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The History of Rhodes Island

Updated on April 7, 2014

Rhodes is an island (in Greek, Rodos) in the Aegean Sea and of the island's chief city, the capital of the Dodecanese department of Greece. The island is situated in the southeastern Aegean, off the coast of Turkey, and has an area of 542 square miles (1,404 sq km). A range of hills runs northwest to southeast along the central axis of the island and rises to a height of 3,986 feet (1,215 meters) in Mt. Atabyros (Atáviros). With its mild climate and fertile soil, Rhodes produces grain, tobacco, cotton, wine grapes and other fruits, and vegetables. In ancient times the mainstay of the economy was trade, but it is now tourism.

The city of Rhodes, on the northeasternmost point of the island, is a leading port. It exports olives, wine, fruit, vegetables, and honey.



There are remains of Minoan settlements on Rhodes, but before 1000 B.C. the island was overrun by Dorian Greeks, mostly from Argos, who probably founded the city-states of Ialysus, Lindus, and Camirus. These cities were members of the Dorian Hexapolis, and later of Athens's Delian League. About 408 B.C., having broken with Athens, the three united into one state and built a new city, Rhodes, as their capital. Tradition ascribes its plans to Hippodamus of Miletus. In the 3d century B.C., Rhodes reached the height of its glory as a commercial and naval power. It also won renown for its artists and school of rhetoric, and as the site of the Colossus of Rhodes.

In 167 B.C., Rome made Delos a free port, and the competition crippled the commerce of Rhodes. The island eventually was incorporated into the Roman Empire and passed in time to the Byzantine Empire. It was taken briefly by the Saracens in the 7th century and by Italian merchant cities in the 13th. In 1309 the island became the headquarters of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (the Knights Hospitalers), who built the old town of Rhodes, with its Palace of the Grand Masters, Hospital, and other medieval buildings. The Turks expelled the Knights in 1522 after a long siege, and another period of decline set in. Italy held the island from 1921 to 1947, when it was returned to Greece.

Colossus of Rhodes
Colossus of Rhodes | Source

The mild climate, picturesque landscape, and classical and medieval remains have attracted tourists, bringing new prosperity. Ancient remains are found in Lindus (Doric temple of Athena), Ialysus, Camirus, and the city of Rhodes (acropolis with temples and theater). The archaeological museum, in the Hospital of the Knights, has a notable collection of Rhodian sculpture and pottery, and the rebuilding of the Colossus has been proposed.

Did you know?

Colossus of Rhodes is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was a bronze statue of Helios, god of the sun, that stood overlooking the harbor of the island of Rhodes. The statue, over 105 feet (32 meters) high, was completed about 280 B.C. and was destroyed by an earthquake in 224 B.C. It was designed by the sculptor Chares.


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