like one would have expected given the construction techniques of the time. Several stone pillars were used as supports and iron beams were connected from the stone base and pillars to the external bronze plates. The statue was built right on the edge of the harbor, which would have meant that construction access was likely only available from one side. It is speculated that a large earthen ramp was used to slowly place much of the framework for the Colossus. Based on the height of the large figure, however, a ramp that stretched to the top of the structure would have simply been impossible. This leads more credence to the belief that wooden scaffolding was used to give workers areas to construct.

Imagining the construction of such a seemingly modern work over 2,000 years ago is not an easy task. While the workers certainly didn’t have large equipment, artisans knowledge of levers, pulleys, and weight ratios would have been the knowledge that ultimately drove the project to completion. In just under 12 years, Rhodes workers were able to build a landmark sculpture that stood unparalleled around the world.

Sources: UnmuseumHistoryDaily Mail

Image Sources: [1][2][3]

Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.


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