The “Seven Wonders of the World”, also known as the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”, describes seven great constructions known in the Hellenistic periodNotes 1. None of them but the Great Pyramid of Giza (Kheops Pyramid) do not exist today.
How the list started
After Alexander the Great‘s conquest of much of the known world in the 4th century BC, Greek cultural influence and power was at its peak in Europe, Africa and Asia. After his death, several Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (Seleucid Empire, Kingdom of Pergamon) and north-east Africa (Ptolemaic Kingdom). This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves. Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary, or convenient. This gave Greek travelers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travelers began to list what they saw to remember them.
Each traveler had his own version of the list, but the best known and earliest surviving was from a poem by Greek-speaking epigrammist Antipater of SidonNotes 2, which he described in a poem composed about 140 BC:
“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”
Another 2nd century BC observer, who claimed to be the great Greek engineer Philo of ByzantiumNotes 3, wrote a short account entitled The Seven Sights of the World. However, the incomplete surviving manuscript only covered six of the supposedly seven places, which agreed with Antipater’s list.
Antipater had an earlier version which replaced Lighthouse of Alexandria with the Walls of Babylon.
All “seven wonders of the ancient world” existed at the same time for a period of less than 60 years.
Locations of the Seven Wonders of the World
Geographically, the Seven Wonders list covered only the sculptural and architectural monuments of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, which then comprised the known world for the Greeks in the Hellenistic period.
List of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
1. Great Pyramid of Giza
Date of construction: 2584–2561 BC
Date of destruction: Still in existence, majority of facade gone
Cause of destruction: –
Modern location: Giza Necropolis, Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops) is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis bordering what is now El Giza, Egypt. It is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact.
Based on a mark in an interior chamber naming the work gang and a reference to fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu, Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially at 146.5 meters (481 feet), the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years: it held the record between 2570 BC and 1311 AD, and lost the title to the Lincoln Cathedral in London – 159.7 meters / 524 feet height (Spire collapsed in 1549; today, stands at a height of 83 meters / 272 feet). Due to erosion today, the Great Pyramid stands at the height of 138.8 meters (455 ft).
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Date of construction: Circa 600 BC (evident)
Builder: Babylonians or Assyrians
Date of destruction: After 1st century AD
Cause of destruction: Earthquakes
Modern location: Hillah, Babylon Province, Iraq or Nineveh, Nineveh Province, Iraq
Traditionally they were said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq. The Babylonian priest Berossus, writing in about 290 BC and quoted later by Josephus, attributed the gardens to the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605 and 562 BC. There are no extant Babylonian texts which mention the gardens, and no definitive archaeological evidence has been found in Babylon.
3. Temple of Artemis
Date of construction: Circa 550 BC; and again at 323 BC
Builder: Lydians, Greeks
Date of destruction: 356 BC (by Herostratus), AD 262 (by the Goths)
Cause of destruction: Arson by Herostratus, plundering
Modern location: Near Selçuk, İzmir Province, Turkey
The Temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey), and was completely rebuilt three times before its eventual destruction in 401. Only foundations and sculptural fragments of the latest of the temples at the site remain.
The temple honored a local goddess, conflated by the Greeks with Artemis, their goddess of the hunt, the wild, and childbirth. The temple was constructed of marble and was built by King Croesus of Lydia to replace an older site destroyed during a flood. Measuring 130 metres long (425 feet) and supported by columns 18 metres high (60 feet).
On July 21, 356 BC, a man named Herostratus, seeking notoriety, he burned down the Temple of Artemis.
Far from attempting to evade responsibility for his act of arson, Herostratus proudly claimed credit in an attempt to immortalise his name. To dissuade those of a similar mind, the Ephesian authorities not only executed him, but attempted to condemn him to a legacy of obscurity by forbidding mention of his name under penalty of death. However, this did not stop Herostratus from achieving his goal because the ancient historian Theopompus recorded the event and its perpetrator in his Hellenics.
Herostratus’ name lived on in classical literature and has passed into modern languages as a term for someone who commits a criminal act in order to bask in the resultant notoriety. The English term Herostratic fame, likewise, relates to Herostratus, and means, roughly, “fame at any cost”. Such men as Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon: “The result,” said Chapman, “would be that I would be famous; the result would be that my life would change and I would receive a tremendous amount of attention.”
4. Statue of Zeus
Date of construction: 466–456 BC (Temple), 435 BC (Statue)
Date of destruction: 5th–6th centuries AD
Cause of destruction: Disassembled and reassembled at Constantinople; later destroyed by fire
Modern location: Olympia, Greece
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was a giant seated figure, about 13 m (43 ft) tall, made by the Greek sculptor PhidiasNotes 4 around 435 BC at the sanctuary of Olympia, Greece, and erected in the Temple of Zeus there. A sculpture of ivory plates and gold panels over a wooden framework, it represented the god Zeus sitting on an elaborate cedarwood throne ornamented with ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones.
According to Suetonius, the Roman Emperor CaligulaNotes 5 “gave orders that such statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or for their artistic merit, including that of Zeus at Olympia, should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place.” Before this could happen, the emperor was assassinated (AD 41); his “approaching murder was foretold by many prodigies. The statue of Jupiter at Olympia, which he had ordered to be taken to pieces and moved to Rome, suddenly uttered such a peal of laughter that the scaffolding collapsed and the workmen took to their heels.”
The circumstances of the statue’s eventual destruction are unknown. The 11th-century Byzantine historian Georgios Kedrenos records a tradition that it was carried off to Constantinople, where it was destroyed in the great fire of the Lauseion, in AD 475. Alternatively, it perished along with the temple, which burned down in AD 425. Earlier loss or damage is implied by Lucian of Samosata in the later 2nd century; “they have laid hands on your person at Olympia, my lord High-Thunderer, and you had not the energy to wake the dogs or call in the neighbours; surely they might have come to the rescue and caught the fellows before they had finished packing up the loot.”
5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Date of construction: 351 BC
Builder: Carians, Greeks
Date of destruction: 12th-15th century AD
Cause of destruction: Earthquakes
Modern location: Bodrum, Turkey
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus or Tomb of Mausolus was a tomb built between 353 and 350 BC at Halicarnassus (present Bodrum, Turkey) for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and Artemisia II of Caria, who was both his wife and his sister. The structure was designed by the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene.
The beauty of the Mausoleum was not only in the structure itself, but in the decorations and statues that adorned the outside at different levels on the podium and the roof: statues of people, lions, horses, and other animals in varying scales. The four Greek sculptors who carved the statues: Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas and Timotheus were each responsible for one side. Because the statues were of people and animals, the Mausoleum holds a special place in history, as it was not dedicated to the gods of Ancient Greece.
According to PlinyNotes 6, the mausoleum was 63 ft. north and south, shorter on other fronts, 411 ft. circumference, and 25 cubits (37 ft. 6 in.) in height. It was surrounded by 36 columns. They called this part the pteron. Above the pteron there was a pyramid on top with 24 steps and equal in height to the lower part. The height of the whole work was 140 ft. The only other author that gives the dimensions of the Mausoleum is Hyginus a grammarian in the time of Augustus. He describes the monument as built with shining stones, 80 ft high and 1340 ft in circumference. He likely meant cubits which would match Pliny’s dimensions exactly but this text is largely considered corrupt and is of little importance. We learn from Vitruvius that Satyrus and Phytheus wrote a description of their work which Pliny likely read. Pliny likely wrote down these dimensions without thinking about the form of the building.
A number of statues were found slightly larger than life size, either 5 ft. 0 in. or 5 ft. 3 in. in length; these were 20 lion statues. Another important find was the depth on the rock on which the building stood. This rock was excavated to 8 or 9 ft. deep over an area 107 by 127 ft. The sculptures on the north were created by Scopas, the ones on the east Bryaxis, on the south Timotheus and on the west Leochares. The Mausoleum was adorned with many great and beautiful sculptures. Some of these sculptures have been lost or only fragments have been found. Several of the statues’ original placements are only known through historical accounts. The great figures of Mausolus and Artemisia stood in the chariot at the top of the pyramid. The detached equestrian groups are placed at the corners of the sub podium. The semi-colossal female heads they may have belonged to the acroteria of the two gables which may have represented the six Carian towns incorporated in Halicarnassus. Work still continues today as groups continue to excavate and research the mausoleum’s art.
Today, the massive castle of the Knights of Malta still stands in Bodrum, and the polished stone and marble blocks of the Mausoleum can be spotted built into the walls of the structure. At the site of the Mausoleum, only the foundation remains, and a small museum. Some of the surviving sculptures at the British Museum include fragments of statues and many slabs of the frieze showing the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. There the images of Mausolus and his queen watch over the few broken remains of the beautiful tomb she built for him.
Modern buildings based upon the Mausoleum of Mausolus include the National Newark Building in Newark, New Jersey, Grant’s Tomb and 26 Broadway in New York City, Los Angeles City Hall, the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Australia, the spire of St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury in London, the Indiana War Memorial (and in turn Chase Tower) in Indianapolis, the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction’s headquarters, the House of the Temple in Washington D.C., the Civil Courts Building in St. Louis, and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Pittsburgh.
6. Colossus of Rhodes
Date of construction: 292–280 BC
Date of destruction: 226 BC
Cause of destruction: 226 BC Rhodes earthquake
Modern location: Rhodes, Greece
The Colossus of Rhodes was a bronze statue of the Greek god Helios, erected in the city of Rhodes, on the Greek island of the same name, by Chares of Lindos in 280 BC. It was constructed to celebrate Rhodes’ victory over the ruler of Cyprus, Antigonus I Monophthalmus, whose son unsuccessfully besieged Rhodes in 305 BC. Before its destruction in the earthquake of 226 BC, the Colossus of Rhodes stood over 30 meters (98 feet) high, making it one of the tallest statues of the ancient world.
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria
Date of construction: Circa 280 BC
Builder: Ptolemanic Egyptians, Greeks
Date of destruction: AD 1303–1480
Cause of destruction: 1303 Crete earthquake
Modern location: Alexandria, Egypt
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria, was a lofty tower built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom between 280 and 247 BC and between 393 and 450 ft (120 and 137 m) tall. It was one of the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries. Badly damaged by three earthquakes between 956 and 1323, it then became an abandoned ruin. It was the third longest surviving ancient wonder (after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the still extant Great Pyramid of Giza) until in 1480 the last of its remnant stones were used to build the Citadel of Qaitbay on the site. In 1994, French archaeologists discovered some remains of the lighthouse on the floor of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour.
- The Hellenistic period is the period of ancient Greek and Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt in 30 BC. At this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its peak in Europe, Africa and Asia, experiencing prosperity and progress in the arts, exploration, literature, theatre, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy, and science. It is often considered a period of transition, sometimes even of decadence or degeneration, compared to the brilliance of the Greek Classical era. Read more on wikipedia
- Antipater of Sidon, Antipatros or Antipatros Sidonios in the Anthologies, was an ancient Greek poet in the second half of the 2nd century BC. His poems preserved in the Greek Anthology include evocations of art and literature and some epitaphs. But there appears to be confusion in the Anthology between Antipater of Sidon and Antipater of Thessalonice, who lived in the next century. He, along with Philo of Byzantium, Strabo, Herodotus and Diodoros of Sicily, is attributed with the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Read more on wikipedia
- Philo of Byzantium (ca. 280 BC – ca. 220 BC), also known as Philo Mechanicus, was a Greek engineer and writer on mechanics, who lived during the latter half of the 3rd century BC. Although he was from Byzantium he lived most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt. Read more on wikipedia
- Phidias or Pheidias (c. 480 – 430 BC) was a Greek sculptor, painter and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC, and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece. Read more on wikipedia
- “Caligula” (Latin: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) was the popular nickname of Gaius (31 August 12 AD – 22 January 41 AD), Roman emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Read more on wikipedia
- Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder or Pliny, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian. Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all other encyclopedias. Read more on wikipedia