Somewhere, in a dusty, long-forgotten archive, there is a yellowed, insect-eaten parchment, or perhaps a papyrus, a clay tablet, or even a broken piece of pottery with a description, or a likeness, of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.” Some day, a diligent and lucky scholar will find this contemporary document, and add to the knowledge of the world. But we don’t have it today. Despite the fact that the Colossus was there, lain on the ground to be seen and wandered at, for 880 years, a great tourist attraction, there are as yet no known depictions of what it looked like, or even about the location where it stood. (More about that later.)
There is a notion that the Statue of Liberty, gracing the harbor of New York, is remarkably similar in size to the legendary Colossus, so while speculating about this ancient Wonder of the World, it’s worth comparing the two. Here’s the story:
There is a certainty that the Colossus was a giant statue of a man (the god Helios, Greek: ‘Ηλιος) made of bronze; that was erected by the City of Rhodes, in Greece, about 2,300 years ago, in 280 B.C.; that it took 12 years to build; and that after only 54 years had passed, an earthquake toppled it, broken at the knees; and that its crumpled body laid there for an incredible 880 years, until Foreign (Muslim) invaders sold it to a (Jewish?) merchant as scrap in 653A.D..
Yet, although there is a great deal of lore written about the Colossus, including unreliable, unverifiable details (in Wikipedia!) about the size and thickness of its metal parts, below are the few (only 3) disparate, but tantalizing notes about it that are considered historically trustworthy. These three, amazingly enough, match well to show that it was comparable, more or less, to the size of the Statue of Liberty, completed twenty one centuries later, in 1884.
Consider the surviving note, that “most men could not wrap their arms around a finger” of the fallen Colossus. Sort of like hugging a tree, I guess, and we can perhaps “hug” a tree (touching fingers on the opposite side) of a diameter of about 20 inches. Using a slightly larger diameter, a finger of Colossus would have been (calculations…) about 90 inches long. We know that the index finger of the Statue of Liberty is 97 inches long, which, considering the vagueness of the data, can be thought of as nearly the same size.
Consider the second note, that it “stood 70 cubits high.” Now we’re up against the typical ancient measure, used by Egyptians, Jews (Old testament – Noah’s Ark) Greeks, Romans, and others, unfortunately all varying in dimension. A “cubit” refers to the length from the elbow (Latin: cubitum) to the tip of the longest finger. Based on (research…) the most likely cubit used of that era would have been about 19 inches long. Thus the Colossus would have stood (calculations…) 110 feet tall. Lady Liberty is 111 ft tall, toe to head, which makes the Colossus about the same height.
The third note refers to the weight of the Colossus: That it was “carried away in pieces, on the backs of 900 camels.” So, we must look at the material Colossus was made of. It was made of bronze, (which is mainly copper.) Lady Liberty was made of sheets of copper, which weighs the same as bronze, and is equally malleable. Now, although you can cast ordinary size statues with bronze, you cannot do that with giants. You would need to build an internal structure, a “skeleton,” probably of wrought iron (available at the time) to which thin, pre-shaped sheets of bronze were attached on the outside, to create the proper form. This is how it was done for the Statue of Liberty. The thicknes of Lady Liberty’s skin is roughly the size of two copper pennies. We know that statue has 31 tons of copper, plus 125 tons of iron for its structural skeleton. So, supposing we sold Lady Liberty for scrap, and someone brought over his camels to carry the pieces away, how many camels would be needed? A camel’s load would be (research…) roughly 400 lbs, so to carry off 31 tons of Copper would take 150 camels, and the iron another 625 camels, for a total of (calculations…) 800 camels – which is remarkably close to the legendary “900.”
So if we know the weight of Lady Liberty, and the number of camels it would take to haul it away, what would have been the weight of the salvaged Colossus, to require 900 camels?
Assuming the historically logical view that it was a statue of an adult, athletic male, (research…) modern medicine gives us the average height and surface area of a human skin. Scaling that up to the Colossus’ reported height and assuming the bronze “skin” was about the same thickness as that of Lady Liberty’s gives us (calculations…) about 18 tons. This would require about 90 camels to carry it away – but that’s only the bronze surface.
Nothing about the Colossus’ skeleton is known, but historically, most structures were significantly over-designed, until modern engineering materials’ science and calculations became available in the 18th Century. This means they were made much stronger, using more material, than was actually needed, if they had been designed by modern engineering methods. So if we estimate that the interior “skeleton” of the Colossus was over-designed by 200% – a conservative figure – compared to Lady Liberty, then Colossus’ skeleton, if it was made of iron, would weigh 145 tons, and require about 725 camels. (If, instead, it was made also of bronze bars, which are weaker than iron, and somewhat heavier, the skeleton would weigh more.) Assuming an iron skeleton, the total comes out to 810 camels, which is, again, tantalizingly close to the legendary “900,” considering the tenuous data available.
OK, it looks as though Colossus and the Statue of Liberty were about the same general size. But what did Colossus look like? A persistent, and romantic view is that the Colossus straddled a harbor, legs spread apart, with ships passing underneath. But this is based on a fantastic drawing made in the Middle Ages, and it is impractical – because to straddle even a small opening of a harbor, wide enough that the small ships of the day could pass under, would require a much larger statue; it was, structurally, beyond the capability of the engineering of the day; it would have been exposed to battering by severe storms; and last, it would have fallen into the sea and blocked the harbor entrance, and if so would not have been allowed to lay there for over 800 years without a major effort to remove it. So, it’s just a romantic concept. So is another, weaker thought, about carrying a flame, somehow, on top. No contemporary or later document supports this, only some Medieval artists’ imaginations. Who would “service” the fire, and how? This was not a stone-built lighthouse, with stairs, etc; it was a giant statue. The concept has been debunked by every diligent historian, but it’s so attractive that it persists. But having said all that, the romantic in me still hopes that I am wrong; and, someday, someone will find an artifact that would show that, indeed, the Rhodians built a giant, straddling their harbor, holding a big fire on top!
A final anecdote is fun to relate to. Naturally, when a giant statue is laying in ruins on the ground for over 800 years, there must have been numerous thoughts, and possibly efforts, at resurrecting it. But that takes lots of money! Well, one of those times came when a then ruler of Egypt, a Greek by the name of Ptolemy III (a descendant of Ptolemy, the general under Alexander the Great) was trying to annex, or at least have friendly cooperative relations with the island of Rhodes. He had, indeed, married a lady from Rhodes, who kept pestering him to “give them some money to raise the statue.” So he promised the Rhodians that he would provide the funds to resurrect the Colossus – but only if the Oracle at Delphi was consulted as to the wisdom of the project. So they/he sent ambassadors to the Oracle, and they returned with “the word” from Pythia that “The Gods had knocked down the Colossus because they did not like it, and it was not for mortals to resurrect it.” Now, whether Pythia got the word from Olympus or was bribed by Ptolemy is not known, but he did manage to placate his wife, create an obligation by the Rhodians to him, and save his money. So, with that, we can come to our own conclusion.