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Ancient Coins – A Rhodes, by Any Other Name: The Colossus of Helios

CARIAN ISLANDS. Rhodes. Ca. 229-205 BCE. AR tetradrachm (27mm, 13.64 gm, 11h). NGC MS 5/5 – 4/5.

Rhodes was one of the great maritime cities of the Greek world, located on a spearhead-shaped island of the same name in the eastern Aegean Sea. Myth has it the island was born of a union between the sun god Helios and the nymph Rhode, who gave her name to the island a beautiful pink hibiscus flower native to it.

The city of Rhodes was a relatively late foundation, circa 408 BCE, when citizens of three other cities located on the island decided to unite and build a well-defended coastal capital on a regular plan provided by the Athenian architect Hippodamus.

The Carian Satrap Maussolus brought Rhodes under his control in 357 BC, but two decades later it was “liberated” by Alexander the Great.

During the Wars of the Diadochi, Rhodes was an independent power allied to Ptolemaic Egypt and famous for its outstanding artists, scientists and philosophers. In 305 BC, the Macedonian adventurer Demetrius, son of Antigonus, launched a stupendous siege of Rhodes in an effort to break its alliance with Egypt (earning Demetrius to sobriquet Poliorcetes – “besieger of cities” for his Herculean efforts).

Among the engines he constructed for the task was the enormous Helepolis, an ironclad siege tower festooned with torsion catapults and weighing 160 tons. Despite his massive preparations and investment, Demetrius saw his efforts thwarted by the ingenious Rhodians and abandoned his siege within a year.

The Rhodians gladly took possession of his mammoth engines and sold them for a tidy profit of 300 talents (1.8 million silver drachms), which they used to erect the first truly monumental bronze statue of antiquity, the famous Colossus of Rhodes.

The master builder-sculptor, Chares of Lindos, conceived a 100-foot-tall bronze statue of the sun god Helios, wearing a radiate crown, his arm holding a torch aloft. Consisting of an iron framework covered by thin bronze sheets (not too different from the modern Colossus, the Statue of Liberty), the Colossus was begun in 292 BC and finished a dozen years later.

The handsome face of Helios soon found its way onto Rhodes’ coinage, as the beautiful Heritage Platinum Night tetradrachm demonstrates. This example dates from the later third century BC, after the world-famous Colossus had risen and (possibly) fallen.

The handsome face of Helios boldly looks straight out at the holder, his head surrounded by an array of sunbeams. His features surely owe something to the island’s late, lamented liberator, Alexander the Great, including the conqueror’s famous leonine mane of hair and central part.

The Colossus itself caused a sensation in the Ancient world and was immortalized as one of the “Seven Wonders of the World” by Greek chroniclers including Antipator of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium.

Alas, the great statue had a brief lifespan of 54 years.

A disastrous earthquake struck Rhodes in 226 BCE and the Colossus, built long before any concept of seismic-safe construction, snapped off at the knees and toppled over. Ptolemy III of Egypt offered to pay for its reconstruction, but the Rhodians decided the heed to the words of the Oracle of Delphi, who declared the statue an act of hubris that had offended Helios.

Its spectacular ruins lay scattered near the harbor, by one account, until after the Muslim conquest of Rhodes in AD 653.

According to an account (possibly apocryphal) by Theophanes the Confessor, the city’s Arab conquerors sold the remains to a Jewish merchant of Edessa, who needed 900 camels to transport the heavy metal to his homeland

This Coins is part of the Heritage ANA Platinum Night Sale of Ancient Coins, Lot 30068


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Heritage Auction Galleries is one of the world's largest collectibles auctioneers. Besides offering rare and valuable U.S. and world coins and currency, Heritage offers ancient coins, exonumia, antiques, comic books, sports memorabilia, and many other collectibles. The firm is based in Dallas, Texas.

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