Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.01.25

Wolfram Hoepfner, Der Koloss von Rhodos und die Bauten des Helios. Neue Forschungen zu einem der Sieben Weltwunder. Sonderband der Antiken Welt, Zaberns Bildbände zur Archäologie.   Mainz am Rhein:  Philipp von Zabern, 2003.  Pp. 107, 72 col. figs., 32 b/w figs., 42 line drawings.  ISBN 3-8053-3253-X.  EUR 34.80.  

Contributors: Ulrich Gehrig, Natascha Königs, Henrike Sachse and Katharina Vogl, Gerhard Zimmer and Juliane Berndt

Reviewed by Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 3346 words

The Seven Wonders of the World have attracted attention since ancient times, as partial mentions in Herodotos' Histories and Kallimachos' poems attest. The first extant listing, however, was compiled by Antipatros of Sidon in the late second century B.C. Later versions of the initial grouping, both in antiquity and from the Middle Ages onward, are usefully cited in the last section of the book under review (by J. Berndt, pp. 103-104), and tellingly connected with present-day efforts by UNESCO to catalogue and hence protect all those monuments that can be considered universal cultural property -- according to this count, 554 items in 122 areas of the world.

Yet the original Seven Wonders -- the Pyramids of Egypt; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Colossus of Rhodes; the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos; the chryselephantine Statue of Zeus by Pheidias at Olympia; the Maussolleion at Halikarnassos; the Pharos at Alexandria -- fall now largely beyond our attempts at preservation. Only the pyramids survive in relatively pristine condition. The Artemision at Ephesos exists solely as disiecta membra, partly in the British Museum and partly at Selçuk or in situ in swampy ground. The same is true of the Halikarnassos Maussolleion, whose remains are even more scattered in various locations, thanks to the early agency of the Crusaders; in recent years, the activity of a Danish team of archaeologists has greatly expanded our knowledge of this monument, but many of its features are still controversial and its total appearance is recoverable only in drawings or three-dimensional models. Not even scraps are extant of the four remaining items on the list.

This state of affairs has not prevented several scholars through time from trying to assemble all available information on the entire group,1 yet it is not widely noted that each "Wonder" is primarily not a work of art but one of engineering. Even sculptural entries like the Pheidian Zeus or the Rhodian Colossus (an image of the Sun God Helios) were of such size and material(s) that they required elaborate inner structures and special technical devices for both construction and static purposes. It is probably this aspect of the latter statue that prompted Wolfram Hoepfner (henceforth cited as H.) during the Winter term of 2002 to hold a graduate seminar on this subject at the Archaeological Institute of the Free University of Berlin, which resulted in the present monograph.

H. is in fact better known for his interest in ancient architecture than in ancient sculpture per se. His writings and reconstructions are too numerous to be listed individually, but they range from the altars at Pergamon and Magnesia to the mausolea at Belevi and Halikarnassos, from royal palaces and their andrones to the Hierothesion of Mithradates I of Kommagene at Arsameia on the Nymphaion, from the layout of cities to Pergamene and Rhodian architecture in general. H.'s research on the Colossus of Rhodes is strictly connected to his own investigation of the topography of Rhodes, and had already resulted in a specialized article.2 This book presents a somewhat modified version of the same theories, here expressed in a more popular form and expanded with information of interest to a general public. Yet the serious student of classical antiquity will find in it much of importance as well as food for thought and further speculation.

The book opens with a quick survey of colossal statuary from Pharaonic Egypt to Imperial Rome. Understandably, all the statues illustrated are in marble, since those in bronze were reduced to scrap metal and melted down for reuse, as happened to the Rhodian Helios. The optical problems created by over-lifesized dimensions were appreciated by the ancient masters, as attested by anecdotal sources, and are here visually demonstrated with the help of an articulated puppet photographed at different distances and in strong foreshortening from below (figs. 8-10). The Rhodian Colossus, approximately 31 m. tall, would have required specific modifications of its proportions to be viewed as normal from a distance.

From this point onward, the book follows a somewhat irregular path. Instead of expounding first what is known today about the Helios, H. discusses the erroneous reconstructions prevalent since 1394 that visualized the bronze figure as standing astride one of Rhodes' harbors. Despite numerous disclaimers in recent times, this is still the image repeated by the many touristic souvenirs now being sold on the island. The next five chapters deal with the history and layout of the city of Rhodes; its role as an artistic center (by N. Königs, pp. 23-25; see infra, note 4); its cult of the Sun God, his likely sanctuary and his depictions; and a recently excavated complex that is here identified as the "Club" of the Haliastai (in its Dorian spelling) -- one of the numerous Associations that characterized the social articulation of the Rhodian inhabitants.

Many original theories are advanced in this section. The search for a temple of Helios on the akropolis is declared useless, since the very nature of the deity would have prevented enclosure of his image within a cella and no temple dedicated to him is known anywhere else. Given the strong influx of Athenians after the 408 foundation, a cult of Athena Polias and Zeus Polieus is posited instead for the extant remains. To the South, near the Gymnasion (cf. plan fig. 31 on p. 22) a Doric peripteros (6x11), the largest temple in the city, belonged to Apollo Pythios but was theatrically set on axis within a large temenos of Helios, by virtue of the strong association and quasi-identity between the two deities current in the fourth century. The same precinct housed a square depression, accessible by steps and bordered by natural rock on its northern side, with some rock projecting in its approximate middle. H. believes it was originally a water basin and would place on the rocky spur a tall masonry pillar supporting the Chariot of the Sun created for Rhodes by Lysippos (Pliny NH 34.60).3

This dramatic layout, although admittedly unusual for the fourth century, finds some support in the comparable arrangement at Delphi, where a Quadriga of Helios dedicated by the Rhodians stood in front of Apollo's temple. French scholars had initially suggested that perhaps Lysippos' sculpture was erected on the mainland rather than on the island, but the evidence is tenuous in either case. The naturalistic effect of the Sun's chariot within a pool, on the other hand, is argued on the grounds of an innate Rhodian preference for statuary in landscape, and on the dubious parallel of the Nike of Samothrace. It seems now certain that the emplacement for the Nike was turned into a fountain only during Roman times, if ever, and even the sculpture's attribution to a Rhodian master is unproven.4 I wonder, moreover, if a tall pillar, appropriate for a chariot, is equally appropriate to suggest the solar crossing above the ocean, given the waves presumably shaping the resting surface of the group, at a level considerably above the waters of the pool. In addition, the chariot would be directed North-South, against the normal course of the sun.

The identification of the House of the Haliastai is largely based on comparison with the so-called Sacred House at Priene, attributed to the cult of Alexander the Great, and the Heroon at Kalydon, honoring Leon and members of his family. But the latter was also a funerary chapel, and both buildings have the general layout of a grandiose peristyle house, which is too common to carry specific connotations. H.'s identification may well be correct, in view of the finds, but his reconstruction with several banqueting halls seems to rest on scant physical evidence.5

With Section 6 attention shifts to the Colossus proper, and I shall summarize here what is known about its history. A failed siege of the city by Demetrios Poliorketes in 305-304 B.C. and the abandonment of its many war machines provided the occasion (and the materials?) for the great thank-offering. Its sculptor was Chares of Lindos, a pupil of Lysippos. Pliny mentions that construction took 12 years, which gives 293 B.C. for its completion. The statue stood only ca. 56 years; it was destroyed by an earthquake, variously dated to 228 (by the Italians, according to an inscription from Iasos), 226 or 224/3 (according to ancient sources). Restoration was not attempted -- despite offers of money and help, especially by Ptolemy III -- allegedly because a Delphic oracle forbade it. Yet even in ruins the bronze attracted the admiration of all ancient viewers. The Emperor Hadrian is credited by a Byzantine source (John Malalas, 6th century) with restoring the Colossus, although this information is not universally accepted. At any rate, another major earthquake hit Rhodes and Kos 20 years later (under Antoninus Pius) and probably brought the Colossus down a second time.6 In 653 the bronze fragments were removed on camels by an Arab, as scrap metal.

H. expands on all these points in various sections of the book. Against various other theories, he accepts Albert Gabriel's suggestion that the Helios stood at the head of the pier on one side of the military harbor (one of the city's four), where the St. Nikolaos Tower now stands,7 but he adds new details. Specifically, he identifies some boulders as "artistic rocks" ("Kunstfelsen"), tooled in imitation of natural formations, on analogy with several such "rocky" statue bases from the island. They would have formed the craggy substructure for the round steps supporting the statue proper (cf. fig. 111). For the physical construction of the Helios, he again accepts the general lines of Gabriel's theory based on the (Late-Imperial) account by Philo of Byzantion (4.2-5), supported by Denys Haynes,8 and now strengthened by H.'s consultation with experts on static engineering, who helped construct a model in Styrofoam and wire (figs. 126-27). Four modern "colossi" -- a Hercules in Kassel, the "Bavaria" in Munich, the Hermann Monument near Detmolt, and the Statue of Liberty in New York -- each with a different technical solution, are analyzed. Descriptions of ancient bronze casting (by K. Vogel and H. Sachse) and actual casting pits (ca. 300-275 B.C.) excavated on Rhodes (G. Zimmer) provide only general information, since H. acknowledges that the Helios was cast in situ, each successive segment of the figure molded and poured in position above the previous one. The enormous scale of each section would have prevented separate manufacture, transportation, and assemblage.

In visualizing the Colossus' pose and attributes, H. differs from recent scholars (whose theories are briefly summarized and rejected). He reconstructs a youth in a running pose ("im Lauf," p. 70), weight supported on the right leg, right arm raised with open hand in a greeting gesture, rayed head turned slightly in the same direction. His athletic body is covered only by a chlamys pinned over the right shoulder and draped around the bent left arm that holds a whip. A metal beam descending to the base from the elbow and through the mantle tip accompanies a second metal bar rising high into the body and going through the wide-apart left foot at the heel; a third bar descends from the right shoulder through the weight leg. Together, the three beams define a triangular resting surface and continue deep down into base and podium to secure the figure against wind and other forces (cf. fig. 130). In addition, a virtual column of stone blocks is postulated inside the entire right side of the body, in accordance with Pliny's mention (NH 34.41) of great masses of rock visible within the broken limbs, meant by Chares as ballast to stabilize the statue. H. has identified some blocks within the Nikolaos Tower that show cuttings for clamps and metal supports in agreement with Philo's description of the Colossus' inner armature (figs. 128-29). Yet it seems surprising that such stones should occupy only one vertical half of the total figure, perhaps unbalancing rather than securing its stability. I read Pliny's passage to mean that blocks formed the core of the total statue, but we should probably accept the engineers' opinion.

In his reconstruction of the Colossus, H. is guided by several bronze statuettes of Helios, admittedly none earlier than the late second century of our era (p. 70). One of them -- a 50 cm. high bronze in Hannover (dated ca. 222-224) -- receives separate description (by U. Gehrig). Another, from Montdidier and now in the Louvre, serves to work out the original proportions and to postulate that the Colossus would have looked best if it stood ca. 70 m. above sea level, the figure itself from socle to tip of central ray measuring ca. 45 m.9 Much is made of the relatively small heads of some of the bronzes, and of their disproportionately large right arms, explained as faithful imitation of the Colossus' broken parts whose optical distortions, once on the ground, might have been misunderstood as distinctive physical traits. One more statuette, from a third-century villa at Ordona (near Foggia, Apulia), has a peculiar bar from hip to right arm, with a volute at each end; it is here taken as evidence that Chares' Helios might have needed a similar support. Finally, the Colossus of Nero in Rome, now recognized on a gem in Berlin (fig. 133, not 132 as given), is thought to have been patterned after the Rhodian monument. I shall address these points in reverse order.

Before the discovery of the Berlin gem, Nero's statue was known only through diminutive and indistinct renderings on a few late coins. Indeed, it is surprising that "for whatever reason, colossi in general seem to have had little impact on the iconographical tradition." If correctly dated to the late first/early second century, the gem should therefore depict the Roman sculpture in almost pristine condition, shortly after its completion under Vespasian or Titus (between 74 and 77), or its removal to the area of the Flavian Amphitheater by Hadrian (between 126 and 128).10 It shows a naked youth leaning his left elbow on a column while holding a scepter; his lowered right arm rests on a rudder and a globe -- all attributes alluding to Imperial power, although the radiate crown identifies the figure as Sol. The column -- unless added when the statue was moved from its original location -- might have been required for stability, yet it was integrated into the composition, quite unlike the metal bars of the Helios.

If the correlation between the Roman and the Rhodian monument is accepted, H.'s reconstruction of the latter would differ substantially. The only points of similarity would be the subject and the approximate size. No complete analogy exists even with the small bronzes cited above. The Hannover statuette is entirely naked and lacks the radiate crown, which "could possibly ("möglicherweise") have been added separately" (p. 72). Its anastole hairstyle recalls Alexander the Great, and the now empty left hand probably held a globe, which would allude to the Emperor Severus Alexander and his known imitation of the Macedonian ruler. Nothing in the inscribed dedication suggests identification of the figure with Sol. Of the other small bronzes, some rest their weight on the left instead of the right leg, or wear their chlamys differently. With his left hand the Sol from Ordona holds a globe secured to his hip by a bronze strut. No dimensions are given for this piece11 but it looks quite small, and I wonder whether both struts, on either side, could be the solid cores of the original pouring channels that secured the flow of metal through a single-piece cast. Given the western origin of all these bronzes, they seem to me much more likely to represent the Roman Sol than the Rhodian Helios. Only a gem with a Greek inscription and a somewhat similar image is said tentatively to come from the East (fig. 99b), but Greek masters are known to have used their own script and language even when working in Rome for Imperial patrons. As for the apparent disproportions of heads and limbs, these are often typical of terracotta figurines pieced together from separate molds, a procedure comparable to the making of small bronzes. Italic (provincial?) emphasis on gesturing arms is well known since Late Republican times (e.g., the Arringatore). I doubt, moreover, that a severed arm, as the Colossus lay in pieces, would have seemed noticeably too large for a total figure that could no longer be seen erect. Should these Imperial statuettes reflect instead the Colossus as re-erected by Hadrian, the optical correction would no longer have been noted.

Bronze statuettes were used as clues also by Jose Dörig, but only as approximate echoes of the Rhodian Helios, despite his belief that a bronze now in Berlin dates from ca. 290 B.C.12 His reconstruction of the Colossus, however, visualized it as "ruler-like" with spear and sword, and without a chlamys. It seems clear that different depictions of the Sun God were current in antiquity, some of them even holding a torch, despite H.'s claim (e.g., p. 17) that this iconographic type was exceptional. Ancient epigrams that may support the presence of this attribute have been read both literally and metaphorically, and the same selectivity seems to apply to the choice of extant images leading to various reconstructions. I shall argue here in favor of one more possible conception, not because I consider it more plausible than H.'s but simply to suggest the range of inferences to be derived from extant evidence.

It is generally taken for granted that the Rhodian Helios was shown naked or with a short chlamys around his shoulders. Yet Greek monuments, whether sculptural or pictorial, depict him wearing the more extensive tunic of the charioteer. This costume appears not only on Rhodian amphora stamps (fig. 45) where the god rides his chariot, but also on a coffer from Priene, where Helios is on foot. None of the ancient sources on the Colossus describes his appearance; only one states that it broke "at the knees," thus allowing the inference that the figure was naked. On the other hand, this statement could be read as a general indication of level, perhaps corresponding to one of the sections from which the statue was built, even if only a bent free leg, under the chiton, suggested the height. Alternatively, could the tunic have been short enough to leave the lower legs free? Or could a long costume have appeared wind-blown, thus falling behind the god's legs? In this case, its mass could have reached the base and served to support the bronze like a back strut.

One more reference may at least imply that Helios wore sandals. Philo's text has been translated to state that the footprints of the god, on the base, were as big (long) as a normal statue was (high). Other translations use foot soles instead of footprints, but in all such versions the comparison seems to be one of length against one of height. The original Greek, however, reads ἴχνος τῆς βάσεως, and could perhaps be translated as "the soles of the sandals on the base." The 1990 recreation at full scale (12.75 m.) of the Athena Parthenos in Nashville, Tennessee, has shown us that footwear, of a size proportioned to that of the total figure, was easily tall enough to carry the figured frieze (a Centauromachy) described by Pliny (NH 36.18).13 The Rhodian Helios, at a height of 31.60 m. (including the solar rays), could easily have had sandals "taller than a normal statue."

Admittedly, no reconstruction of the lost "Wonder" will ever command complete consensus. H.'s monograph goes a long way toward answering many pertinent questions and providing many new suggestions. Best of all, however, seems to me H.'s statement in his Introduction (p. 3), in which he acknowledges that works of enormous size and proportions are seldom examples of superior artistry, and that through time colossal creations have almost always been expressions of power, patriotism, nationalism, and ideology. Thus the Rhodian Colossus is less a high mark of Greek sculptural creativity than a cultural/historical phenomenon. As such, the author has done it full justice.


1.   Most recently, see K. Brodersen, Die sieben Weltwunder: Legendäre Kunst- und Bauwerke der Antike, (2001). For a lucid account in English, see P. A. Clayton and M. J. Price, eds., The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, (London/New York 1988); the section on the Rhodian Colossus (pp. 124-37) is by R. Higgins.
2.   W. Hoepfner, "Der Koloß von Rhodos," AA 2000, 129-53; the reconstruction drawing of the statue on p. 145, fig. 27 (and cf. fig. 29 on p. 147) differs from the reconstruction proposed in this monograph primarily in the area of the support under Helios' left arm, which in the article is rendered as a rocky formation. More characteristic of the author's interests is a second article in the same periodoical, reconstructing a building: the Tholos at Delphi (pp. 99-107). See also, by H., "Zur Gründung und zur Architektur von Rhodos," in RHODOS 2400 XRONIA. H POLIS THS RHODOU APO THN IDRUSH THS MEXRI THN KATALHYH APO TOUS TOURKOUS (1523), (International Symposium on Rhodes, 1993, published 1999) 51-58.
3.   For plans and photographs of both the precinct ("the Haliaion") and the architectural remains, see figs. 49-57, 60. A reconstruction of the pillar monument with the Pythion to its South is given on p. 39 fig. 58.
4.   The comparison with the Samothracian monument is made not within the initial discussion of the basin inside the Haliaion but later in the monograph (p. 64). On the Nike of Samothrace, see M. Hamiaux Musée du Louvre, Département des antiquités grecques, étrusques et romaines. Les sculptures grecques, 2, La périod hellénistique (IIIe-Ier siécles avant J.-C.) (Paris 1998) nos. 2-50; the fragment with the alleged signature of [Pythokrito]s of Rhodes is no. 51, and is correctly described as the base for a statuette, unconnected with the Victory. For an extended discussion of the Nike and its problems, see B. S. Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture II. The Styles of ca. 200-100 B.C. (Madison 2000), 150-56, esp. p. 154 and n. 30 for the disclaimer about the monument's location within a fountain. It may be added here that several of the monuments cited by Königs to exemplify High-Hellenistic Rhodian art (including the Samothracian Nike) are also equivocal. The so-called Praying Boy, although from Rhodes, may have been a considerably later "servant figure" rather than the Orans attributed to one of Lysippos' pupils, or even a Ganymede. The "Toro Farnese," in its original version, was by two masters from Tralleis and may have been as late a creation as the Laokoon, also cited. Not cited, surprisingly, are the epic groups from Sperlonga, despite their being signed by the same makers as the Laokoon. For a recent discussion that considers the possible impact of the Colossus on Rhodian sculpture, see J. J. Pollitt, "The Phantom of a Rhodian School of Sculpture," in N. T. de Grummond and B. S. Ridgway, eds., From Pergamon to Sperlonga: Sculpture and Context (Berkeley/Los Angeles 2000), 92-110.
5.   This structure had originally been identified as the Haliaion because of the many statue bases inscribed to priests of Helios, winners at the Sun Festival, and private persons. The foundations in the center of the court, interpreted by the excavators as the base for a monument, are read by H. as those of a naiskos (fig. 67). On p. 47, last line, for "A-D im Norden" read "A-D im Westen," referring to the plan of fig. 66 -- one of the few typographical mistakes I have noted. Another error is introduced by the caption to fig. 73 that makes the Apoxyomenos in the Vatican "das am meisten kopierte Werk von Lysipp," whereas the text (p. 52) correctly states that it is one of the few (non original) works reasonably connected with the master.
6.   H. gives the reference to Pausanias' account as 8.53.4; read instead 8.43.4.
7.   A. Gabriel, "La construction, l'attitude et l'emplacement du Colosse de Rhodes," BCH 56 (1932) 331-59; his plan of the tower with the ancient blocks incorporated in its podium, and the drawing of a reused marble step probably from the round base for the Colossus are reproduced (and partly adapted) by H. as his figs. 79 and 88, but are supplemented with several outstanding color photographs.
8.   D. L. A. Haynes, "Philo of Byzantium and the Colossus of Rhodes," JHS 77 (1957) 311-12.
9.   The text, p. 67, lists the Louvre statuette's height as 32 cm., although the caption to fig. 97a-c gives 35 cm., perhaps taking into account the rays of the crown? Detailed dimensions of the Colossus are listed on p. 99, and its weight is calculated at ca. 75-150 tons of bronze and 45 tons of iron. Through manipulation of the alloy, the chlamys may have looked reddish, and Helios' hair and radiate crown would have been gilded.
10.   The Berlin gem was brought to scholarly attention by M. Bergmann, Der Koloß Neros, die Domus Aurea und der Mentalitätswandel in der frühen Kaiserzeit (Mainz 1994), esp. pl. 49.4. For a good discussion of the issues involved with Nero's statue, see F. C. Albertson, "Zenodorus's 'Colossus of Nero'," MAAR 46 (2001) 95-118, from which I derive my chronology; my citation is from his p. 111, where other oversized works (the Athena Promachos, Lysippos' Zeus at Taras, etc.) are mentioned in support.
11.   None is cited by Bergmann (supra, n. 10), from whose pl. 49.4 H.'s fig. 95 is taken; and none is given in the initial report of the statuette's discovery, NSc 29 (1975) 528 fig. 36.
12.   J. Dörig, "Der Helios Eleutherios des Chares von Lindos. Neues zum Koloss von Rhodos," in RHODOS (supra, n. 2) 185-92; see his pl. 80c-d for the statuette Berlin Mus. no. 8141. This piece, listed in LIMC 5, s.v. Helios, no. 343, under "doubtful depictions," is considered rather an image of Alexander the Great as Helios, said to have been acquired in Venice.
13.   The sandals of the Athena Parthenos in Nashville, by Alan LeQuire, measure 20.5 cm. from the surface of the base to the level of the toes; the figured frieze itself is 14 cm. high. I owe these measurements to the kindness of Alan LeQuire and of Wesley Paine, Director of the Parthenon Museum in Nashville.

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