Due to its excellent geographic location, Rhodes has always been the desired land for near and far seaborn settlers, traders, explorers and those seeking power in the Mediterranean. Throughout its long and turbulent history, the island was inhabited by different people and nations who have left their mark on all aspects of the island and its inhabitants.
It is thought the name Rhodes came from erod, Phoenician for snake, as the island was infested with them in antiquity. The island has been called Rodi by the Italians and Rodos by the Turks. Rhodes is also known as Emerald Island due to the large amount of pine and cypress trees that grow there. In Pindar’s ode however, it is said that the island was born of the union between Helios, the sun god, and Rhodos, the nymph. The cities were names after their three sons. Actis, one of the sons of Helios and Rhodos went to Egypt, built the city of Heliopolis, and would go on to teach the Egyptians astrology.
Rhodes has one of the longest and most splendid histories of any place in the world. Inhabited since Neolithic times, the island had important Bronze Age settlements, and at the dawn of the historical era was already famous for its three powerful cities of Lindos, Ialysos, and Kameiros, as mentioned in Homer. In 408 bce these three cities joined to found the island’s capital city, also called Rhodes. Rhodes city and island played a vigorous role in subsequent ancient Greek and Roman history, its most memorable episode doubtless being the prolonged siege of the city by Demetrios Poliokertes in 305 bce. In Hellenistic times Rhodes became extremely prosperous through trade and was one of the most influential cultural centers of the Greek world. Later as a province of the Roman empire Rhodes’ influence declined, though it was still an important regional capital and was one of the earliest centers of Christianity.
In the 8th century BC, settlements on the island began to form. The Dorians would build three important cities: Lindos, Ialyssos, and Kameiros. These cities along with Kos, Cnidus, and Halicarnassus, all on the mainland, would form the Dorian Hexapolis (meaning six cities). which together with Kos, Cnidus and Halicarnassus, gave rise to Doric Hexapolis. After the city of Athens defeated the invading Persians in 478 BC, the three cities of Rhodes joined the Athenian League.
At the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC, Rhodes remained neutral although part of the league along with the other islands of Dodecanese. A new capital was built in the north of the island, whose construction works were carried out by the architect Hippodamus. The general weakening of the political situation following the Greek Peloponnesian War meant that the island was first conquered by Mausolus of Halicarnassus, then by the Persians in 340 BC, then by Alexander the Great in 322 BC.
After Alexander’s death, three of his generals (Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus) divided the Empire. Rhodes had strong cultural and trade relations with the Ptolemies in Alexandria forming the Egyptian-controlled commercial traffic in Aegean. Rhodes town became a maritime, commercial and cultural center of great importance whose currency circulated throughout the Mediterranean.
Its famous schools of philosophy, science, literature and rhetoric rivaled those of Alexandria. The most important exponents of this great time were the master of rhetoric Aeschines, Apollonius of Rhodes, astronomers Hipparchus and Geminus, the philologist and grammarian Dionysius Thrax. The school of sculpture developed a rich and dramatic style known as “Hellenistic Baroque”. In 305 BC the son of Antigonus besieged Rhodes in order to break the alliance.
A year later, in 304 BC, they came to a peace agreement and the siege was lifted: the islanders decided to sell the equipment abandoned by the attackers. They erected a statue to the god Helios known as the Colossus of Rhodes which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was a bronze statue of Helios that once stood at the harbour. It was completed in 280 BC and then destroyed by an earthquake in 224 BC. Today there is no trace of the statue.
In 164 BC Rhodes signed a treaty with Rome, but nevertheless maintained its great commercial importance. In the first century A.D. the Emperor Tiberius spent a brief exile on Rhodes island.
Christianized by St. Paul, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire Rhodes was ruled by the Byzantine Empire. During this time it was occupied several times by the Arabs as well as several groups of pirates. During the Crusades, Rhodes came under the control of the Knights Hospitaller which then became known as the Knights of Rhodes. The city was rebuilt as an ideal model of the European medieval city: from this period are many famous landmarks you can visit today, including the Palace of the Grand Master.
In December 1522, Rhodes fell to the large army of Suleiman the Magnificent. The few remaining riders were allowed to retire to Malta and the island remained under Ottoman rule for four centuries. This centuries long Ottoman occupation ended with the decline of the Empire and along with the other islands of the Dodecanese, Rhodes was assigned to Italy with treaties that ended the Italian-Turkish war.
During the Italian occupation, the island became part of the Italianisation project for Greek islands in the Dodecanese. The island of Rhodes still today, along with the island of Kos and Leros island, has a strong presence of Italian culture which is most noticeable in its architecture, food and daily habits.
Following the outbreak of World War II and the entry of Italy into the conflict, Rhodes became the scene of many battles. After the decline of fascism Rhodes was occupied by the Germans.
Finally, after the Second World War Rhodes finally became part of Greece again on March 7, 1948.