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Macarol 1

Guy Macarol
Ancient Art at Risk
The Golden Age of Rhodes
Nearly the entirety of Asia Minor had fallen into Macedonian hands by 332 BCE. Rhodes,
the largest Dodecanese island, remained nominally loyal to the Persian Great King, due to the
military presence of their fleet in the eastern Aegean. But, with the Battle of Issus and the
collapse of the Persians, a new era began for Rhodes in the form of a formal surrender to
Alexander at Tyre. This surrender was accepted, and the Macedonians garrisoned the island
promptly, beginning Rhodes final decade of foreign domination for centuries.
After the
repulsion of Macedonian troops upon Alexanders death in 322 BCE, Rhodes became a wealthy
and democratic state. After a description of what is known of Rhodes under the Macedonian
garrison, this paper aims to illustrate the unique position and society of this 3
century, post-
Alexandrian state of Rhodes, a state called The Best-Governed City of the Greeks by Diodorus
for its effective politics, commercial prowess, and military excellence.

Part I: Rhodes under the Alexandrian Garrison
Our sources for the Alexander-occupied Rhodes are scare and incomplete. This
incredibly crucial period in which democracy came to supplant oligarchy is widely unknown to
the historical record. Rhodes was a Greek state, so we do know it must have been liberated from
the Carian satrapy in order to be put under the control of Alexander. We are not entirely positive

Arr. Anab. 2.0.2; Curt. 4.5.9, 8.12; Just. 11.11.1; Diod 18.8.1.
Diod. 20.81.2; Polyb. 33.16.3; Strabo 14.2.5 (652)
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if Rhodes was enlisted in the League of Corinth like other liberated islands of the time, but it will
remain a mystery without further sources.
In theory, this made Rhodes autonomous. Despite this,
the presence of the garrison made that autonomy weak in scope and authority. This is perhaps
best demonstrated in 324 with the arrest of the treasurer of Harpalus and brothers Demaratus and
Sparton by Philoxenus, agent of Alexander. This was believed to have been carried out for
political reasons, illustrating the control Alexander wielded over the supposedly-autonomous

The most intriguing aspect of this occupation has little to do with these arrests, however.
Rather, it is the internal affairs on the island and their relation to the occupiers. When Rhodes
submitted to Alexander in 332, they had been governed by the oligarchs of the Carian satrapy.
When Alexander died nine years later, Rhodes had a Hellenistic democracy. This raises the ever-
important inquiry into the source of the democratization. Although it is possible that native
Rhodian democrats could have single-handedly changed the government, this would be shocking
in light of the history of the island. Certainly there would have been some form of indigenous
democratic upheaval in the previous oligarchy rather than a sudden about-face with advent of
Alexanders garrison. I find it much more plausible that Alexander, long obsessed with
maintaining political harmony in the new states he founded, introduced the necessary concepts
and even constitutional guidelines that shaped the form of democracy on island. Certainly it
would not be the only instance of Alexander supplanting long-standing governmental traditions
in the regions he occupied. One thing is certain: whatever the cause of democratization, the death

Chios, for example, was a member.
Paus. 2.33.5; Plut. Phoc. 18.4-5; Ael. 1.25. See H. Hauben, Rhodes, Alexander, and the Diadochi from 33/332 to
304 B.C., Hist.26 (1977)310-11 esp. n. 23.
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of Alexander in 322 BCE brought the Rhodians together to expel the Macedonian garrison and
declare their state free.
Part II: The Political Structure of the Rhodian State
This newly formed state of Rhodes was best known in antiquity for its moderate
government and successful foreign affairs, among other boons. The most powerful organization
on the island, the Council, was composed of an unknown number of paid individuals, elected
from the citizens and had six-month terms. The Council served as the day-to-day center of
operations for the government and represented the Rhodian state as a whole. Thus, the Council
was in control of all embassies to represent the island as well as the reception of foreign
emissaries representing political and military interests on the island. According to Polybius and
later Roman orator Cicero, Rhodes also had some kind of judicial power vested in the Council in
the case of capital punishment, but this is still unclear.

Another class of elected officials was populated by five prytanes, each serving a six
month term and similarly drawn from the citizen body. They presided over the Council and also
had the task of appointing envoys. There is reason to believe that a single prytanis in fact held a
special position as leader/president, as evidenced by references to a single prytanis on several
inscriptions. It is not known what sort of relation this prytanis had to the others, but what is
known is that prytanes were only given military control in times of great strife.
This position

Polyb. 15.15.8, 27.4.4, 28.17.13, 29.11.1-5. As for the judicial powers, Cic. Rep 3.35.48: Recte dicis: sed si
meministi, omnes errant idem tum de plebe tum senators, uicissitudinesque habebant quibus mensibus populari
fungerentur, quibus senatorio: utrobique autem conuenticium accipiebant; et in theatro et in curia res capitalis et
reliquas omnis iudicabant idem tantum poterat tantique erat quanti multitudo
Livy 42.45.4 and Strabo 7.5.8 (316) both speak of a single prytanis. See Polyb.15.4.4, 22.5.10, and 27.4.4 for more
information about the prytanes position. Diodorus speaks of the military control in 20.88.3 and 98.7.
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had a very odd formulation, as rarely were there five concurrent leadership roles of such a high
level and for such a short term.

Finally, there was the assembly. The assembly consisted of all the citizens, and held
session monthly. They were able to discuss matters freely as in most democracies, but could not
initiate their own legislation which made their democracy slightly less open than other city-states
in the mainland. This furthers the unique character of the prytanes and Council, as they held
more significant power over the assembly through their elected status and ability to initiate
legislation than the leadership roles in assemblies such 5
century BCE Athens which had
magistrates drawn with lots and archontes with nominal ceremonial power.

Outside of these three main establishments of government were numerous officials with
designated positions for the various functions of local government. These officials included the
governmental cabinets of the Rhodian cities (Lindos, Kamiros, Ialyssos), consisting of a locally-
elected senate or council as well as theological and social leaders. Where the national
government was not concerned, these officials would be in control. Senators of the cities were
known as mastroi, and enacted decrees in a similar way to the national senate, but only were
binding on the citizens of their respective jurisdictions.
Although mastroi and other local
officials may have been consulted in domestic concerns, national matters were left to the Council,
assembly, and prytanes.
This balance of power between the assembly and the combined force of the Council and
prytanes is what lead some historians such Strabo to suggest that The Rhodians[] rule is not

J. ONeil. How Democratic Was Hellenistic Rhodes? Athenaeum 59 (1981) 468-73.
William Bell Dinsmoor, The Archons of Athens in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge, 1931 (1966 reprint)
Inscriptiones Graecae xii. I 677, 696.
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While obviously concerned about the welfare of their state and citizens, it has
been claimed that a hidden aristocracy staked control of these higher offices, and using their
influence, tended to stay in control. We must be careful to be objective with respect to our
sources; much of this is speculative due to the incompleteness of the historical record and the
near-consensus of Rhodes democratic status to ancient historians. What is known is that the
assembly was given clear power to elect the Council and prytanes and to accept or reject their
legislation. As such, they still held the power, despite our misgivings about the operation of the
system. This is no different from Rome, in which senatorial families formed an aristocracy in a
nevertheless nominally democratic Republic. Additionally, since Rhodes only elected their
official for six month periods, it can be argued they held far less certainty in their positions than
their for-life Roman counterparts. With such a short term, any aristocracy wishing to retain
control would have to placate the populations demands. So, regardless of the true democratic
character of Rhodes, the government worked for the needs of its people and was undoubtedly
successful in bringing wealth and prosperity to the island.
Part III: Rhodes as a Trade Center
The wealth of Rhodes was not just due to its unique political system. A natural port
between the Greek Aegean and the eastern populations of Cyprus and Egypt, Rhodes grew
increasingly rich with trade and commodities. Although Rhodes had some natural exports in the
form of consumables like fruits and wines, most of its profits resulted from its unique location
and effective handling of commerce. Rather than hiring mercenary traders or doing business with
middle-men, Rhodes effectively trained its own marine force to handle commercial operations,
saving as much as the profit for themselves as possible. This allowed Rhodes to have an

Strabo 14.2.5.
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extensive trading network across the Aegean and increased their national security because of the
widespread influence of their sailors. With the death of Alexander and the great siege of 304
BCE by Demetrius, Rhodes became an incredible wealthy banking and business center for the
One method we have in proving this assertion is in fact archeological. We have been able
to identify a wide range of Rhodian trading goods, including coins and amphora, all around the
Aegean. Some sites with amphora are as far away as Carthage and Jerusalem.
This is further
evidence of the existence of a wide trading network between Rhodes and the Mediterranean
world. Another, more spectacular proof of Rhodian wealth is the Colossus, built in
commemoration of the 304 siege and funded partially through the profits from the resale of siege
equipment left behind from the botched attempt to take the island. Standing 30 meters tall on a
15 meter pillar, it was built with iron tie bars and brass plates. This was determined by Philo of
Byzantium in 150 BCE and Pliny in 50 CE upon viewing remains of the statue, and is referenced
in Plinys Natural History.
The immense cost in both capital and manpower of constructing
such a statue by the harbor is evidence of Rhodes significant dedication, tenacity, and desire for
luxury and prestige in the 3th century BCE.
The Rhodian trade empire represented by this iconic Colossus made its fortunes off one
product especially: grain. Remembering its key location in the Mediterranean, the grain
shipments of the Nile Valley and Cyprus ran through Rhodes on their way to the hungry Aegean.
Rhodes control over the trade at points amounted to a vast majority of total grain exports from

See Badal'iants, Iu.S. "Rhodian Amphora Stamps from Nymphaeum" VDI 1970.3 (1970) 113126 and
Finkielsztejn, G. "Hellenistic Jerusalem. The Evidence of the Rhodian Amphora Stamps" in Faust, A.; Baruch, E.
Pliny the Elder, Natural History xxxiv. 18.
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Even grain from the Black Sea region passed through Rhodes at times. Although
Rhodes was not directly passed through on every shipment, their financiers and marines often
found their ways into deals exacting percentages of the profits. This furthered their wealth at
very little cost to the island, as Rhodes was able to make a fortune of the grain of others.
Rhodes also traded in a number of other goods, especially luxury goods including slaves.
Its fortune rested primarily on exporting these goods along the Aegean, as Rhodes had a virtual
monopoly over many trade routes in the eastern Sea after the decline of Athenian commerce in
the 3
century BCE. Although most of the islands wealth came from grain, the luxury goods in
addition to the small amount of wine and fruit exportation gave Rhodes the status as the
wealthiest island in the Eastern Aegean. In fact, Polybius even tells us that Rhodes brought in
over a million drachmas each and every year just by charging a levy for people to enter the
Colossus-protected harbor. This means that Rhodes must have had a substantive annual income,
as such fees rarely amounted to more than a couple percent of the total sale.
The wealth of Rhodes and its effectiveness in the trading empire in which it cemented
itself by the end of the 3
century often required large amounts of money to be transferred in
order to be maintained. For example, should Rhodes need to loan money to one of its clients or
for military reasons, it would need to have it on hand, as they had no credit cards. Rhodes, in fact,
once granted a 600,000 drachma loan to Argos without interest.
This is proof of the immense
capital the island-state must have had. Additionally, even the maintenance of their navy fleet
required an exorbitant amount of money. And yet, despite all the potential to squander their

See Diod. 20.81.4.
G. Vollgraff, Novae Inscriptiones Argivae, Mnem. 44 (1916) 220-21
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position and fail, Rhodes remained wealthier than the average Greek citizen for centuries beyond
the islands prime.
One final component of the Hellenistic Rhodian Trade was the presence of foreign-born
businessmen on the island. We have no idea exactly how many foreigners were present on
Rhodes, but we do know that they came in great numbers and were absolutely essential to the
functioning of the expansive trading network. We are also not sure what sort of citizenship status
these foreign-borns were granted, but there is reason to believe there were certain levels of
citizenship, with mixed-race children being closer to full citizenship than their foreign parent.
Rhodes perhaps even had more foreigners and slaves than actual full-fledged Rhodians, making
it a staggering center of diversity for the ancient world, especially when contrasted with
homogeneous places like Sparta.
Part IV: Rhodes Military Empire
Thus far we have only covered the Rhodes naval force as it was used for commerce.
However, first and foremost the fleet served as the peacekeeping and military arm of Rhodes.
The fleet consisted of quadriremes, the capital ships, triremes, and a very special ship known as
the triemiolia, invented by Rhodes to intercept pirates.
Although Rhodes did not have a huge
quantity of ships at any given time, they had active shipyards that were ready at a moments
notice to construct and launch new capital and intercepting ships. The naval warfare of the 3

century called for masterful tactical skill in a process known as grappling and boarding in
which sailors would grapple aboard their enemys ships and attempt to fight in close range. The
Rhodians, however, also engaged in advanced strategies such as shearing oars and ramming the

L. Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World (Princeton 1971) 127-31.
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turned vehicles. The tactical advantages garnered by Rhodes skill at naval warfare did not go
unnoticed. Legends of Rhodian naval superiority lasted well into the Common Era, with even
Cicero brilliantly mentioning Rhodes in his speech De Imperio Cn. Pompei: Rhodiorum,
quorum usque ad nostrum memoriam disciplina navalis et Gloria remansit.

The skilled sailors of the legend were divided into ranks, with the highest being known as the
. The trierarchy, an important part of the Hellenistic Rhodian navy, acted as the skipper and
was usually a wealthy individual willing to finance the voyage in expectation of greater profits upon
success. The trierarch was assisted by the epiplous, who would take over in the event of the trierarchs
incapacitation. This insured no confusion in the event of a trierarchs death or injury. Perhaps the most
interesting rank was that of the nauarch. Referenced in numerous ancient sources, the nauarch was
something of a naval admiral for Rhodes.
He could be elected at the beginning of a war specifically for
the duty of leading the fleet, or occasionally in peacetime as a diplomat. The nauarch had the capacity to
negotiate treaties, enter political dialogues, and even name his successor upon being fatally wounded. In
this way the nauarch was both a military commander and a political strategist, a powerful and unique
position in Rhodes.
Rhodes knew their military might was directly correlated to their success in shipping. As their
prestige grew, so did the potential enemies and pirates who wished to plunder their new-found treasure.
Thus, protecting their merchant ships and their ports was of the utmost importance to their stability as a
commercial society. This is why the line between military and trader was sometimes blurred, with naval
ships often being used to ferry merchants and conduct business of their own. The port of Rhodes itself
was heavy secured with capital ships and ground-based security forces ensuring the payment of levies for
use of the harbor. Additionally, it can be inferred from the references to Rhodes as a notable ship-building

Cic. Leg. Man. 18.54 of the Rhodians, whose naval discipline and naval renown has lasted to our
Casson, Lionel. 1959. The ancient mariners: seafarers and sea fighters of the Mediterranean in ancient times 141.
Livy 45.25.8, Polyb. 16.15.8, 18.1.4, 2.3, 21.7.1, Diod. 20.88.6. For the death-appointing, see Polyb. 16.9.1.
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that they wished to keep their techniques secret, so security would also be necessary to keep their
ship-building technology a mystery. This, in turn, would further contribute to their naval superiority as
their ships were uncommon, powerful, and unstudied to most.
Rhodes had to draw from their citizenry in order to populate their navy during wartime. This
meant forced military service for able-bodied men. However, this was not the state of affairs during
peace-time, unlike militaristic city-states. Rhodes eschewed violence when possible, preferring to focus
on their material and commercial holdings. As such, the Rhodian army consisted of little more than a
garrison force to protect the island. Although it had generals and a military structure of its own, most
historical attention was paid to the Rhodian navy. That is not to say that the army was not formidable
when needed, however, as the repelling of the siege by Demetrius in 304 pointed out.
Part V: A Rhodian Empire, Remembered
The Colossal Jewel of the Eastern Aegean, Rhodes truly experienced a Golden Age with the
dismantling of the Alexandrian Garrison of 322. A new age of pseudo-democracy, ushered in with the end
of satrapy control, brought stability and wealth to Rhodes. Through the continued efforts of a strong,
well-equipped navy and a strategically valuable location, Rhodes became exceedingly wealthy. The
Rhodians unique and sometimes puzzling political system coupled with their knowledge of naval warfare
and shipbuilding allowed for the procurement of a near- limitless supply monopoly of grain from Egypt,
the Black Sea, and Cyprus. Ultimately, this made Rhodes a bustling hub of Hellenistic traders and
commodities. Their exorbitance yielded one of the most cherished monuments of all time, the Colossus,
and although this Hellenistic glory was eventually extinguished by Roman control, we have seen authors
all across the Mediterranean recanting the old days of the Rhodian fleet. Although the Colossus has long
since turned to dust, Rhodes is still an inspiring jewel of prosperity and ingenuity for all who study the
Hellenistic World.

Strabo 14..2.5 (653)
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