A Look at “The Seven Wonders” of the Ancient World
IF YOU were asked to name seven manmade “wonders” of the modern world, what would you mention? The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France? Perhaps the Empire State Building in the city of New York? What about the Suez Canal? Explorers and travelers have listed all three, as well as other notable things.
But suppose you had lived over two thousand years ago. Then what would you have named as the Seven Wonders of the World? The Greeks and Romans had various lists of notable works of art and architecture. For instance, Philo of Byzantium gave one list, Antipater of Sidon another, differing somewhat. As it is, however, a traditional list has come down to us, and it includes man-made things that were either colossal in size, of great splendor or outstanding because of other extraordinary features.
The Pyramids of Egypt
Of the “Seven Wonders” of the ancient world, only the Egyptian pyramids stand today. Most important are the three situated at Giza, on the west bank of the Nile River near Cairo. They are mammoth tombs built for certain pharaohs. The first and largest was the Great Pyramid. This gigantic tomb of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu) was expected to be a secure place for the king’s remains and the treasures buried with them.
Covering an area of thirteen acres, the Great Pyramid has a square base and triangular sides, each facing one of the four points of the compass. This pyramid is 482 feet high and was constructed with 2,300,000 individual stones. These stones range in weight up to 5,000 pounds each! How were such huge stones quarried, transported and put in place? This cannot be said with certainty. But it has been concluded that a labor force of some 100,000 men toiled for twenty years to complete the Great Pyramid.
Why were the pyramids built? Well, the ancient Egyptians believed in life after death. But if the soul was to live on, they thought that a person’s fleshly body had to be preserved. So, they embalmed their dead. Moreover, valuables were buried with the deceased for his use in the spirit world. No wonder some pharaohs built gigantic, seemingly impenetrable tombs!
The Hanging Gardens and Walls of Babylon
If tourists of the past were drawn to the pyramids, it is likely that their ‘travel guides’ would urge them on to Babylon. According to certain traditions, both that city’s massive walls and its Hanging Gardens were among the ancient world’s “Seven Wonders.”
Babylon’s walls were constructed by King Nabopolassar of the seventh century B.C.E. and his successor King Nebuchadnezzar II (624-581 B.C.E.). The city was built on both sides of the Euphrates River, and there were walls with a number of gateways along the river’s banks. Additionally, Babylon was surrounded by double walls, the outer wall being buttressed by towers. In it there were a number of massive gates. (Isa. 45:1, 2) Two Greek historians of the fifth century B.C.E. wrote about Babylon’s walls. Ctesias indicates that they were some 300 feet high, whereas according to Herodotus the walls were about 335 feet in height and 85 feet wide. Be that as it may, the width of Babylon’s wall must have been great, for Herodotus stated: “On the top, along the edges of the wall, they constructed buildings of a single chamber facing one another, leaving between them room for a four-horse chariot to turn.”
If a traveler was impressed with those towering walls, surely he would no less consider the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to be a “wonder.” Nebuchadnezzar II built them, apparently for his Median queen Amytis, who found the flat Babylonian countryside disappointing and longed for the trees and hilly terrain of her native land.
The Hanging Gardens consisted of a series of manmade terraces joined by marble staircases and possibly rising to heights of 75 to 300 feet above the plain. On the earth-covered terraces grew many flowers, shrubs and trees. It is said that slaves worked in shifts turning screws of some sort that lifted water from the Euphrates to the gardens. From cisterns on the highest terrace, the water was piped to fountains that provided for needed irrigation. Extraordinary though they were, however, those famed Hanging Gardens no longer exist.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
When the Christian apostle Paul visited the renowned city of Ephesus in Asia Minor during the first century of the Common Era, among its notable buildings was the temple of the goddess Artemis (the Roman Diana). An original temple, designed about 550 B.C.E., was destroyed in 356 B.C.E., but it was replaced by an edifice more magnificent than the original.
In the apostle Paul’s day this resplendent temple stood on a platform measuring about 418 feet by 239 feet. The building itself was approximately 343 feet long and 164 feet wide. Its inner sanctuary, about 105 feet long and 70 feet wide, is thought to have been open to the sky. An image of the goddess Artemis may have stood behind the altar in this sanctuary. Of this impressive marble temple with roof tiles of white marble and over a hundred massive columns, nothing remains but the foundation and some relatively minor portions. The Goths destroyed the temple about 260 C.E. True, devotees of the goddess once shouted “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Yet, that ‘greatness’ and her once-glorious temple have faded into the past.—Acts 19:34.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Similarly, the noted Greek sculptor Phidias thought he was fashioning a god when he completed one of the ancient world’s “Seven Wonders” about the year 435 B.C.E. It was a forty-foot-high statue of Zeus (the Roman Jupiter) seated on a cedar throne decorated with ebony, ivory, gold and precious gems. The statue represented that false god with an olive wreath on his head. Using wood as a core, Phidias made the flesh of ivory, the robe of gold. In the god’s right hand he put a gold-and-ivory figure of Victory, and in the left a scepter topped by an eagle.
This gigantic statue was placed in the temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, and its admirers included many athletes and other sports enthusiasts who flocked to the area for the famous Olympic Games. During a later century, Roman Emperor Theodosius I had the statue taken to Constantinople, where fire destroyed it in 475 C.E.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
When King Mausolus of Caria in Asia Minor died in 353 B.C.E., evidently his wife Artemisia felt that her husband’s name and fame should live on. Therefore, she had a splendid sepulcher constructed in his memory. It was the Mausoleum, located at Halicarnassus, in southwestern Asia Minor. Interestingly, even today elaborate buildings providing burial space are called mausoleums.
The tomb of Mausolus was designed by the Greek architects Pythios and Satyros. It was some 135 feet high and had a rectangular base surmounted by a colonnade of thirty-six pillars. Resting on the colonnade was a stepped pyramid, and atop it a statue of Mausolus in a chariot. All of this for one man!
Impressive though it was, the Mausoleum was destroyed by an earthquake. By the fifteenth century C.E. the building was gone. Only some pieces of the once magnificent tomb exist today.
The Colossus of Rhodes
Popularly called the Colossus because of its immensity, a statue of the sun god Helios once stood near the harbor of the island of Rhodes in the Aegean Sea. This statue of bronze was about 120 feet high, about the same height as the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. And a colossus it surely was. Why, one finger was larger than many an ordinary statue! To support this hollow representation of Helios, its Greek sculptor Chares of Lindus, Rhodes, used some seven and a half tons of iron bars besides blocks of stone. Chares labored for twelve years, finally completing the statue in 280 B.C.E. Incidentally, the statue did not straddle the harbor with ships passing between the legs, as some have said. Rather, it apparently was erected on an embankment facing the sea.
Yet, just think! The Colossus of Rhodes stood for a mere fifty-six years. An earthquake toppled it in 224 B.C.E. Reportedly, the broken fragments lay on the rocks for over 800 years, until sold as scrap metal in the seventh century C.E. An inglorious end for one of the ancient world’s “Seven Wonders”!
The Pharos of Alexandria
A virtual “skyscraper” and another “wonder” of the ancient world was a towering lighthouse on an isle in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. Called the Pharos for the island (today a peninsula) on which it stood, this lighthouse was so famous that pharos came to be applied to lighthouses in general.
While reports vary, the Pharos of Alexandria appears to have been some 440 feet high. Its designer was the Greek architect Sostratus, and it was built about 270 B.C.E., during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus. This lighthouse was constructed in three sections on a stone base. The lower portion was square, the middle section eight-sided and the upper part circular. The topmost portion was roofed, but open, with bronze columns round about.
Through a central shaft, by means of a windlass, wood was brought to the open upper level, there to feed the fire that provided light. It is said that a mirror reflected the fire by night, as well as the sunlight by day, so that the light could be seen at least a hundred miles away.
What happened to the Pharos of Alexandria? An earthquake partially demolished it on August 7, 1303, and its ruin seems to have been completed during the same century. Yet, the renowned lighthouse stood for over a thousand years.
Was All the Effort Worth While?
In retrospect, you may well conclude that some “wonders” of the ancient world served a useful purpose. Certainly, Babylon’s Hanging Gardens were a delight to the eye, and the city’s formidable walls provided a measure of protection. And the Pharos of Alexandria aided mariners.
But what about the great temple of Artemis, the statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes? As works of art and architecture, they were extraordinary indeed. Yet, how misspent the effort put forth to fashion or construct them! Surely that was realized by servants of the true God, Jehovah, for any of them living when those “wonders” still stood were guided by His Word. About 460 B.C.E. before Phidias lavished great labor on his mammoth statue of Zeus, the Bible book of Psalms was completed. Moved by the spirit of the living God, Jehovah, the psalmist had declared: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of the hands of earthling man. A mouth they have, but they can speak nothing; eyes they have, but they can see nothing; ears they have, but they can give ear to nothing. Also there exists no spirit in their mouth.”—Ps. 135:15-17.
Consider, too, the pyramids of Egypt and the famed Mausoleum. The desire to be remembered and honored has driven some to construct impressive monuments. Yes, they have also had other reasons. But how sobering the divinely inspired words of wise King Solomon, who said: “There is no remembrance of people of former times, nor will there be of those also who will come to be later. There will prove to be no remembrance even of them among those who will come to be still later on.” (Eccl. 1:11) The pages of history are filled with many names, but these mean little in the lives of people today. Only with Jehovah rest any prospects of remembrance and restoration to life by a resurrection.—Job 14:13-15; Acts 24:15.
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