History of Rhodes
- Published: Thursday, 26 June 2014 08:36
Because of its strategic position –on the crossroads between the East and the West, Rhodes has been under constant attacks since ancient times. According to evidence, the island has been inhabited since the Stone Age. In Prehistoric times, the first settlers of the island came from Asia and Crete, as there is evidence of a Mycenaean settlement. The Dorians and the Phoenicians were the next settlers.
After the Trojan War, the rapid progress and development of the ancient civilization of Rhodes commenced, examples of which can now be seen in the ruins of the three largest and most powerful cities at the time, Lindos, Ialyssos and Kamiros.
At the end of 5th century BC, these cities united into a single political force and founded Rhodes, which reached its peak in the 3rd century BC. During that period, famous artists, philosophers and writers lived here. Invasions by the Persians eventually overran the island, but after their defeat from Athens in 478 BC, the cities joined the Athenian League. When the Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BC, Rhodes remained largely neutral, although it stayed in the League.
The war lasted until 404 BC, but by this time Rhodes had withdrawn entirely from the conflict and had decided to go on its own way. In 408 BC, the city-states of Rhodes united and formed the new city of Rhodes, which came under the influence of the two great Greek powers of that time, Athens and Sparta, until Macedonian intentions in that era became clear to everyone.
With the reign of Alexander the Great, Rhodes fell under Macedonian domination. After the death of Alexander, his generals vied for control of the kingdom. Three of them, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus, succeeded in dividing the kingdom among them. Rhodes formed strong commercial and cultural ties with the Ptolemies in Alexandria, and together they formed the Rhodian-Egyptian alliance which controlled trade throughout the Aegean in the 3rd century BC.
In 305 BC, Antigonus had his son, Demetrius, besiege Rhodes in an attempt to break its alliance with Egypt. Demetrius created huge siege engines to conquer Rhodes. However, in 304 BC, he relented and signed a peace treaty, leaving behind a huge amount of military equipment. The Rhodians sold it and used the money to erect a statue of their Sun God, Helios, known as Colossus of Rhodes. The statue –one of the Seven Wonders of the World– was constructed above the harbor; this impressive giant statue was destroyed during an earthquake.
For 150 years, the island flourished and showed great navigational and maritime skills, establishing its reputation as one of the best in these domains. In 164 BC, Rhodes signed a treaty with Rome, and became a major schooling centre for Roman noble families, famous for its teachers of rhetoric, such as Hermagoras. At first, the state was an important ally of Rome and enjoyed numerous privileges, but these were later lost in various machinations of Roman politics. Cassius eventually invaded the island and sacked the city.
Thus, Rhodes fell under Roman control which lasted for three hundred years. In the 1st century AD, the Emperor Tiberius spent a brief term of exile in Rhodes, and Saint Paul brought Christianity to the island. Rhodes reached its zenith in the third century, and was then by common consent the most civilized and beautiful city of Greece.
In 395 AD, the long Byzantine Empire period began for Rhodes, when the Roman Empire was split and the eastern half gradually became the Byzantium. In 1309 the Byzantine Era came to an end and the island of Rhodes was subjugated by forces of the Knights Hospitaller. Under the rule of the newly named “Knights of Rhodes”, the city was rebuilt into a model of the European medieval ideal. Many of the city’s famous monuments were built during this period. In 1523, after a long siege, the Knights of Rhodes were chased away by the Ottomans, who took control of the island. Rhodes remained under Ottoman rule until 1912.
During World War I, Rhodes was taken by the Italians, who left the island when they capitulated to the Allies in 1943. Then the Germans took it over for a short period, followed by the English who maintained their rule until 1948, the year during which the island of Rhodes, and the other islands of the Dodecanese, became part of the current Greek State.