Rhodes History

History of Rhodes island Greece

Rhodes history is ancient and very interesting since the island has always managed to combine elements from many mediterranean cultures.

According to mythology, Rhodes was the eldest of the Oceanids, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. Later, she was considered the daughter of Poseidon and Alia, or even Poseidon and Amphitrite.

However, Rhodes married the Sun God and gave her name to the island of Rhodes, which she and Helios protected and of course was the center of her worship.

Minoan civilization

Several Minoans settled in Rhodes from neighboring Crete, while the island was then inhabited by the Achaeans who came from various cities in mainland Greece, such as Mycenae, Attica and Argos.

In the 11th century BC the Dorians settled in Rhodes and founded the three strongest cities of the island, Lindos, Ialyssos and Kamiros, which together with Halicarnassus, Kos and Knidos constituted the “Doric Hexapolis”.

During this period, Rhodes experienced great prosperity and consolidated its power throughout the Mediterranean with a powerful commercial fleet, the Rhodians gained great colonial power both in neighboring Asia Minor, as well as on the coasts of Spain, France and Sicily.

Antiquity and  the Persian Wars

In 408 BC the three city-states of Ialyssos, Kamiros and Lindos join forces and create a common capital in Rhodes. The city flourished spiritually, commercially, economically, and allied itself with Ptolemy the Savior of Egypt.

In 357 BC the island was conquered by Mausolos, while it was then conquered by the Persians in 340 BC. and finally by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, his empire was divided between his 3 strongest generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antigonus, who also created the homonymous dynasties.

The Rhodians sided with the Ptolemies, however, in 305 BC. the Antigenids of Macedonia, competitors of the Ptolemies, wanted to break the alliance of Rhodes with the Ptolemies, and sent Demetrius with 40,000 soldiers and advanced military technology for the time, to conquer Rhodes.

Nevertheless, the Rhodians managed to defeat him and in memory of this victory they built the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of antiquity.

The Colossus of Rhodes

Colossus of RhodesWhen Demetrius the besieger left the island defeated, the Rhodians believed that the god Helios, who was also their protector, had a large share in their victory. so they decided to honor him with a statue that the whole of humanity would talk about. The Rhodians sold (300 talents) the siege engines of Demetrius and made the statue which took 12 years to build (from 292 to 280 BC). Its construction was entrusted to the sculptor Haris from Lindos who had been apprenticed to the famous sculptor Lysippos.

The statue is said to have been more than 32 meters tall and stood at the entrance to the harbor of the ancient city of Rhodes (Mandraki), with ships passing under its open arms. He probably held a lighted torch or a sword or something similar in his upraised hand.

In 226 BC a strong earthquake hit Rhodes, the city was seriously damaged and the statue of the Colossus collapsed but they did not rebuild it for fear of an oracle. The Colossus remained fallen for nine centuries until 653 AD. the Arab caliph of Moab took it, and sold it for copper to a Jew from Edessa who needed 900 camels to transport it.

Roman Period

The city of Rhodes ceases to be independent in 164 BC. when it comes under Roman occupation and becomes a province of the Roman Empire. However, until the 1st century AD, Rhodes largely retained its grandeur and developed into one of the most important centers of knowledge, science and art.

Byzantine period and Arab invasions

During the early Christian period (330-650 AD), Rhodes was part of the Christianized Roman Empire, more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire. Although it was no longer as important and prosperous as in the past, Rhodes served as an episcopal seat and had a significant number of churches, among them basilicas of impressive dimensions.

In the 7th century, the Arabs make their appearance in the Mediterranean, who attacked Rhodes and occupied it for a few decades. In the centuries that followed, the city shrank in size and was fortified with new walls. At the same time, it was divided into two zones, one for the political and military leadership and one for the “people”.

The period of the Knights

In 1307, the Genoese occupied the island of Rhodes along with other islands of the eastern Aegean. Unable, however, to face the Turkish advance, they sold it together with Kos and Leros to the order of the Knights of Agios Ioannis of Jerusalem (Johnite knights), who moved to the island from Cyprus in 1309. When the Johnites arrived in Rhodes they included the “Languages” of France, England, Germany, Spain (Castile – Aragon), Italy, Provence and Auvergne.

During the stay of the Knights in Rhodes, the fortifications were expanded, modernized and continuously strengthened. A hospital, a palace, several churches were some of the many public buildings that were erected at this time. These buildings are remarkable examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Most of the streets of the Medieval city coincide with the streets of the ancient city while the division of the city into two zones with an inner wall was preserved. The northern part which was known as Chastel, where the palace of the Grand Master, the Catholic cathedral and the residence of the Catholic bishop, the residences of the Knights, a hospital etc. were located. The southern part known as the ville, was the area where the laity lived and included the market, synagogues, churches as well as public and commercial buildings.

The battalion in Rhodes kept a very well organized archive which included documents issued by the commanding authorities, correspondence, legal documents etc.

This file is preserved to this day and is preserved in the National Library of Malta. For about two centuries, the Ioannites managed to organize the island into an essentially independent state and change its appearance and character, while Rhodes was thus transformed into one of the bastions of the West against Turkish expansion.

The Turkish campaigns

The Turks, new conquerors of the wider area since 1453 and the fall of Constantinople, considered the Christian bridgehead of Rhodes as a thorn in the expansion of their empire and set as their goal the occupation of the island.

In 1480, the Turks made the first attempt to capture it by landing a force of 70,000 men on the island and began the siege of its mighty castle. The siege lasted two months, but the city resisted with military leader the grand magister Pierre de Aubusson.

Finally, in the summer of 1522 they carried out a new campaign against Rhodes with their expeditionary force, this time consisting of 700 ships and 200,000 men, while the sultan himself, Suleiman II the Magnificent, was in charge.

They besieged the city by land and sea for 6 months and despite their terrible losses persisted in the siege.

Finally the Knights, realizing that they would not be able to hold the castle for much longer, came to an agreement with the besiegers to withdraw. On January 2, 1523, the St. John knights together with 4,000 Greek inhabitants of the island abandoned it and fled to Crete.

The period of Ottoman rule

The Turks, with their consolidation on the island and the city of Rhodes, forced all the Greeks who lived within the walls to leave their homes and settle outside them, for fear of their possible rebellion. Thus, various districts, the marasias, were formed, which spread around the walls and formed the basis of the new city. Only the Turks and their families lived inside the walls.

In the years that followed, the grand master’s palace became a prison, while most of the churches were converted into mosques with some of those surviving to this day standing out: the Mosque of Suleiman II the Magnificent, Ibrahim Pasha (1531), the Demirli Mosque (old Byzantine church) and the mosque of Reis Murat (the Latin church of Agios Ioannis).

The Italian-occupied Rhodes

Italian troops occupied the Dodecanese and the island of Rhodes in 1912, and in 1923 Italy established a colony, the Italian Aegean Islands.

The Italians demolished the houses that had been built on and alongside the walls during the Ottoman period, preserved the remaining elements of the Knights period while removing all the Ottoman additions.

At the same time, they rebuilt the Grand Master’s palace. Finally, they founded an institute for the study of the History and Culture of the region.

Unification with Greece and recent years

The Treaty of Paris put an end to foreign occupation and on March 7, 1948, Rhodes, together with the rest of the Dodecanese, was integrated into Greece again.

The city of Rhodes developed particularly in the last years of the 1990s and the first years of the new century, becoming a tourist destination. which has it all. In 1988, the old town of Rhodes was declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO.