Rhodes History

Rhode’s history is surrounded in a veil of myths, just like all of the Greek islands.

The Myths of Rhodes

The origin of Rhodes is connected to a beautiful myth. Writers, such as Pindar, like to tell about the myth in their works.

As one of the myths says, Zeus defeated the Giants and became the master of the Earth. He decided to divide the Earth among the god of Mount Olympus. As Helios was absent when the lots were assigned, “…no one remembered to include him in the draw”. When he returned, Helios complained to Zeus about the injustice done and only asked to be given the land which was to rise out of the sea. As he spoke, Rhodes emerged from the bottom of the blue sea. Very happy about the lot he was assigned, Helios made Rhodes the most beautiful island in the Aegean Sea.

Another myth attributes the beginning of Rhodes to the love of Helios for the nymph Rhodes. The nymph was Poseidon’s daughter. As the myth says, when Helios saw Rhodes, he was astounded by her beauty and made her his wife. They had seven sons and one daughter. Each of the children built a city on the island of Rhodes and divided the island among them.

In ancient times, Rhodes was known by several other names such as: Ophioussa, Elaphousa, Asteria, Makaria, Telchinia and Attavyria.

Prehistory and History times in Rhodes

In the mythological times Rhodes island was inhabited by the Telchines. They were a strange race of men whom were believed to be endowed with magical powers. They were also very gifted metal workers who forged Poseidon’s trident and Kronos’ sickle-shaped sword. Legend also goes that they have cast the first bronze statues of the Olympus gods.

Later, the Heliads banished the Telchines from Rhodes. The Heliads were the children of Helios and nymph Rhodes.

Historically, the first inhabitants of the island were the Carians, a tribe from Asia Minor. After the Carians, came the Phoenicians, who transformed Rhodes in a very important commercial centre. Cadmus, the founder of the first Phoenician colony on the island, introduced the first alphabet.

However, the island is recorder in the Eastern Mediterranean history from the time when it was settled by colonists from Minoan Crete. The Minoans lived peacefully on the island for centuries until the Greek Achaians from Mycenae, Tiryns, Argos and Attica came to settle in Rhodes. Sometime around 1400 BC they settled the island and founded a powerful state which soon expended its influence over the neighboring island, as well as on a large part of Asia Minor. Two important settlements were discovered at Ialysos and Kamiros.

They were followed by the Dorians, which developed Lindos, Ialysos and Kamiros. The cities grew a lot in power and wealth. The Rhodians took part in the Trojan War with nine ships.

The island developed important commercial and colonial activities. There were many colonies founded by the three major cities in Rhodes, such as Gages, Phasele and Korydala in Lykia, Gela and Agraga in Sicily, Parthenope (today’s Naples) and Elpiae in Italy, to name just a few.

Classical Period in Rhodes

In the Classical Period in Rhodes there were three major cities, later united with the other Doric cities Cos, Knidos and Halicarnassus to form Doric Hexapolis. Doric Hexapolis was a federation of six cities, governed from the sanctuary of Apollo Triopios.

In the 5th century B.C. wars started to break out and eventually came under the influence of the Persians. Then, the Persians were defeated by the Greeks and so the island became a member of the Delian League.

During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), the island was either under the Greek influence or the Spartan. Finally the Rhodians sided with the Spartans. During the war, the Rhodians decided to found a new city by unifying the biggest cities on the island. Hence a new capital, called Rhodes, was established on the north-eastern tip of the island.

Hellenistic Period in Rhodes

In the Hellenistic Period in Rhodes, when the Macedonians became a great power, the Rhodians sided with them. When the Macedonian empire fell to pieces, the Rhodians developed close political and trade relationships with the Ptolemy Dynasty of Egypt.

Antigonus, the King of Syria, sent his son, the famous Demetrius Poliorketes, in the summer of 305 BC to capture the town of Rhodes. The Rhodians resisted the siege for almost a year and the general was forces to leave in haste, leaving his famous siege machines behind. The machines were sold by Rhodians and they used the money build the Colossus, an immense bronze statue of Helios.

The trade and maritime activities reached the highest peaks ever and the Rhodians put into effect the “International Maritime Law of the Rhodians”, one of the most important early legal documents in the world. The modern International Maritime Law is based on the Rhodians code.

Roman Years in Rhodes

The Roman Years in Rhodes – from the end of the 3rd century BC – the Roman influence in the area became noticeable and the Rhodians tried to maintain a friendly stance towards the Romans. However, when the Rhodians were reluctant to take part in the Roman war against Perseus, declared Delos a fee port, which meant a hard blow for the island’s commerce. After the commerce when down hill, Rhodes was forced to sign a treaty with Rome and hence Rome’s fiends and foes became Rhodes’ friends and foes. The treaty meant a disaster for the island, which suffered both from Rome’s colonial wars and the civil strife.

The Middle Ages in Rhodes

In the Middle Ages Rhodes quickly responded to the new religion, Christianity. Saint Paul preached the religion at Lindos in 58 A.D. He converted many inhabitants. Rhode then had a bishop who took part in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea. When the Roman Empire split, Rhodes became the capital of the Byzantine eparchy of the islands.

Rhodes was then overrun and destroyed by enemies for a long time. Eventually, in 1082, direct contact between Rhodes and the West began again and the Venetians received the permission of the Emperor to set up a trading station in the port.

In 1204, when the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, Leo Gavalas, a rich landowner, tolerated by the Venetians declared himself Despot of Rhodes. The Byzantines took Constantinople back in 1261 and Rhodes returned to their control. However, it remained i n the hands of the Genoese admirals whose fleet lay in its harbor.

Rhodes Turkish and Italian Occupation

While Rhodes was under Turkish occupation, the Greek inhabitants were forced to live the town and settle outside of it. However, the Turkish population was always a small minority and the Turks were never able to attain complete dominance over the island.

The towns managed to flourish thanks to trading their silverware, perfumes, clothing and household utensils.

In 1912, the Italians, with the help of the Greek inhabitants, occupied the island. After the defeat of the Axis powers, Rhodes came under temporary British military administration until 1948 and then finally under the Greek administration.

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