Rhodes - Encyclopedia

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RHODES, the most easterly of the islands of the Aegean Sea, about 10 m. S. of Cape Alypo in Asia Minor. It forms, with the islands of Syme, Casos, Carpathos, Castelorizo, Telos and Charki, one of the four sanjaks into which the Archipelago vilayet of Turkey is divided. The governor-general of the vilayet resides at the town of Rhodes. The length of the island is about 45 m. from N.E. to S.W., its greatest breadth 22 m., and its area nearly 424 sq. m.' The population of the island comprises 7000 Moslems, 21,000 Christians, and 2000 Jews.

The island is diversified in its surface, and is traversed from north to south by an elevated mountain range, the highest point of which is called Atairo (anc. Atabyris or Atabyrium) (4560 ft.). It commands a view of the elevated coast of Asia Minor towards the north, and of the Archipelago, studded with its numerous islands, on the north-west; while on the south-west is seen Mount Ida in Crete, often veiled in clouds, and on the south and south-east the vast expanse of waters which wash the African shore. The rest of the island is occupied in great part by ranges of moderately elevated hills, on which are found extensive woods of ancient pines, planted by the hand of nature. These forests were formerly very thick, but they are now greatly thinned by the Turks, who cut them down and take no care to plant others in their place. Beneath these hills the surface of the island falls lower, and several hills in the form of amphitheatres extend their bases as far as the sea.

Rhodes was famed in ancient times for its delightful climate, and it still maintains its former reputation. The winds are liable to little variation; they blow from the west, often with great violence, for nine months in the year, and at other times from the north; and they moderate the summer heats, which are chiefly felt during the months of July and August, when the hot winds blow from the coast of Anatolia.

Rhodes, in addition to its fine climate, is blessed with a fertile soil, and produces a variety of the finest fruits and vegetables. Around the villages are extensive cultivated fields and orchards, containing fig, pomegranate and orange trees. On the sloping hills carob trees, and others both useful and agreeable, still grow abundantly; the vine also holds its place, ands produces a species of wine which was highly valued by the ancients, though it seems to have degenerated greatly in modern times. The valleys afford rich pastures, and the plains produce every species of grain.

The commerce of the island has been of late years increasing at a rapid rate. Many British manufactures are imported by indirect routes, through Smyrna, Constantinople, Beyrout and other places. Cotton stuffs, calicoes and grey linen are among the goods most in demand; they are exported to the neighbouring coast of Anatolia, between Budrum and Adalia, and thence conveyed into the interior. The expansion of the trade has been very much owing to the establishment of steam navigation direct to the island, which is now visited regularly by French and Austrian steamers, as well as by some from England to Symrna.

The only town of any importance in the island is the capital, Rhodes, which stands at the north-east extremity. It rises in an imposing manner from the sea, on a gentle slope in the form of an amphitheatre. It is surrounded with walls and towers, and defended by a large moated castle of great strength. These fortifications are all the work of the Knights of St John. The interior of the city does not correspond to its outward appearance. No trace exists of the splendour of the ancient city, with its regular streets, well-ordered plan and numerous public buildings. The modern city of Rhodes is in general the work of the Knights of St John, and has altogether a medieval aspect. The picturesque fortifications also by which the city is surrounded remain almost unaltered as they were in the 15th century. The principal buildings which remain are the church of St John, which is become the principal mosque; the hospital, which has been transformed into public granaries; the palace of the grand master, now the residence of the pasha; and the senate-house, which still contains some marbles and ancient columns. Of the streets, the best and widest is a long street which is still called the Street of the Knights. It is perfectly straight, and formed of old houses, on which remain the armorial bearings of the members of the order. On some of these buildings are still seen the arms of the popes and of some of the royal and noble houses of Europe. The only relics of classical antiquity are the numerous inscribed altars and bases of statues, as well as architectural fragments, which are found scattered in the courtyards and gardens of the houses in the extensive suburbs which now surround the town, the whole of which were comprised within the limits of the ancient city. The foundations also of the moles that separate the harbours are of Hellenic work, though the existing moles were erected by the Knights of St John.

Rhodes has two harbours. The lesser of these lies towards the east, and its entrance is obstructed by a barrier of rocks, so as to admit the entrance of but one ship at a time. It is sufficiently sheltered, but by the negligence of the Turks the sand has been suffered to accumulate until it has been gradually almost choked up. The other harbour is larger, and also in a bad condition; here small ships may anchor, and are sheltered from the west winds, though they are exposed to the north and north-east winds. The two harbours are separated by a mole which runs obliquely into the sea. At the eastern entrance is the fort of St Elmo, with a lighthouse.


It is as yet difficult to determine the part which Rhodes played in prehistoric days during the naval predominance of the neighbouring island of Crete; but archaeological remains dating from the later Minoan age prove that the early Aegean culture maintained itself there comparatively unimpaired until the historic period. A similar conclusion may be drawn from the legend which peopled primitive Rhodes with a population of skilful workers in metal, the "Telchines." Whatever the racial affinities of the early inhabitants may have been, it is certain that in historic times Rhodes was occupied by a Dorian population, reputed to have emigrated mainly from Argos subsequently to the "Dorian invasion" of Greece. The three cities founded by these settlers - Lindus, Ialysus and Camirusbelonged to the "League of Six Cities," by which the Dorian colonists in Asia Minor sought to protect themselves against the barbarians of the neighbouring mainland. The early history of these towns is a record of brisk commercial expansion and active colonization. The position of Rhodes as a distributing centre of Levantine and especially of Phoenician goods is well attested by archaeological finds. Its colonies extended not only eastward along the southern coast of Asia Minor, but also linked up the island with the westernmost parts of the Greek world. Among such settlements may be mentioned Phaselis in Lycia, perhaps also Soli in Cilicia, Salapia on the east Italian coast, Gela in Sicily, the Lipari islands, and Rhoda in north-east Spain. In home waters the Rhodians exercised political control over Carpathos and other islands.

The history of Rhodes during the Persian wars is quite obscure. In the 5th century the three cities were enrolled in the Delian League, and democracies became prevalent. In 412 the island revolted from Athens and became the headquarters of the Peloponnesian fleet. Four years later the inhabitants for the most part abandoned their former residences and concentrated in the newly founded city of Rhodes. This town, which was laid out on an exceptionally fine site according to a scientific plan by the architect Hippodamus of Miletus, soon rose to considerable importance, and attracted much of the Aegean and Levantine commerce which had hitherto been in Athenian hands. In the 4th century its political development was arrested by constant struggles between oligarchs and democrats, who in turn brought the city under the control of Sparta (4 12 -395, 39 1 -37 8), of Athens (395-39 1, 37 8 -357), and of 'the Carian dynasty of Maussollus (357-340). It seems that about 340 the island was conquered for the Persian king by his Rhodian admiral Mentor; in 332 it submitted to Alexander the Great. Upon Alexander's death the people expelled their Macedonian garrison, and henceforth not only maintained their independence but acquired great political influence. The expansion of Levantine trade which ensued in the Hellenistic age brought especial profit to Rhodes, whose standard of coinage and maritime law became widely accepted in the Mediterranean. Under a modified type of democracy, in which the chief power would seem to have rested normally with the six 7rpvravEis, or heads of the executive, the city enjoyed a long period of remarkably good administration. The chief success of the government lay in the field of foreign politics, where it prudently avoided entanglement in the ambitious schemes of Hellenistic monarchs, but gained great prestige by energetic interference against aggressors who threatened the existing balance of power or the security of the seas. The chief incidents of Rhodian history during this period are a memorable siege by Demetrius Poliorcetes in 304, who sought in vain to force the city into active alliance with King Antigonus by means of his formidable fleet and artillery; a severe earthquake in 227, the damages of which all the other Hellenistic states contributed to repair, because they could not afford to see the island ruined; some vigorous campaigns against Byzantium, the Pergamene and the Pontic kings, who had threatened the Black Sea trade-route (220 sqq.), and against the pirates of Crete. In accordance with their settled policy the Rhodians eagerly supported the Romans when these made war upon Philip V. of Macedon and Antiochus III. of Syria on behalf of the minor Greek states. In return for their more equivocal attitude during the Third Macedonian War they were deprived by Rome of some possessions in Lycia, and damaged by the partial diversion of their trade to Delos (167). Nevertheless during the two Mithradatic wars they remained loyal to the republic, and in 88 successfully stood a siege by the Pontic king. The Rhodian navy, which had distinguished itself in most of these wars, did further good service on behalf of Pompey in his campaigns against the pirates and against Julius Caesar. A severe blow was struck against the city in 43 by C. Cassius, who besieged and ruthlessly plundered the people for refusing to submit to his exactions. Though Rhodes continued a free town for another century, its commercial prosperity was crippled and a series of extensive earthquakes after A.D. 155 completed the ruin of the city.

In the days of its greatest power Rhodes became famous as a centre of pictorial and plastic art; it gave rise to a school of eclectic oratory whose chief representative was Apollonius Molon, the teacher of Cicero; it was the birthplace of the Stoic philosopher Panaetius; the home of the poet Apollonius Rhodius and the historian Posidonius. Protogenes embellished the city with his paintings, and Chares of Lindus with the celebrated colossal statue of the sun-god, which was 105 ft. high. The colossus stood for fifty-six years, till an earthquake prostrated it in 224 B.C. Its enormous fragments continued to excite wonder in the time of Pliny, and were not removed till A.D. 656, when Rhodes was conquered by the Saracens, who sold the remains for old metal to a dealer, who employed nine hundred camels to carry them away. The notion that the colossus once stood astride over the entrance to the harbour is a medieval fiction. During the later Roman empire Rhodes was the capital of the province of the islands. Its history under the Byzantine rule is uneventful,but for some temporary occupations by the Saracens (653 -658, 717-718), and the gradual encroachment of Venetian traders since 1082. In the 13th century the island stood as a rule under the control of Italian adventurers, who were, however, at times compelled to acknowledge the overlordship of the emperors of Nicaea, and failed to protect it against the depredations of Turkish corsairs. In 1309 it was conquered by the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem at the instigation of the pope and the Genoese, and converted into a great fortress for the protection of the southern seas against the Turks. Under their mild and just rule both the native Greeks and the Italian residents were able to carry on a brisk trade. But the piratical acts of these traders, in which the knights themselves sometimes joined, and the strategic position of the island between Constantinople and the Levant, necessitated its reduction by the Ottoman sultans. A siege in 1480 by Mahomet II. led to the repulse of the Turks with severe losses; after a second investment, during which Sultan Suleiman I. is said to have lost 90,000 men out of a force of 200,000, the knights evacuated Rhodes under an honourable capitulation (1522). The population henceforth dwindled in consequence of pestilence and emigration, and although the island recovered somewhat in the 18th century under a comparatively lenient rule it was brought to a very low ebb owing to the severity of its governor during the Greek revolution. The sites of Lindus, lalysus, and Camirus, which in the most ancient times were the principal towns of the island, are clearly marked, and the first of the three is still occupied by a small town with a medieval castle, both of them dating from the time of the knights, though the castle occupies the site of the ancient acropolis, of the walls of which considerable remains are still visible. There are no ruins of any importance on the site of either Ialysus or Camirus, but excavations at the latter place have produced valuable and interesting results in the way of ancient vases and other antiquities, which are now in the British Museum. Rhodes was again famous for its pottery in medieval times; this was a lustre ware at first imitated from Persian, though it afterwards developed into an independent style of fine colouring and rich variety of design.

See Pindar, 7th Olympian Ode; Diodorus v. 55-59, xiii.-xx. passim; Polybius iv. 46-52, v. 88-90, xvi. 2-9, xxvii.-xxix. passim; C. Torr, Rhodes in Ancient Times (Cambridge, 1885), Rhodes in Modern Times (Cambridge, 1887); C. Schumacher, De republica Rhodiorum commentatio (Heidelberg, 1886); H. van Gelder, Geschichte der alten Rhodier (Hague, 1900); B. V. Head, Historia Numorum (Oxford, 1887), pp. 539-542; and Baron de Balabre, Rhodes of the Knights (1909).

(E. H. B.; E. GR.; M. O. B. C.)

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