Rhodes is an island in the Aegean Sea near the southwest coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). According to Greek myth, Rhodes was named after Rhodos, the daughter of the goddess Aphrodite, and the island arose out of the sea as the special possession of Helios, the god of the sun. Because of its location and excellent harbors, Rhodes remained a prominent maritime* and trading power throughout the ancient period.
Around 1200 B.C., Rhodes was settled by Dorians, a people from mainland Greece who established towns and developed trade in the region. Because Rhodes was well situated on the sea route between Asia Minor, the lands of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, and Egypt, Rhodian ships carried goods to and from these places. During the 500s B.C., settlers from Rhodes established colonies on the island of Sicily, in northeastern Spain, and in southern Asia Minor. After the Persian Wars between Greece and Persia in the early 400s B.C., Rhodes became a member of the Athenian-led Delian League, which was an alliance of Greek states against the Persians. Rhodes ended its alliance with Athens during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in the late 400s B.C. The three main cities of the island— Lindus, Ialysus, and Camirus—united as a single state around 408 B.C. The capital of this new state was also called Rhodes.
Rhodes prospered during the Hellenistic* period. The islanders took advantage of their harbors to become leaders of commerce, especially in the grain trade. In the eastern Mediterranean, Rhodes’s fleet protected merchant vessels from marauding pirates. Rhodes was also a major center for Hellenistic culture. An important school of Stoicism*, which the Roman statesman Cicero and other prominent Romans attended, was located on Rhodes.
* maritime referring to the sea
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.
* Stoicism philosophy that emphasized control over one’s thoughts and emotions
In the early 300s B.C., the island successfully defended itself during a siege* by the Macedonian general and ruler Demetrius I Poliorcetes. To celebrate their victory, the people of Rhodes erected a 110-foot-high statue of Helios at the entrance of the harbor. Called the Colossus of Rhodes, this immense statue became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. An earthquake destroyed the statue in 227 B.C.
During the early 100s B.C., Rhodes supported the Roman Empire in its wars against Philip V of Macedonia and Antiochus III, the ruler of Syria. To reward Rhodes for its loyalty, Rome gave the Rhodians lands in Asia Minor. Eventually, relations between the two states soured, and Rome took back those territories. As Rome shifted its support to the island of Delos, a rival port, trade suffered and Rhodes ceased to be a power in the Mediterranean. The Roman general Julius Caesar sacked* the city of Rhodes in the middle of the first century B.C., and one of his assassins, Cassius, captured the island and destroyed its fleet in 42 B.C. (See also Naval Power, Greek; Naval Power, Roman; Pergamum; Trade, Greek; Trade, Roman.)
* siege long and persistent effort to force a surrender by surrounding a fortress with armed troops, cutting it off from aid
* sack to rob a captured city