9th Greek Australian Legal and Medical Conference
A SHORT HISTORY OF RHODES
Ms Kate Metcalf, LL.M., B. Juris, LL.B., B.A (Archaeology)
Just to set the scene, and to give you a mental image of the island of Rhodes, a quick look at a map will show that Rhodes is shaped like a Minoan dolphin. Its snout points northeast towards the Asian mainland, the two flippers are the Monolithos promontory on the west and the Lindos promontory on the east, and the tail points into the Mediterranean. The very shape of the island echoes Rhodes' links with the sea throughout its history.
Rhodes, like everywhere else in Greece, has a long and sometimes glorious past. Its history contains periods of peace and prosperity based on its trading fleet, and also periods of piracy, subjugation, mutiny and revolution. It has seen dramatic sieges, earthquakes, invasions and explosions, and throughout it all it has retained the natural beauty we see all around us, together with proud and independent people.
The two most famous stages of Rhodes' history are the Hellenistic period of Rhodes' independence, and the medieval period under the Knights of St John. Both periods contain Great Sieges for which Rhodes is also famous. The Great Siege in the Hellenistic period resulted in a victory for the Rhodians and culminated in the construction of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World " the Colossus. The two sieges in the medieval period had mixed outcomes: the first was a resounding victory for the Knights of St John over the armada of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1480, but the second spelt their defeat at the hands of a young Sulieman the Magnificent in 1522 from which little was salvaged but honour.
Now, let's go back to the beginning.
As is the case elsewhere in Greece, the early history of Rhodes is interwoven with mythology. The sun god Helios chose Rhodes as his bride and bestowed upon her light, warmth and vegetation. Their son Cercafos had three sons, Camiros, Ialyssos and Lindos, who each founded the cities that were named after them. 
The Minoans and Mycenaeans had outposts on the island, but it was not till the Dorians arrived in 1100 BC that Rhodes began to exert power and influence. The Dorians settled in the cities of Kamiros, Ialyssos and Lindos and made each an autonomous state. They utilised trade routes to the east, which had been established during Minoan and Mycnaenian times, and the island flourished as an important centre of commerce in the Aegean. 
Rhodes was allied to Athens in the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), in which the Persians were defeated, but by the time of the Battle of Salamis ten years later; it had shifted to the Persian side. After the unexpected Athenian victory at Salamis, Rhodes hastily became an ally of Athens again, joining the Delian league in 478 BC. After the disastrous Sicilian Expedition (416-412 BC), when after four years of fighting at Syracuse all the Athenian soldiers were either killed or dead from starvation (and those of us who were lucky enough to go to Sicily after the last conference will remember the Ear of Dionysus where the Athenians were enslaved), Rhodes revolted against Athens and formed an alliance with Sparta, which it aided in the defeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian Wars. 
In 408 BC the three city states of Kamiros, Ialyssos and Lindos united to form one territory and together they built the City of Rhodes. The three independent states considered that the whole should prove greater than the sum of the parts, and union would, it was hoped, bring Rhodes increased economic and military power and subsequent independence from foreign intervention. At the same time, construction of a new large city with excellent harbours at the northeast extremity of the island would allow the Rhodians to make the best use of their commercially strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean. 
The architect Hippodamos, who has come to be regarded as the father of town planning, planned the new city. It was one of the most harmonious cities of antiquity, divided into four distinct parts: the acropolis, the agora, the harbour and the residential quarter, all with wide straight streets connecting them. As the historian Berthold puts it: "All that Rhodes would become economically, politically and militarily in the Hellenistic age depended ultimately on the union of the island, on the willingness of the three Rhodian cities to abandon the autonomy so jealously guarded by the Greek polis. This was the cardinal event in Rhodes' history." 
The decisive break with Athens came in 357 BC when Rhodes, Kos and Chios joined Byzantium in open revolt. In 355 BC peace was made, and Athens recognised the independence of the four rebel states. 
It was out of the frying pan into the fire however, because no sooner had Rhodes freed itself from Athens, than it discovered that it had fallen under the power of Mausolus of Halicarnassus (whose tomb was also one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). Without the aid of the spurned Athens, the Rhodians had little chance of liberating themselves, and the island was compelled to remain under Hecatomnid control until Alexander's invasion. 
The fourth century BC saw the rise of Macedonia as the dominant power, but because of the continued existence of the strong Persian fleet in the Aegean, Rhodes remained nominally loyal to the Great King. After Alexander's victory over the Persians at Issus in 333 BC, however, the Persian fleet began breaking up as the Macedonian army moved south, and in early 332 BC the Rhodians sent ten ships to offer formal submission to Alexander before the walls of Tyre. The submission was accepted, and as a result a Macedonian garrison was installed on the island. 
When news of Alexander's death in Babylon arrived in Rhodes in June 323 BC the Rhodians promptly expelled the Macedonian garrison and declared independence from Alexander's extensive empire. It remains uncertain what influence Alexander had over the constitutional structure of the Rhodian state, but the essential format seems to have been set under his rule, as there is no sign of any major constitutional reform in the period after 323 BC. 
Upon Alexander's unexpected death his generals fought bitterly against each other for power. Three of them succeeded in dividing the kingdom amongst themselves: Ptolemy gaining Egypt, Seleucus Persia and Syria, and Antigonus Asia Minor and Macedonia itself.
Once rid of the Macedonians, Rhodian foreign policy was to remain independent and to maintain friendly relations with all states - though they had a special relationship with Ptolemy's Egypt that they were keen to maintain. This policy saw them building ships for Antigonus in 315 BC, despite Ptolemy's unease, not just for the commercial benefit it brought Rhodes, but also because they could not afford to antagonise such a powerful, and close, neighbour. Once that neighbour went too far in 305 BC and demanded access to Rhodian harbours however, the Rhodians refused, and were ready to fight to prevent a return to foreign domination. Antigonus was unimpressed, and sent his son Demetrius to deal with them. 
The City of Rhodes was protected by a strong, tall, wall and the attackers were forced to use siege towers to try and climb over it. While most siege towers were designed to be rolled up on land, Demetrius used a giant tower mounted on top of six ships lashed together to make his attack. Fortunately for the Rhodians luck was not with Demetrius, and the tower was turned over and smashed when a storm suddenly approached, with the result that the battle was won by the Rhodians.
Demetrius then had a second super-tower built. This one, the "helepolis", stood almost 150 feet high and some 75 feet square at the base, and this time was designed for use on land. It was equipped with many catapults and covered in a skin of wood and leather to protect the troops inside from archers. It even carried water tanks that could be used to fight fires started by flaming arrows.
When Demetrius again attacked the city, the defenders stopped the war machine by the simple device of flooding the ditch outside the walls and miring the heavy monster in the mud. By then almost a year had gone by and, just in the nick of time, and in response to a Rhodian cry for help, a fleet of ships from Egypt arrived to assist the city. Demetrius withdrew quickly leaving the great siege tower where it was. 
For reasons of peace and security Rhodes had always maintained good relations with Egypt, and for the same reasons it was utterly crucial to Ptolemy that Rhodes not become an Antigonid naval base. When he received the Rhodians request for assistance, Ptolemy therefore ensured that supplies were provided at crucial times during the siege, and he also actively encouraged a reasonable settlement, ie one that would preserve the island's autonomy. The eventual settlement ensured that Rhodes remained independent, but would be an ally of Antigonus, except when he went to war against Ptolemy.  It was a solution with which all sides could live, and would not have been achieved without Egyptian help.
To celebrate their victory and freedom, the Rhodians decided to build a giant statue of their patron god Helios. They melted down bronze from the many war machines Demetrius had left behind for the exterior of the figure, and the super siege tower became the scaffolding for the project. The work started in 304 BC, and according to Pliny, who lived several centuries after the Colossus was built, construction took 12 years. 
The statue was one hundred and ten feet high and stood on a fifty-foot pedestal near the harbour mole. Although the statue has been popularly depicted with its legs spanning the harbour entrance so that ships could pass beneath, this pose is highly unlikely. No ancient account mentions the harbour-spanning pose, and it would have been out of character for the Greeks to depict one of their gods in such an awkward manner. In addition, such a pose would have meant shutting down the harbour during the construction, something not economically feasible.
It is much more likely that the statue was actually posed in a more traditional Greek manner: nude, wearing a spiked crown, shading its eyes from the rising sun with its right hand, whilst holding a cloak over its left.
The statue was constructed of bronze plates over an iron framework (very similar to the Statue of Liberty which is copper over a steel frame). According to the book of Pilon of Byzantium, 15 tons of bronze were used and 9 tons of iron, though these numbers seem low. The Statue of Liberty, roughly of the same size, weighs 225 tons. The Colossus, which relied on weaker materials, must have weighed at least as much and probably more.
Ancient accounts tell us that inside the statue were several stone columns that acted as the main support. Iron beams were driven into the stone and connected with the bronze outer skin. Each bronze plate had to be carefully cast then hammered into the right shape for its location in the figure, then hoisted into position and riveted to the surrounding plates and the iron frame.
The architect of this great construction was Chares of Lindos, a Rhodian sculptor who was a patriot and fought in defence of the city. Chares had been involved with large- scale statues before, and his teacher, Lysippus, had constructed a 60-foot high likeness of Zeus. Chares probably started by making smaller versions of the statue, maybe three feet high, then used these as a guide to shaping each of the bronze plates of the skin.
It is believed that Chares did not live to see his project finished. There are several legends that he committed suicide. In one tale he has almost finished the statue when someone points out a small flaw in the construction, whereupon the sculptor is so ashamed of it he kills himself. In another version the city fathers decide to double the height of the statue. Chares is supposed to have only doubled his fee, forgetting that doubling the height would mean an eightfold increase in the amount of materials needed " which mistake drives him into bankruptcy and suicide.
There is no evidence that either of these tales is true. 
The Colossus stood proudly at the harbour entrance for some fifty-six years, before being toppled by an earthquake in 228 BC. The city was badly damaged, as were most of the city walls, and the Colossus was broken at its weakest point - the knees. The Rhodians received an immediate offer from Ptolemy III of Egypt to cover all restoration costs for the toppled monument, but an oracle was consulted and forbade the re-erection, so Ptolemy's offer was therefore declined. 
For almost a millennium the broken statue lay abandoned until 653 AD when it was chopped up by the Saracens, who sold it to a merchant in Edessa (in modern-day Turkey). The story goes that after being shipped to Syria, it took almost 1,000 camels to convey it to its final destination. 
The response of the Greek world to the earthquake of 228 BC was of such a magnitude that it allowed Rhodes to emerge from the calamity with undiminished strength, an enhanced reputation, and renovated fortifications. Such a swift response is testament to the economic importance of Rhodes to the whole region. As Berthold puts it "This unparalleled unanimity of action was hardly born of great humanitarian motives; they presumably played some role, but at heart the response was directed by hard economic interests. All of these states were involved in the commercial activities of Rhodes, and many were dependant on it to some extent for imports and the shipping and marketing of exports." 
Rhodes' days of being a powerful, independent state was by now numbered. The Greek world was about to change forever as a result of the rise of Rome, and the real history of an independent Rhodes ends in 164 BC when it became aligned with Rome.
The Rhodians had tried to maintain their traditional policy of neutrality in the face of the rising power of Rome, but they were nonetheless caught in the repercussions of the Roman civil wars. In the first civil war they sided with Pompey, who was better known to the Rhodians than Caesar, but once Pompey was defeated they deserted for the winning side, luckily for them with little post-war penalty. Once Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC the island again tried to remain out of the conflict " if not completely then at least until it was clear who would win  - but it was not possible to remain aloof, and Cassius assaulted the city when he was not invited in by the occupants. Once it was clear the city was doomed the Rhodians surrendered, and were duly punished. Cassius left behind a garrison " the first since Alexander.
Rhodian foreign policy from then on was to support whatever Roman faction controlled the Aegean. Antony visited in 40 BC and rewarded the Rhodians for their resistance to Cassius, but after Actium in 31 BC they were punished by Octavian with the cancellation of Antony's gifts. Octavian left the Rhodians with their independence, but any notion of an independent foreign policy had clearly become meaningless, and when in 44 AD Claudius officially ended Rhodian autonomy and attached the island to the province of Asia, it could hardly have made any difference so far as Rhodes' external affairs were concerned. 
In 155 AD the City of Rhodes was badly damaged by yet another earthquake, and in 269 AD the Goths invaded, rendering further damage. When the Roman Empire split, Rhodes became part of the Byzantine province of the Dodecanese. Raid upon raid followed. First it was the Persans in 620, then the Scaracens in 653 and then came the Turks. When the Crusaders seized Constantinople in 1204, Rhodes was given independence. Later the Genoese gained control. The Knights of St John arrived in Rhodes from Cyprus in 1309 after some shady dealings with the Genoese, and they ruled for 213 years until they in turn were ousted by the Ottomans. 
The Knights Hospitaller of St John were the last of the crusaders, and they held to traditional crusader values. They put loyalty to their faith and to their Order before all other loyalties. They welcomed death as a gateway to eternal life, and they sought valiantly to sustain the hope that Europe might yet lead and convert the world.  Their costume was a white cross of St John on a red field.
The origins of the Knights are shrouded in pious myth, but at some date before the First Crusade a body of merchants from Amalfi bought the original site of Charlemagne's Hospital in Jerusalem and staffed it with Benedictine monks. When Godfey de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, and his victorious crusaders burst into Jerusalem in 1099, they found the Blessed Gerard, Rector of the Hospital, and his monks, caring for the sick and wounded and the poor of all creeds. With Godfrey's help, Gerard broke away from the Benedictine Rule and founded a separate order, with a Rule based on that of the Augustinians. Gerard also acquired the former Greek monastery of St John the Baptist, and the monks then began to call themselves the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. 
The fighting in the Holy Land went on for a century and with the tide always running against the Christians, largely as a result of their own lack of unity. The Crusaders failed to hold Jerusalem and the other conquests that had been made, but in 1191 Acre was recaptured by the Third Crusade lead by Richard Coeur de Lion, and the Hospitallers established themselves there, giving the city their name " St Jean d'Acre. 
Despite this claw-back, the end was not far away for the Crusaders in the Holy Land, as one by one the Christian strongholds fell to Saladin and his men until finally the last one - Acre - fell in 1291. Only seven Knights of St John escaped alive from Acre, and together with the remnants of their equally devastated rivals the Templars, they retreated to Cyprus.  To make the catastrophe even worse, Richard Coeur de Lion himself was captured on his way home and was held hostage for a year until he was ransomed.
Ultimately the Hospitallers fared better than their historic rivals the Templars, and they inherited their property after the Templars were first brutally suppressed by the French and then subsequently wound up in 1312 - a mixed blessing as the properties were heavily encumbered. Cyprus by this stage was getting too small, and the Knights were looking to expand.
At this point Rhodes was under the control of the Byzantine governor who had cast off all but a semblance of allegiance to Constantinople and had set up a pirate state of his own. The Genoese were open to opportunities to curtail these piratical activities and to further their own interests, and they therefore agreed to assist the Knights in ensuring that Rhodes became their new home. On 15 th August 1309 Rhodes surrendered to the Grand Master. 
Rhodes proved to be a good home, and the Knights remained there for more than two centuries. Their new home was astride one of the principal sea routes of the eastern Mediterranean: within striking distance of the valuable timber trade southward from the Black Sea, the vital spice routes northward and westward for Arabia, and the lucrative local trades in honey, dried fish, grain, wine and silk.  Rhodes also provided the Knights with an opportunity to be at all times a thorn in the side of the Turks.
The shape the Order assumed in Rhodes remains recognisable five centuries later. It was divided into three principal classes: the Knights of Justice (the permanent fighting nucleus of the order, who held all the main posts, and had to be of noble birth), the Chaplains of Obedience (whose duties were religious but who could bear arms in an emergency) and the Serving Brothers, or Servants-at-Arms. There was also a fourth class, ranking "with but after" the Knights of Justice, who were the Knights of Grace, and whose personal merits were accepted in lieu of noble blood.  By the fifteenth century the Order had been divided into the eight Tongues or Langues which tended to cut across national divisions, which were, in order of seniority: Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Aragon, England, Germany, Castile and Portugal. 
The Knights' foreign policy remained simple in principal " the incessant castigation of Islam - but it was less simple in execution. They could not by themselves sustain a constant war against their multiple enemies (Egypt, the Emirs of Asia Minor and the Turks), as well as keeping a wary eye on the Venetians and the Byzantines (who had never recognised their claim to Rhodes). They were therefore driven to making complicated and ever changing alliances designed to prevent "the enemy" uniting against them, which in turn required detailed surveillance of those enemies " a very costly exercise. 
Constantinople finally fell to the Ottoman Turks on 29 th May 1453, a Tuesday, a day of the week that continues to be regarded as ill fated by the Greeks. Its fall had been inevitable " failing a full scale crusade by the west, and maybe even with such help. Despite a heroic defence by the Emperor Constantine XI (who had been crowned at Meteoria in the Pelloponese, and who could only be identified after it was all over by his purple boots), the city fell to the 21 year old Mehmet II, known after this as Mehmet the Conqueror. The victory meant that almost the entire Eastern Mediterranean was in Turkish hands.
Except for Rhodes.
And as Mehmet well understood, if the Christians could ever mobilise themselves for a full scale attack, then the obvious base from which to conduct such an attack would be Rhodes - a base manned moreover by a body of Knights whose religious zeal matched that of any Janissary, who were well disciplined, well organised and independently wealthy.
At the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Rhodes was a typical walled city of its time, though somewhat more heavily fortified than most, disposed in a rough semi-circle about the commercial port. However the defences were not designed for gunpowder, and after Constantinople fell the Grand Master called in the Florentine experts to strengthen and modernise those defences.  Despite these reinforcements, and all the others that had been made since the Great Siege of 304 BC, the city continued to have one serious weakness: the countryside outside the walls and beyond the ditch - a situation Mehmet the Conqueror made good use of when he besieged the city in 1480.
The Turks came very close to victory, but on this occasion the Knights won " thanks to miraculous intervention. The siege was chronicled by the Vice-Chancellor of the Order, Guillaume Caoursin who recorded that when disaster seemed inevitable for the Knights, and at the very point where the fighting was the most fierce:
Suitably full of "wonder and fear"the Turks decided to withdraw. Rhodes' victory was reinforced by luck when Mehmet died unexpectedly at age 49 in 1481, leading to a dynastic quarrel between his two sons, thus ensuring a respite for Rhodes.
Those years of respite before the next siege in 1522 were years of great change in the west. News of the discovery of a whole New World was brought back by Columbus in 1493, and as a result of the closing by the Ottomans of the old land routes to the far east in 1511, the Portuguese subsequently opened new sea routes to far flung corners of the globe. Back in Europe society was rocked first by the Renaissance and then by the Reformation.
In 1499 Rhodes was visited by the plague, and in the same year the Ottomans attacked Venice, inspiring the Pope to declare a crusade against them in 1500, though no-one did anything except Venice and the Order, both of whom had a very personal interest in the situation.
The Turks tried again to remove the Knights and the Holy Religion from Rhodes in 1522, and this time Suleiman the Magnificent was successful. Despite a desperate defence of the city by the Knights under the Grand Master Phillipe Villiers de L'Isle Adam, when it was obvious to all that the outcome was inevitable the townspeople persuaded the Grand Master to capitulate before the city was sacked, and this Sulieman allowed him to do with dignity. The Knights were allowed to depart for Crete on 1 st January, 1523, and their time on Rhodes was over.
The Order was not finished however, and it needed a new home, so in 1530 when Charles V was crowned Emperor and he offered Malta to de L'Isle Adam, the offer was reluctantly accepted. 
The defeat and departure of the Knights left Rhodes in the hands of the Turks, where it stayed for next four hundred years. Far from being a regional power, Rhodes now became so quiet and conductive to idleness that in 1844 when Thackery visited he came away with the impression that most visitors would not bestir themselves to move even "though we had been told the Colossus himself was taking a walk half a mile off." 
Things were more active on the geological front, and Rhodes suffered several earthquakes during the 19 th century. Greater damage was rendered however in 1856 by an accidental explosion of gunpowder which had been stored in the Palace of the Grand Masters and then forgotten. The explosion resulted in the whole medieval upper story being blown up, almost 1,000 people killed and many buildings wrecked. 
In 1912, the Turks in their turn were ousted by the Italians during a tussle over possession of Libya. Inspired by Mussolini's vision of a vast Mediterranean empire, the island's new rulers made Italian the official language and prohibited the practice of Orthodoxy. The Italians also constructed grandiose public buildings in the Fascist style - the antithesis of archetypal Greek architecture. The lavish interior of the Palace of the Grand Masters (adorned with mosaics transferred from Kos and various other transplanted Greek and other treasures), is very much a creation of the Italian Governor whose residence it became. It was designed to impress upon Rhodes and the world his own and Mussolini's glory. 
More beneficially, the Italians excavated and restored many archaeological monuments.
After the Italian surrender of 1943 the island became a battleground for British and German forces, with much suffering inflicted on the local population. Until the 20 th century Rhodes had always had a large Jewish population, but during the Nazi occupation most of these Jews were transported to Auschwitz, never to return. 
In 1947, after 35 years of Italian occupation, Rhodes became part of Greece along with the other Dodecanese islands. Today, despite the many changes, the Old Town of Rhodes is still the largest inhabited medieval town in Europe, and its mighty fortifications are the finest surviving example of defensive architecture of the time. 
Perhaps the last word should go to Laurence Durrell, who lived on Rhodes in the late 1940s as part of post-war recovery operations, and whose book "Reflections on a Marine Venus" is a companion to the island. On Durrell's last afternoon in the city:
Berthold, Richard M. "Rhodes in the Hellenistic Age ", Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1984
Brockman, Eric "The Two Sieges of Rhodes 1480 " 1522 " Cox & Wyman Ltd, London, 1969
Browning, Robert (Ed) "The Greek World ", Thames and Hudson, London, 1999
Davies, Norman "Europe: A History ", Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996
Durrell, L. "Reflections on a Marine Venus ", Faber & Faber, London, 2000, p.166
Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe "Millennium ", Transworld Publishers Ltd, 1997
Garrett, Martin, "Greece: A Literary Companion ", John Murray Publishers Ltd, 1994
Luttrell, Anthony "The Hospitallers in Cyprus, Rhodes, Greece and the West 1291 " 1440 ", Variorum Reprints, London, 1978
Norwich, John Julian "Byzantium: The Early Centuries ", Guild Publishing London, 1988
Norwich, John Julian "Byzantium: The Decline and Fall ", Penguin Books, 1996
Tripp, Edward "The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology ", NAL Penguin Inc, New York, 1970
Vermule, Emily "Greece in the Bronze Age ", The University of Chicago Press, London, 1972
Willett, David, Hall, Rosemary, Hellander, Paul and Simcock, Corinne "Greece ", Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne 1998
 Willet D and others "Greece", Lonely Planet Publications, Melbourne, 1998, p.537
 Berthold, Richard M. "Rhodes in the Hallenistic Age", Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1984, p.22
 ibid p.31
 ibid p.32
 ibid p34
 ibid p.35
 ibid p.61-67
 Berthold R. M. op.cit. p.77
 Willett D. op.cit. p.539
 Berthold, R. M. op.cit p.93
 ibid p. 215
 ibid p.219
 Willett, D. op.cit. p.539
 Brockman, Eric "The Two Sieges of Rhodes 1480-1522", Cox & Wyman Ltd, London, 1969, p.1
 ibid p.16
 ibid p.17
 ibid p.19
 ibid p.20
 ibid p.24
 ibid p.29
 ibid p.34
[31 ] Garrett, Martin, "Greece: A Literary Companion", John Murray Publishers Ltd, 1994, p.193
 Brockman, E. op.cit. p.159
 Garrett, M. op.cit. p.194
 Willett, D. op.cit. p.539
 Garrett, M. op.cit. p.192
 Willett, D. op.cit. p. 546
 ibid p.537
 Durrell, L. "Reflections on a Marine Venus", Faber & Faber, London, 2000, p.166
Copyright 2003. Greek/Australian International Legal and Medical Conference.