Print this page

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

Though the first list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was compiled around the second century BC, it was destroyed in the great fire of the Alexandria Library, and the list as we know it today was written in the Middle Ages. Its origin, however, lies in the Hellenistic period after the conquests of Alexander the Great - all seven wonders fell within his new realm. Four of these wonders were in existence at the time of Alexander's reign and another was under construction, however, Alexander has a connection to all seven.

1. The Great Pyramids of Giza

Alexander did not linger for long in Egypt and there is no extant evidence of him having ever visited the pyramids. He may well have done so, and it was considered too trivial to record, or it may have been mentioned in earlier biographies and not repeated. According to legend, however, there is no doubt. Almost any article on the Great Pyramid at Giza will tell you that not only did Alexander visit, he spent time alone in the King's chamber! We have no way of knowing when or where this story originated, but it is more credible than most Alexander myths. Then, as now, the pyramids were admired. If the opportunity arose, it is likely that Alexander took the time to explore them. Even if he did not travel to Giza, it is interesting that although the Great Pyramid has fascinated and enthralled people for thousands of years, many obviously feel that a supposed visit by Alexander the Great adds even more to its mystique.

2. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Babylon was the city which Alexander probably intended to make his new capital of the Persian empire. He captured Babylon in 331 BC and returned there in 323 BC to meet his untimely death. Scholars today are still arguing over the exact location of the gardens, but they had to have been close to the river because of the need for a water supply. Alexander could not have spent any significant amount of time in Babylon and not visited the gardens, but was this the place where he lay dying, desperately trying to cool his fever? Shortly before his death, Arrian reports that Alexander was "taken from the mess to the river where he boarded a boat and crossed the river to the garden." A few days later, he was obviously in the garden again, and then "was taken from the garden to the palace" where he subsequently died. Could this mean Alexander spent the last few days of his life either in, or gazing upon, the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon?

3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia

There is no record of Alexander having seen the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, but during his youth he may well have attended an Olympic event even though he never competed in the games - he said he would only race if there were kings to run against him. However, the site had great religious significance and was also the location where his father, Philip II, began the building of the circular Philippeion after the battle of Chaeroneia in 338 BC. Philip's new temple contained statues by Leochares, including life-size figures of Philip and Alexander, and was completed by Alexander and used for the hero worship of the Macedonian dynasty. Anyone honoring the statue of Zeus in his temple had only to walk a very short distance in order to also gaze upon the figure of Alexander.

4. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

A previous Temple of Artemis at Ephesus burned down around the time Alexander was born, torched by a man named Herostratus who was seeking eternal fame. Legend has it that the reason Artemis did not protect her temple from destruction was because she was assisting in the delivery of Alexander. The rebuilding of what was to become the last great temple, and one of the Seven Wonders, was still in progress when Alexander arrived at Ephesus with his army in 334 BC. An anecdote tells that Alexander offered to pay for the new construction if the Ephesians would credit him as the builder. His offer was tactfully rejected; he was told that it was inappropriate for a god to build a temple for another god. Building continued without Alexander's financial support, and the temple was eventually completed some time after Alexander's death.

5. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

Alexander besieged and conquered the city of Halicarnassus where the mausoleum stood, completed during his early childhood. There is no question that he would have inspected it in detail - it must have been awe inspiring, even to Alexander. It was the first building of its kind, decorated with images from Greek mythology, but not actually dedicated to the gods. The Greek artist, Scopas, who also supervised the rebuilding of the Temple to Artemis, was one sculptor who worked on the building of the mausoleum, alongside Leochares, Timotheus, and Bryaxis, plus hundreds of talented craftsmen. Because of the similarities in design, some scholars believe it was the inspiration for the many-tiered funeral pyre or monument to Hephaistion, as described by Diodorus.

6. The Colossus of Rhodes

Though constructed several decades after his death, there is strong reason to believe that the Colossus of Rhodes was, in fact, a statue of Alexander. The Alexander Romance tells a remarkable tale of Alexander writing on his deathbed to the Rhodians and telling them that they were "the fitting custodians of my achievements; there is the second reason, too, that I love your city." This probably derives from the Ptolemaic period when the Rhodians had enjoyed a prosperous relationship with Egypt under Ptolemy I, a staunch admirer of Alexander. In 307 BC, the city refused to join Antigonus in a war against Ptolemy, bringing about the famous siege of Rhodes in 305 BC. The siege failed, terms were agreed, and the siege machinery was appropriated and sold to raise money for the creation of the Colossus, designed and built by Chares, a student of Lysippus, Alexander's official sculptor. Lysippus had created previous representations of Alexander as a god, along with a famous sculpture for the Rhodians of the sun god, Helios, driving his sun chariot. Chares' Colossus was also a portrayal of Helios, and ancient silver coins from Rhodes showing the head of Helios bear a striking resemblance to the image of Alexander on his own coins - leonine hair pushed back from the forehead, strong nose and jaw, wide eyes, and full cheeks and lips. Other ancient sculptural examples of Alexander as Helios have been found in Egypt, Athens and other places, suggesting it was fairly common to portray Alexander in this manner. The most famous Helios of all, standing guard over the entrance to the harbor at Rhodes, may well have been Alexander the Great, protecting what became known in the Romance as "his" city.

7. The Pharos of Alexandria

The Pharos or lighthouse at Alexandria would never have existed but for Alexander, who founded and designed the city. The first of many cities that were to bear his name, Alexandria stood on the Northwest coast of the Egyptian delta, a site chosen by Alexander personally. It was here that Ptolemy I finally brought Alexander's body for burial, and probably Ptolemy's son who began the construction of the lighthouse. Lighting the way into the harbor, the Pharos guided visitors from many lands into Alexandria, where, for centuries, they could still gaze upon Alexander's tomb.

Article submitted by Linda Ann, September 2004

Previous page: Quotes
Next page: Great Battles & Campaigns